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3rd Rock From the Sun aired from January 1996 until May 2001 on NBC.

In the 60's it was My Favorite Martian. In the '70s it was Mork & Mindy. In the '80s it was Alf and now according to the promos, this was television's newest hit alien sitcom. Critics abstained at first but audiences made 3rd Rock From the Sun one of the hits of the 1995-1996 season. The story was simple,four aliens landed on Earth to study the ways of the most unimportant of planets (the '3rd rock") in this loony comedy. The High Commander assumed the form of Dick ( John Lithgow), patriarch of the Solomon family and aprofessor of physics at Pendleton University in Rutherford, Ohio. His second-in-command, a male lieutenant, became sexy female Sally ( Kirsten Johnson), while the other two occupied the bodies of doofus Harry ( French Stewart) and horny, shaggy-haired teenager Tommy ( Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who actually was older than Dick. In addition to the confusion caused by the difference between their alien selves and the bodies they inhabited (Dick, learning that he can't swivel his head: " How are you supposed to lick your back?"), there were the inevitable misunderstandings as they bumbled their way through unfamiliar human customs (host: "May I take your coat?" Dick , looking perplexed: " If I can keep my pants."). Most people just thought they were eccentrics.

Especially befuddled was Dick's office mate at the university, straitlaced Dr. Mary Albright ( Jane Curtin), whose sarcasm and own repressed lunacy added to the fun. Dick had a crush on her and wanted to get married , but was twarted by the aliens' Supreme Leader, the Big Giant Head. Later Mary was promoted to Dean, making her Dick's supervisor, to his dismay. Nina ( Simbi Khali)was their sassy secretary, Alissa ( Larisa Oleynik) the daughter of a faculty member and Tommy's girlfriend,August ( Shay Astar) another of Tommy's girlfriends, Mrs Dubcek ( Elmarie Wendel)their landlady, and Officer Don ( Wayne Knight), Sally's rotund boyfriend. Others frequently seen were Mrs. Dubcek's daughter ( and Harry's girlfriend) Vicki ( Jan Hooks), Mary's friend Judith ( Ileen Getz), and students Pitman , Caryn, Bug and Leon ( Chris Hogan, Danielle Nicolet, David DeLuise, Ian Lithgow). Liam Neesan ( John Cleese)was Dick's occasionally seen malevolent alien nemesis.

In the May 1999 season finale the Solomons were visited by the Big Giant Head ( William Shatner), a drunken reprobate who took the Earth name "Stone Phillips," promoted Sally to High Commander because she looked sexy and impregnated Vicki. Vicki's pregnancy came to term in a matter of moments and the gang rushed her to the hospital where the nurse proclaimed ,"I can see the head...boy is that a big head?" Big Giant Head fled leaving Dick back in charge. The May 2001 series finale brought closure. Don quit the police force to open a donut shop, and Mary learned the aliens' secret when she saw Dick turn another alien into a monkey ( after the alien had tried to turn the Solomons into chimps). Because Dick had used a weapon against another alien the Big Giant Head canceled their mission and ordered them home. First though they threw a party ( at which Elvis Costello sang "Fly Me to the Moon") using credit cards they knew they wouldn't have to pay off, and Dick invited Mary to come with them. She almost did, but chickened out at the last minute. Dick then did a procedure so that she would have no memory of any of them and then the Solomons then got into their red Rambler, drove to a ridge above the city and began singing (badly)their group song, where upon they were zapped into space.

When this episode first aired in syndication, it aired an alternate ending that very little cast, crew, and no audience got to see. It was recorded a week after the final wrap of production of the series.Mary woke up right after the Solomon's were flashed back to their home planet. She got off the ground, walked over to the car and sat down in the driver's seat of the Rambler. All of a sudden, a naked Dick ( chest up was all that was seen) was flashed back to Earth and into the front passanger's seat. Mary looked at him and asked, "Who are you?" He took ahold of her hand and she screamed upward and outward, "Alien Abduction! Alien Abduction!" They were both flashed out of the car, leaving an empty car in the closing scene.

3rd Rock From the Sun was the creation of Bonnie and Terry Turner, co-writers of the movies Wayne's World and Coneheads and who would later write another hit series, That '70s Show. 3rd Rock was produced by the Carsey-Werner team ( who brought viewers The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Cybill and many others).

A Review from Variety

3rd Rock from the Sun
((Tues. (9), 8:30-9 p.m., NBC))

Filmed in Los Angeles by Carsey-Werner Prods. Executive producers, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Mandabach, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner; co-producer, Patrick Kienlen; director, James Burrows; script, Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner; camera, Ken Lamkin; editor, Vince Humphrey; production designer, Garvin Eddy; sound, Norman Webster; music, Ben Vaughn. TX:Cast: John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jane Curtin, Simbi Khali, Elmarie Wendel, Jennifer Rhodes, David DeLuise, Marne Petterson, Ian Lithgow, Chris Hogan, Danielle Nicolet, Susan Leslie, Dan Gilvezen.

