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Thursday, March 26, 2009

John Ritter and "Company"'s lasting seen on the Internet, as heard on the radio and as felt on one TV bio-documentary after another

March is Three's Company month at Retroality.TV. In addition to our exclusive cover-story interview with Joyce DeWitt, we also salute some of the pop culture enterprises that are keeping and have kept the show's flame lit.

Check out our interview with Jack's Bistro webmaster Pavan Patel, who has dutifully documented the show's impact since its late-'90s resurgence as a pop culture classic. Pavan devotes great care and attention to detail to his mega fan site Jack's Bistro, and he's always conscientious in his efforts to promote the show's heart and soul—as well as that of the late, great John Ritter.

This weekend, we also interview Company-friendly WGN radio host Nick Digilio and his fearless producer Andy Hermann. As anyone who's heard his successful and often retro-inspired radio show will tell you, Nick is a pop culture aficionado who dryly doles out throwback references to everything from Kool-Aid to Sanford and Son. Likewise, Hermann (seen below with Priscilla "Terri" Barnes and his sister, Bridget) has a firm grasp of retro culture. His Three's Company expertise is particularly staggering, as his mind-boggling TC Throwdowns clearly demonstrate. His producer bio page contains links to Nick's Company on-air interviews with Richard "Larry" Kline, Priscilla and—I'm proud to say—me.

Andy is one of a few good Three's Company friends of mine who've launched successful careers in the media and entertainment industries. Two of my friends now work as TV and film execs—so it looks like years of balancing schoolwork and jobs with watching Company reruns paid off. In his Retroality.TV interview, Andy sums up the Three's camaraderie shared by media professionals: "Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to Retroality.TV! It's fun to share anything that might help people out and/or make them smile. And I've gotta say that it's been great watching your career flourish! I remember back in college when I read that you were writing the Three's Company bio, and I tracked you down at the the old university magazine you were writing for then. I feel we're kindred spirits in many ways, and it's been fun talking with you over the years. There's a big market for what we're both doing right now, and it's fantastic to see younger people getting into the media we enjoyed as kids. Lordy lordy lordy!!"

Three's Company's influence is also apparent in the cheeky new Internet sitcom pilot Something About Ryan. Retroality.TV's friend and stand-up comedian-turned-actor Ryan Mooney offers a contemporary take on Company's comedy of misunderstandings and double entendres in this pilot, which can be viewed in its entirety on You Tube. Ryan chronicles "live-at-home slacker" Ryan Nuzzolo's domestic misadventures with his family and Larry-esque best friend. Comedic chaos ensues.

Says Ryan, "I am a huge Three's Company fan. It is my all-time favorite sitcom. I read your book and loved it. I developed Something About Ryan from my stand-up (routine) ... I explore my family and living in Staten Island on stage. Three's Company ... was a huge inspiration and education to me."

The enterprising Mooney adds that his dream is to bring Ryan to television, with Tony Danza and Fran Drescher playing his parents. "I wrote these roles specifically for them," the actor-writer says. "We are currently on You Tube trying to build a fan base. I will also be submitting to all of the television festivals out there." Best of luck, Ryan!

It's great to see new, young talent pay homage to John Ritter and Co.'s iconic influence. And I know John would be touched and flattered. As a self-professed Beatlemaniac and a student of comedy icons Jerry Lewis and Dick Van Dyke, John totally got how a kid could love a silly sitcom enough to write a book about it. He was so appreciative that someone who truly got the show, its farce and its characters -- i.e., not TV critics, media pundits or people who think the show only lasted a year after Suzanne Somers left—could finally put into words why young America in particular loved the show.

His appreciation of my appreciation fueled my fire, and I was thrilled to be the guy who insisted the media finally stop hating (it was so fashionable to bash Three's Company) and give the show its props. And I'm so grateful that he loved the book and continually credited me in TV and radio interviews. I think we both felt it was cool to see the media finally get it. In fact, without John's understanding, encouragement and generosity, I doubt Three's Company would've enjoyed the media resurgence and corresponding marketplace cachet it's developed the last ten or eleven years.

