Three’s Company was one of the most popular US sitcoms of the late 1970s to early 1980s. Based on the British sitcom, Man About the House, it took some experimenting to create the winning formula that put the show at the top of the Nielsen’s during its run, and above is the first experiment: The opening scene in the original, unaired pilot, shot in March of 1976 with actresses Valerie Curtin and Susanne Zenor as Jenny and Samantha, respectively. The characters’ names and backgrounds here were different than what was ultimately settled on by the time the show was finally recast and picked up by ABC.
The network powers that were at the time, decided this pairing didn’t have the right chemistry with co-star John Ritter, so they recast, as well as renamed, the female leads for a second pilot. That one had Joyce DeWitt and Susan (and I sense a theme with the blond actresses’ names) Lanier as Janet and Chrissy, respectively. It was thought this grouping was much better, but one more change was to be made before ABC picked up the show. So it was goodbye to Miss Lanier, enter Suzanne Somers and the rest is television sitcom history.
On a personal footnote, I’m surprised Valerie Curtin, who’s the cousin of Saturday Night Live original cast member Jane Curtin, never found her niche in a 70’s sitcom that would have attached the phrase “best known as” or “best remembered for” to her name in later years. She appeared in bit parts and guest roles in several popular sitcoms throughout the 70s, but never found one to call home. Besides being easy on the eyes, her dry delivery and tone was genuinely funny and I much prefer her here, in the “Jenny” role, as opposed to Joyce DeWitt’s more “perky” Janet. Of course, it wasn’t DeWitt’s Janet who ended up being the show’s main attraction, as it was Somers’ Chrissy, with her combination of sex appeal and ditzyness, who proved to be the winning ticket Three’s Company needed to become the hit it was.