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TV Review: 'Three's Company' was anything but

Sunday, May 11, 2003

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

TV movies about the making of old TV shows have become a cottage industry in Hollywood. Producers have pulled back the curtain on "The Brady Bunch," "Gilligan's Island," "Batman" and now "Three's Company."

"Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Three's Company"

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow on NBC.

Starring: Joyce DeWitt, Melanie Deanne Moore, Bret Anthony and Jud Taylor.

These accounts, essentially a fictionalized take on the "E! True Hollywood Story," are low-budget, low-quality projects filled with actors attempting to look and sound like treasured TV actors of times gone by.

"Behind the Camera: The Unauthorized Story of Three's Company" is no different. Entertainment junkies, particularly fans of "Three's Company," will get a kick out of this tale of behind-the-scenes turmoil. For anyone else, it's a waste of time.

Joyce DeWitt, who starred in "Three's Company," is co-producer of the film and offers occasional on-screen narration. As such, the story is often told from her point of view, often portraying her as the injured party, although history tells us that probably was indeed the case.

Mostly it's a story of arrogance and greed as "Three's Company" makes Suzanne Somers (Jud Taylor) a star, and she thinks she's the star of the show. Her delusions are fed and encouraged, first by her agent (Wallace Langham), and then after she and her husband fire him, by her husband, Alan Hamel (Christopher Shyer).

As this movie tells it, Hamel makes a royal mess of things, demanding an outrageous raise for Somers and negotiating by having her miss tapings, costing the production company an untold sum.

"Bottom line, babe, they cannot do the show without you," Alan tells Suzanne.

Oh, yes they can.

Producers and the network, fed up with these tactics, write Somers' Chrissy almost out of the sitcom. Chrissy is sent to care for her ailing mother, requiring Somers to film only one scene per episode where she calls her roommates, Janet (Melanie Deanne Moore as DeWitt) and Jack (Bret Anthony as John Ritter). Somers is forced to film these brief scenes on a separate set, away from her co-stars, who resent her for mucking up a popular series.

Ultimately, she's fired, replaced by a series of blondes and relegated to a stage show in Las Vegas.

"I wanted to be Farrah [Fawcett], not Liberace," she wails in one of the funniest lines -- intentionally or not -- in the script by Elisa Bell.

DeWitt, a Wheeling, W.Va., native, said she decided to get involved in the film because it was going to be made with or without her participation.

"Because no one involved with it was involved with ['Three's Company'], it was very inaccurate in some ways," DeWitt said in a teleconference last month. "The love we had for each other was missing."

She came on board to try to correct some of those inaccuracies, although she admits the movie is by no means a documentary. She remains heartbroken that actor Richard Kline (wild and crazy neighbor Larry Dallas) is not a character in the film.

DeWitt said she's exchanged notes with Somers about the film. She's always stayed closer to Ritter, who she said has seen the final film and is happy with it.

He should be happy with Bret Anthony, who plays Ritter. Anthony captures Ritter's physicality and timing better than any of the other unknown actors playing the "Three's Company" stars.

"Behind the Camera" acknowledges Hollywood sexism of the era in one telling line. When Hamel suggests Somers be paid $150,000 per episode, the show's producer says that would force them to pay DeWitt the same and Ritter $200,000. The film also acknowledges the notoriously bad acting of Jennilee Harrison (Elizabeth Crawford), the first Chrissy replacement before Priscilla Barnes (Anne Ross) arrived.

Proving all TV is cyclical, in the mid-1970s ABC president Fred Silverman (an abrasive Brian Dennehy) snarls, "Wanna end the Vietnam War? Put it on ABC, it'll be canceled in 13 weeks!"

As this "Three's Company" movie airs in 2003 on NBC, ABC finds itself in similarly dire ratings straits.

You can reach Rob Owen at 412-263-2582 orrowen@post-gazette.com . Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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