Quartet of extraterrestrials land on Earth to study the civilization while passing themselves off as locals. No, it isn't "My Favorite Martian," nor -- despite the presence of Jane Curtin and writers and co-executive producers Bonnie and Terry Turner (both from "Saturday Night Live") -- is it a TV series spinoff of "Coneheads." The style and tone of "3rd Rock From the Sun," the latest sitcom from Carsey-Werner, seem more in line with Fox or UPN than NBC. The Solomon home unit is completed by Sally (Kristen Johnston), sardonic Harry (French Stewart) and teenage Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). For some reason , even though they've found a home -- Mrs. Dupeczech (Elmarie Wendel) is their landlady -- the quartet evidently assemble regularly in an automobile atop the local Lovers Lane. Aliens don't necessarily correspond to their human forms: Sally was given female form, she's told, "Because you lost." That's the approximate level of humor in the pilot, directed by James Burrows. Other jokes tend toward the risque, with the Solomon family often misinterpreting American English.
Cast generally rises above the material, with Lithgow a sort of cross between Steve Martin and Matt Frewer, and tall, raspy-voiced Johnston a real find. Curtin is fine, but somewhat wasted as an uptight professor.

Ben Vaughn contributes the surf-rockabilly music score; bumper visuals of animated planets grow annoying quickly.

A Review from The New York Times

TELEVISION REVIEW;Dazed and Confused On a Strange Planet

Published: January 9, 1996

Let's face it; at times we all feel like aliens on Earth. There are days when we look around and wonder, "Who are these people?" and spaced-out moments when the most mundane tasks seem bizarre. Few of us react with the comic flair of Sally Solomon (Kristen Johnston), a statuesque young woman learning to make her first meatloaf. She takes her hamburger-filled fingers out of the bowl and stares at them. "I have dead cow on my hands?" she shrieks, running from the kitchen in horror.

Sally's excuse is that she's from another galaxy, part of a four-member reconnaissance team led by John Lithgow. Her meatloaf-moment captures the attitude of the erratic but promising "Third Rock From the Sun" (tonight at 8:30 on NBC), a sitcom that smartly takes on the everyday foibles of Earthlings more than it indulges in Martian jokes.

The pitch-perfect performances of Mr. Lithgow, disguised as a physics professor, and Ms. Johnston, as a tough male lieutenant forced to assume the mysterious role of a woman, are the best elements of the show. So far the series lacks the sharp writing to match its actors' unflappable delivery and deft physical comedy. Three episodes were available for preview, and "Third Rock" doesn't begin to hit its stride until the third.

Though tonight's opener was directed by James Burrows (of "Cheers" fame), it is the weakest, resembling a series of blackout sketches, some clever and many lame, as the show labors to set up its premise. The aliens pose as a family, presumably of siblings, whose age gaps alone would suggest something odd. Dick Solomon (Mr. Lithgow) is middle-aged; there is Sally, who appears to be in her 20's, and a near-contemporary brother, Harry (French Stewart), who weakly fills the dumb and dumber slot. The adolescent Tommy happens to be the oldest of the four on their own planet. He is given predictable pubescent jokes, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt ("Angels in the Outfield") handles them as if they were fresh.

The aliens sit in a convertible and check to make sure they have everything they need to pass as human. "Ten fingers, eleven toes," Mr. Lithgow says, with Dick's typically misguided sincerity. But rotten lines overwhelm the episode. "Is anyone else sweating out of their breasts?" Sally asks.

Still, Mr. Lithgow is wonderfully funny throughout. Next week, when the Solomons get the flu, watch him pull tissues out of a box, marveling at the way they keep popping up. "This is brilliant!" he says, filled with awe and intense intellectual curiosity, turning a throwaway scene into one of the show's high points.

Jane Curtin, famous as another alien, Mrs. Conehead, is the straight woman here. As Dick's office mate and love interest, she reacts smoothly to the socially inept professor (a common enough life form to keep her fooled).

In the third episode, Sally and Tommy eye a lime green Jell-O mold suspiciously, keeping a safe distance. "What do you think it wants?" they wonder. "What is it trying to tell us?" A Jell-O mold is a hackneyed comic target, yet they carry the scene off hilariously. The cast deserves more consistently funny material. Even extraterrestrials shouldn't have to work this hard for laughs.

THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN NBC, tonight at 8:30 P.M. (Channel 4 in New York)

Created by Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner; Terry Turner, Bonnie Turner, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner, Caryn Mandabach and Linwood Boomer, executive producers; pilot episode directed by James Burrows. A production of YBYL Productions in association with the Carsey-Werner Company.

WITH: John Lithgow (High Commander/ Dick Solomon), Jane Curtin (Dr. Mary Albright), Kristen Johnston (Sally Solomon), French Stewart (Harry Solomon), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Tommy Solomon), Elmarie Wendel (Mrs. Dubcek) and Simbi Khali (Nina Campbell).

