You’ve heard of Garfield minus Garfield, but what would Three’s Company have been like without Chrissy and Janet? Or with M*A*S*H legend Larry Gelbart at the helm? It might have happened! Over the weekend, YouTube user Mantronix4ever posted two unaired pilots for ABC’s jiggle-licious mid-seventies comedy smash. The first, and most fascinating, features the late John Ritter as David (not Jack), the same sniping Ropers (Norman Fell and Audra Lindley), but with two different actresses playing the female roommates: Valerie Curtin (Jane’s cousin) in what would become Joyce DeWitt’s role, and Susanne Zenor keeping Suzanne Somers’s future seat warm. But the most marvelous difference can be heard right away when the show’s classic theme song kicks in: Here, it’s a slightly sleazier rendition (more wah-wah guitar) with scat vocals in place of the now-familiar “Come and knock on our door” lyrics. It’s like listening to a drunk nostalgist who can’t remember the words!
Plot-wise, though, the pilot will seem familiar; as with the first episode that aired on ABC, the show begins with Jack in a bathtub and his future roommates recovering from a wild, Boogie Nights–like wedding reception the night before. (As for Gelbart, who is listed as an EP but had nothing to do with the show when it actually went to series: Apparently he took on the show as a favor to ABC’s then-president Fred Silverman. History lesson!)
The nearly as rare second pilot for Three’s Company is a fascinating lesson in jiggle-TV evolution (jigglution?); here, DeWitt plays Janet for the first time, and an actress named Susan Lanier (best known as Bambi on Welcome Back, Kotter) tries the part of Chrissy. Watching all three pilots back-to-back, you can almost imagine the notes Silverman and his fellow execs must have been giving the show’s producers: Blonder! Sexier! Jiggle-ier!