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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.

Sneak peak at Susan Olsen and Ted Nichelson's upcoming "Brady Bunch Variety Hour" book; and meet the real "Fake Jan"

Love to Love You Bradys is the disco-riffic true story of one of TV's biggest trainwrecks. Co-authored by Susan Olsen and Ted Nichelson, this colorful trip down memory lane is sure to please. The cover and inside are designed by pop culture maven Lisa Sutton.

In the meantime, the book can be pre-ordered at

Also, check out "Fake Jan" Geri Reischl's cult classic movie I Dismember Mama, which will be released on DVD April 21, 2009:

And you can meet Geri in person in April:

Monday, March 23, 2009

"Three's Company" Retroality.TV exclusive: Joyce DeWitt on her spiritual visits with late pal John Ritter & her naked differences with Suzanne Somers!

Check out my new Retroality.TV cover story with Joyce DeWitt, in which she shares about he spirituality, her final encounters with John Ritter, her experiences on NBC's hit "Behind the Camera" movie, and her ongoing differences with Suzanne Somers:

On John Ritter:
"John was all over the place (spiritually, after his death). He was. I felt him constantly the first six weeks. The first few days, I just stayed quiet in my room. I was just there, and he was there, too. So if anything it deepened my trust that there is this huge, amazing spirit of which we all are part, and that this is just the 'earth walk.' We’re just doing an experiment with that. We are just practicing, learning and growing, and honing our skills. But when we step out of that human form, we are all just one beautiful, lovely presence.

Given how close he felt at that time and how clear he would show up in my dreams … I've had conversations with myself about him. Then he would show up in a dream and answer it …That was the gift to me. He just deepened my absolute trust that there is a big, beautiful largeness that we all belong to."

On Suzanne Somers:
"I was out trying to pass the ERA while she was posing nude in a champagne glass. So that's fine for her to do or anyone to do, but it didn't give us a lot in common, (like) trying to build shelters for battered woman and their kids. I mean we just are very different people and (I believe) nobody gets off the wheel until we all get off the wheel.

I really do believe we have multiple lifetimes and that we all experience everything during this human experiment that returns back to the divine. Maybe I was so flippin’ selfish in my last lifetime that I can't bear to be selfish in this lifetime."

On NBC's Three's Company behind-the-scenes movie:

You know, when the movie that was being made—this was not my project or John's. This was a movie they were making and this was the story they were going to tell. And John and I talked about it and he was starting the new series and couldn't get involved. Basically, I called him and said, 'Johnathan, this is a bloodbath. If one of us doesn't get involved here, we are all going to want to leave town and change our names.' It fell me to do that.

It was the longest year of my life perhaps. I battled every day and all day, and all I attempted to do was to get them to stay honest. There's no exposé. I didn't tell anybody anything. What I kept demanding is that they stay true to the public statements that people had made and to the documents of the record. That nothing be in there that isn't already a matter of public record. That it follow a true line. So that everybody's circumstance is exposed. Now, the way the director directed it—which I was not privy to—I'm guessing that Suzanne was very hurt by the way it was directed. And so I personally fell to my knees on the floor and wept when I saw the rough cut. So based on what they were going to do and what they ultimately did do … the hard part of it was that they sent a rough cut to John. He called me the next morning and said, 'Baby, I love it. Because at least we were told the simple truth.'"

On the saying "Business is business":
"There used to be this thing where people would say, 'Business is business.' They would have a separate code of ethics for their personal life and their friends and their business life. I actually worked with somebody who gave me that more that once. I would say, 'That is such crap.'

It is a double standard and in any way is inappropriate. Everybody has to honored equally. I wouldn't treat a man any differently than I would treat a woman. Or a child any different than I would an adult. That kind of thinking is archaic. I think it's a part of what has brought our country to place that we find ourselves in and that we must now do a course correction. It is inappropriate, I think, to have that sort of double standard."