Oh how excited I am that this show is now airing. It is exactly what the doctor ordered. All my friends in grade school watched Three's Company. I know that I watched the episode premiere the night it came on, which was right after Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. We all came to school the next day and talked about Three's Company (I remember asking and no one knowing what "gay" meant).
Fast forward a few years. Just like with Three's Company's premiere, having been hooked on that show for so long (meanwhile Happy Days' interest for me passed), everyone who was anyone watched The Ropers immediately after Three's. And at school the next day we all talked about what was going on in The Ropers but some of us kids, who without 100% getting the Three's Company innuendo, did understand that it was funny, pure and simple. I can see now that The Ropers is an adult show about the persistence of married couples, who may fight and not see eye to eye, but still getting along.
For a while my friends and I still watched The Ropers and talked about it but at some point we stopped. Looking back, I think I can guess why. Either it was because we didn't quite relate to married couple "stuff," or else because the network changed the timeslot for this show (I honestly don't recall what was there after The Ropers was
From what I now know about this show, I know that both Three's Company and The Ropers were based off of a very successful sit come in Great Britain called "Man About the House" which also had two characters (upon whom the Ropers were based) and those two characters also received their own show, as did the Jack character (same as "Three's a Crowd"). Therefore, the developers of the show, with their success in Three's Company, wanted to parlay the series and split them in two, using these two successful actors, Norman Fell and Audra Lindley, and start making some money. They started thinking about this even in Three's Company's first season (planning to leave in Season 2, I believe).
Here was the bet: if we can get these two to leave a successful show and give them their own show, the developers can attempt to even double their profit, assuming The Ropers was as successful. So, how do you convince these actors to leave a highly successful show for a gamble? Essentially, the producers would have nothing to lose, if they could just get talent equal to or higher to Norman/Audra and keep Three's Company's success high. I repeat, if they could replace these two, they would have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Instead, it was Norman and Audra who had most at stake, so, not knowing whether their gamble would pay off, Norman originally declined the series and Audra seemed interested.
After another successful season of Three's Company, the developers conceived of a way to cause Norman and Audra to leave, it seems. I'm not sure of the particulars, but Norman negotiated a return of the Ropers characters to Three's Company if their spinoff, The Ropers, did not get picked up for a whole year.
As soon as the show hit that year mark, it was done. Audra and Norman could not come back to Three's Company, which found its stride with Don Knotts as the new landlord and wannabe ladies' man. I am not sure if the developers gave up on their parlay and started to focus on Three's or other ventures, but to me at least, in my opinion, it is clear that the developers did give up hope on The Ropers. Plagued with problems such as timeslot woes, having lost their primo spot right after Three's Company and put on some other night, The Ropers plummeted from the most watched spinoff in history to having dismal ratings, I believe opposite CHiPS.
Supposedly, Norman went to the heads of ABC with his argument ready to cheerlead for The Ropers and to get back its spot. Even the developers started thinking of ways to take this to other networks (which wasn't unheard of in history) to give The Ropers that shot in the arm. Whatever the deal was, whatever the original plan, whether sinister in nature, as a way to bring in Don Knotts, or whether just an effort to develop the characters we knew and loved in The Ropers, we saw the series end after its second (partial) season.
Despite the efforts made to keep The Ropers alive, you might consider inherent problems with the show as part of the flaw in the plan. First, you have to admit, you love the Ropers as neighbors to Jack and Janet and Chrissy. First, you gotta love the caring and benevolent Helen, always trying to help the girls find a way to keep Jack with his roomies, using her humor and her nurturing personality for the kids and saving her attempts at romance with her "sensitive" husband. Second, you gotta love Stanley and his silly sweaters and his crazy personality, a cross between a miserly landlord and a vaudevillian pantomimist and his wiggling fingers.
Now take them out of that context and put them into a condo where they've finally made it. They can now live in a first rate country club-type lifestyle instead of running a 2 story apartment somewhere in urban Santa Monica where rent costs $300 a month. What tension are you going to give to this cast of characters? Especially where they've been--in a show where each week, the writers devise some new way in which the mains of Jack, Janet and Chrissy somehow screw up communication and think something is which isn't. It is not easy to write the same show week after week but with a twist and that's the beauty and simplicity of Three's Company (much like Wile E. and Daffy somehow do the same thing in each cartoon a different way yet we love them all).
Unfortunately, the tension of whether Mrs. Roper is finally going to get some is replaced with this notion of Mrs. Roper wanting to fit in with society, and will she find appreciation for herself and her mate socially. You have her one-dimensional money loving neighbor Mr. Brookes and a rather one-dimensional mate Anne, who is level headed and sweet and perky. You have their son with the running gag of him doing everything opposite of his father, and you have the running gag of Helen's sister Ethel out of Beverly Hills being "a snob" (which Stanley literally mentions in every episode I've seen-"your sister is a snob").
You basically are in for either the same laughs each week or worse: no laughs each week. Sometimes when watching The Ropers, you notice the plot building slowly, but sometimes you don't feel the momentum. Helen and Stanley are still loveable and solid but other than visiting their neighbors or relatives, you don't see a lot of investment in the writing. They insult each other, calmly using double entendre, and the same with the neighbors. Stanley still mugs for the camera every time he zings Mrs. Roper and Helen still deadpans the delivery of the Stanley-the-cold-fish lines. Now add to that the quibbling and the money-counting of Mr. and Mrs. Brookes and you're dying for Ethel to come over just for something to happen. Comparing this show to other 1970-80 sitcoms of the era, you never see any cliffhangers, two part episodes, "very special" episodes or many guest stars or other investments. Especially when Antenna TV started airing these, back to back it's particularly noticeable.
Despite your loving the actors and characters, and wanting success for The Ropers, it seems hard with all these burdens. However, where things started to get interesting was when Jenny walked into the show. I have to admit I came on specially that night to see how she got in the Ropers' storeroom and who she was, since I honestly think I hadn't seen these ones before. I think she was the breath of fresh air the writers needed and I just wish they would have brought her in earlier. She gave to the show what it lacked which was a substitute for "the kids"--something Mrs. Roper needs to have around. It kind of reminds you of when Munro came into the lives of the Rush family on Too Close for Comfort--now you know why you're tuning in because he's so wacky and adorable you can't take your eyes off him.
So glad Antenna TV is airing this. They are showing each of The Ropers after Three's Company for as long as their are episodes, then they plan to double Three's Company until The Ropers comes up next time. If you haven't check out Antenna TV, look for it on your local digital TV (we have an actual antenna cable on our roof).