‘Three’s Company,’ the Original ‘Friends’

The ‘70s sitcom set a sexy TV template that ruled future decades.

Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter, and Suzanne Somers on Three’s Company (Photo: ABC)
Matt LeBlanc, Lisa Kudrow, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, and Courteney Cox on Friends (Photo: NBC)

Both shows featured unisex friendships and living arrangements.

Before Three’s Company, the general consensus was that women and men couldn’t be “just friends,” and they definitely couldn’t live together without fooling around. That’s why Jack had to pretend to be gay in order to live with two women.

Both shows were set primarily in two-bedroom apartments.

Although neither show was a domestic comedy, the action often unfolded in the main characters’ flats. Alas, Monica’s two-bedroom pad was considerably more posh than the furnished two-bedroom Jack, Janet, and Chrissy/Cindy/Terri called home and for which they paid $300 a month.

Both shows featured an iconic local hangout.

On Friends, Central Perk was pretty much a seventh main character. The sextet spent almost as much time there as they did in Joey or Monica’s two-bedroom apartments. The Regal Beagle didn’t figure into Three’s Company plots quite as prominently, but viewers still got to spend a lot of time there with the gang.

Both shows featured baby misunderstandings.

Three’s Company’s comedy largely revolved around misunderstandings, and a number of them involved babies. Is Cindy pregnant? Is Janet looking for a sperm donor to father her baby? Is Jack having a vasectomy to prevent having one of his own? And on and on.

Both shows were set in a big American city with few, if any, black people.

Three’s Company was set in a Los Angeles — Santa Monica, to be exact — with a notable dearth of black people and other minorities. Friends gave Ross two girlfriends of color, but his interracial dalliances didn’t make the sitcom’s version of New York City much a melting pot.

Both shows featured a talented in-house chef.

When Three’s Company debuted, Jack was a culinary college student who prepared most of his roommates’ meals. By the time it ended, he had his own bistro. Like Jack, Monica was Friends’ professional chef, though she didn’t spend as much time cooking onscreen.

Both shows featured top-billed second-generation stars who won Emmys in the leading actor/actress categories.

Although Suzanne Somers ended up being Three’s Company’s initial breakout castmate, the sitcom was conceived as a vehicle for John Ritter, then a regular TV guest star who received top billing. Ritter was the son of country music great Tex Ritter, who died in 1974, three years before his son started making sitcom history.

Both shows featured Audra Lindley in pivotal roles.

She was Helen Roper for the first three seasons of Three’s Company before she and her TV husband Norman Fell got their own short-lived series The Ropers. In her supporting Three’s Company role, Lindley was known for her dry humor, colorful caftans, and flame-colored curly hair.

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa” https://rb.gy/3mthoj

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