John always supported me in writing Come and Knock on Our Door—even when I was 19 years old and living in rural Oklahoma. His involvement opened doors to his castmates, producers and others. My book hit shelves less than three years after I wrapped my studies in journalism and visual communication at The University of Tulsa and two years before Nick at Night/TV Land finally added Three's Company to its line-up. Again, all thanks to John and the positive energy he radiated in a town rarely heralded for its upbeat vibes.

(I still recall the first conversation I had with John. He said certain entities connected to Three's Company "only care about stuff that has dollar signs in front of it," and he quipped that Hollywood was a town that often "put the cart before the whore." At 19, I wasn't quite sure what he meant, but by age 29—a decade into my Three's Company book-documentary-movie journey—his words truly hit home. I'm proud to say that despite the disillusionment/enlightenment, I've kept my sense of humor intact just as John did.)

Of course, once the book spawned the ubiquitous, two-hour E! True Hollywood Story on the show—it was the first THS or TV documentary, period, to focus exclusively on the "biography" of a TV series—the rest of Hollywood went in for the kill: Entertainment Tonight did an hour special, FOX highlighted 3's Co during its first-ever Truth Behind the Sitcom Scandals special, Extra and Inside Edition did segments on my book and the Joyce-Suzanne "feud," and E! ultimately rehashed my research in THS specials on Suzanne Somers and John Ritter.

Thankfully, John and Joyce promoted my book in appearances on everything from The O'Reilly Factor and Donny & Marie to The CBS Early Show, and for that I'll be forever grateful. (Joyce graciously referenced my book and carried it with her in interviews for O'Reilly, Extra and Inside Edition.) It was also nice to participate as a consultant in A&E's Biography specials on John and Suzanne. By then, I was sort of used to seeing my well-worn, Post-It-covered book in the hands of a producer, who'd ask interviewees questions while scanning huge sections of highlighted text from my book. (Gotta love one-stop shopping!) But I was glad to help, and these producers treated me professionally and compensated and credited me appropriately for the exhaustive work I'd done before and during their documentary's production.

I can't relate how many times these producers would tell me how graciously John Ritter would commend me and the book. (And Donny and Marie seemed a bit stupified that an icon would devote so much of his talk show appearance to extolling a book for which he'd only interviewed and praising the efforts of a new writer. He was so un-Hollywood, and that's one of the reasons why we loved him.) There was no higher compliment, nor will there ever be! John always seemed to be looking out for me, and because of him I was guaranteed professional treatment by those producing the projects in which he participated. (John often held my book up on camera, too, kind of forcing these shows to acknowledge their source material. He was such a class act. Thank you, my pal.)

Now I'm hearing that A&E has commissioned a Biography on Three's Company. John was right—the show never goes away, and in fact ends up like gum on the bottom of your shoe! (Only now it's in vogue to praise the show and exploit its rich story rather than make it the butt of a throwaway joke or an afterthought in a salute to sitcoms, the Seventies, etc.)

The Biography producers tell me they want to take a fresh approach with this special. But, despite being approached by them, I have not been offered a rather customary consulting gig, as I have on virtually every single other documentary on the show and its stars. And that's too bad, because I have lots of behind-the-scenes info and fresh insights that aren't in the show's definitive biography informed by the 60 or so people who lived Three's Company—too many of whom, sadly, are no longer with us to share their stories—or the derivative works that followed. So ... we'll see. Either way, I'm proud to be moving forward with my biography on John Ritter, the force of nature who sparked all of this love and fascination in the first place.

Ending on a spirited note, here's hoping that John, Joyce and their Company co-horts continue to inspire the young and the young at heart to carry Ritter and Co.'s legacy of on-screen lunacy and off-screen love into the homes and hearts of a whole new generation of Jack's Bistromaniacs.

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