Today, we look at how the series finale of Three’s Company sidelined the rest of the cast to set up Jack’s spinoff series.
This is Back Door Blues, a feature about “backdoor pilots.” Backdoor pilots are episodes of regular TV series that are intended to also work as pilots for a new series. Sometimes these pilots get picked up, but a lot of times they did not get picked up. I’ll spotlight examples of both successful and failed backdoor pilots.
December is a month of Back Door Blues! Following our look at how The Facts of Life‘s series finale tried to set up a new series, we’ll look at a week’s worth of series finales serving as backdoor pilots!
CONCEPT: Three’s a Crowd – Jack Tripper (John Ritter) moves in with his girlfriend, Vicky (Mary Cadorette), much to the consternation of her father, James Bradford (Robert Mandan).
SERIES IT AIRED ON Three’s Company
EDITED TO ADD ON DECEMBER 22, 2023: Thinking back on this, I really don’t think that this counts as a backdoor pilot. The series literally debuted the next week, this was more of a wrap-up/preview than an actual pilot, as a pilot has to involve SOME degree of risk of not being picked up. So I don’t think this counts. I mean, whatever, I already posted it, so I’ll leave it, but just note that I won’t count examples like this again.
I’ve noted a few times over the years that Three’s Company really got weird for me when Jack Tripper (John Ritter) received his own restaurant, Jack’s Bistro. The show was always a star vehicle for Ritter, but when he gained his own restaurant, the show essentially became The Jack Tripper Show, with occasional guest appearances by the other cast members of the series (his two roommates, Janet and Terri, played by Joyce DeWitt and Priscilla Barnes) and the building’s super, Mr. Furley (Don Knotts), who only allows Jack to live with Janet and Terri because Jack pretends to be gay.
In an unusual move, the series finale aired in September 1984, months after the nominal May finale setup the events of the finale, namely that Janet is getting married, and Jack meets a flight attendant named Vicky, who he falls for.
In the series finale, the first part has Janet and Phillip’s wedding, and the sudden reveal that Terri received and accepted a job offer in Hawaii (out of NOWHERE just to give her SOME sort of plot), and Jack proposing to Vicky, who turns him down, because her parents’ divorce soured her on marriage. Her position is kind of ill-considered and silly, as she wants to live with Jack and EFFECTIVELY be married, just not actually married, because somehow just the act of getting married will tear them apart for some reason.
Jack doesn’t want that, but in the end, he agrees, and they move in together into the apartment above Jack’s restaurant. The thing is, the second part of the episode is all about Jack and Vicky for the first ten minutes or so, then there’s eight minutes of everyone saying goodbye, before they go back to Jack and Vicky for six minutes at the end of the episode, with her father (who doesn’t want his unmarried daughter living with another man) barging in on them in bed, announcing that he bought the building, so is now Jack’s landlord!
They literally end the episode with the name of the spinoff, Three’s a Crowd, scrolling on to the screen, as it would debut the following week.
DID THE PILOT GO TO SERIES? Obviously, as it was built into the show (note that Three’s a Crowd follows the setup of the spinoff sequel, Robin’s Nest, of the British TV show that Three’s Company was based on, Man About the House. So this was likely always seen as a fait accompli, since Robin’s Nest was as big of a hit as Man About the House, so the producers likely figured Three’s a Crowd would be a similar success.
SHOULD IT HAVE? I mean, John Ritter was always good as Jack Tripper, and, again, that was the setup for the British version, so I guess fair enough, but Three’s a Crowd was BAD, and only lasted a single season.
Okay, that’s it for this installment of Back Door Blues! I KNOW the rest of you have suggestions for other interesting backdoor pilots, so drop me a line at email@example.com (don’t suggest in the comments, as this way, it’ll be a surprise!).