01-threes-company-w710-h473-2xTonight PopCult veers into the world of the ersatz, with a look at the first pilot for what became a classic of schlock TV, Three’s Company.  The sitcom component of ABC’s “Jiggle TV” (along with Charlie’s Angels as a drama) had a long gestation.

A few of you may know that Three’s Company was based on a British sitcom called Man About The House.  In the 1970s, already dealing with a dearth of imagination, American broadcast networks started looking to the United Kingdom for television ideas. All In The Family and Sanford and Son had been successfully adapted from BBC programs, and ABC decided that this might be the way to go to develop a show for John Ritter (who was still almost replaced at one point).

After a failed attempt to adapt the show into a New York City setting by Broadway veteran, Peter Stone, legendary writer Larry Gelbart (M*A*S*H) took a shot at it as a favor to ABC’s head honcho, Fred Silverman. Gelbart’s version got as far as having a pilot filmed. In this pilot, Ritter plays aspiring filmmaker, “David Bell,” and the show is set in North Hollywood. His roomates are “Jenny,” played by Valerie Curtain, and “Samantha,” played by Suzanne Zenor.

screen-shot-2013-04-01-at-11-48-54-am-e1364831310465The Ropers are played by Norman Fell and Audra Lindley, just as they were in the series, but the writing hews much more closely to the more intelligent, or at least adult, humor of the British sitcom.

Mr. Roper in particular is a bit more of a sinister character.

ABC passed on this pilot and nearly lost the show to CBS, but Silverman came through with a last-minute commitment and became involved in the casting. Gelbart was replaced by the writing team that developed All In The Family and several changes were made with the cast and character’s names and occupations before the show we are all familiar with hit the airwaves a bit more than forty years ago.

Tonight’s video is a look at one step along the way in what passed for network television’s creative process in the 1970s.