An Article from Entertainment Weekly
Published on March 22, 1996


By Dan Snierson

SKIRT BLOWING in the breeze, 6'4'' John Lithgow sashays down the corridor of a Studio City, Calif., soundstage, smoothing bunched-up nylons and wiping marigold wisps of wig from his face. His thickly glossed lips ease into a self-conscious smirk as he glides past Jane Curtin into a dressing room and closes the door. ''I wouldn't go in there,'' Curtin tells a cluster of onlookers. ''It's not a pretty sight. Kind of like a butterfly turning back into a caterpillar.''

Curtin's warning seems superfluous. After all, startling transformations are nothing new here on the set of NBC's latest hit comedy, 3rd Rock From the Sun, a show whose out-of-the-blue success startled everyone, including its network. ''We weren't convinced we could go in and own a time period against ABC on Tuesday nights,'' says a giddy NBC Entertainment president Warren Littlefield. ''But in fact, that's just what we're doing.''

3rd Rock rocketed out of the gates on Jan. 9, soaring to seventh place in the ratings, and has finished first in its 8:30 time slot ever since. (It also outdraws its competition in key demos, including teens and 18- to 49-year-olds.) Granted, the show has the advantage of great placement -- sandwiched between Wings and Frasier. But unlike those other well-situated NBC hits, The Single Guy (which follows Friends) and Caroline in the City (which tails Seinfeld), 3rd Rock builds on its established lead-in rather than jettisoning a few million viewers.

It differs radically in another important way, too. 3rd Rock (in case you've been living under a, well, rock) doesn't deal with the dating habits of twentysomethings, but rather the antics of a quartet of aliens who have assumed human form to study life on Earth: Dr. Dick Solomon (Lithgow), the brash mission leader posing as a physics professor; Sally (Kristen Johnston), the second-in-command, trapped in the body of a six-foot blond bombshell; Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an elderly information officer-turned-14-year-old boy; and Harry (French Stewart), a flake in this world or any other. Curtin plays Dr. Albright, the prim Pendleton University professor Solomon yearns to probe.

An unlikely group to feel passionate about, but America seems to be hooked, and 3rd Rock's creators are hard-pressed to explain the allure. ''I don't know why the reaction to the show is so big,'' says Bonnie Turner, who created and executive-produces the Carsey-Werner sitcom with husband Terry. ''But if I could plant a kiss on John Q. Public, it would be a big wet one.''

Well, we have our own little theory. The perfect union between NBC and this otherworldly sitcom seems to share several key elements with a certain wedding-day tradition.

SOMETHING OLD (as in ''nanu nanu'') An alien sitcom is hardly a novel concept. ''Every 10 years there's one,'' says Littlefield. ''My Favorite Martian in the '60s, Mork & Mindy in the '70s, and ALF in the '80s. The stranger in a strange land is a wonderful, classic notion that works.'' And 3rd Rock remains true to the satirical bent of outsider looking in while managing to be sexier than Martian, raunchier than Mork, hipper than ALF, and more sophisticated (by a hair) than Coneheads. The challenge for the creators is to stay fresh; Martian, Mork, and ALF quickly jumped into the top 20 but stumbled after a year or two. ''The aliens can discover something every week, just as we do,'' argues 3rd Rock staff writer Christine Zander. ''And eventually they might get in trouble for liking this planet too much.''

SOMETHING NEW (as in "What, no coffee bar?") A local TV news crew invades the set during a rehearsal break. "So is it difficult playing all these different characters?" the interviewer asks Johnston, who informs him that she does only one. Oops. Next. "When will you return to 3rd Rock?" he quizzes Gordon-Levitt. "No, no, 3rd Rock is Earth," says Gordon-Levitt, ticking off the alignment of the planets: Mercury, Venus, then Earth.

Ah, the perils of high-concept programming. 3rd Rock scores points for venturing outside Manhattan and L.A., into a world devoid of stand-ups and sofas. "There was a deliberate move not to put a couch on the set," says Terry Turner. And the show gets bonus points for celebrating the sexual appetites of over-40s in, gulp, Ohio. How on earth did they sell the idea?

With difficulty. Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner first approached the Turners in March 1994. Carsey and Werner are known for their keen sitcom sense (The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Grace Under Fire, Cybill)--despite some major flops (Chicken Soup)--but even they had a hard time selling a half hour of extraterrestrials on a field trip to our planet. "We said, 'Wow. Aliens. Cool. Bye,'" remembers Bonnie, who, along with Terry, was a cowriter on the big-screen hits Wayne's World and The Brady Bunch Movie after writing for Saturday Night Live. The producers urged them to think about the project some more. "They were really persistent," says Bonnie.

Two weeks later, the Turners hit upon a formula they could live with that was less about aliens and more about life as we know it. "It's about being human," says Bonnie. "But because they're alien, we can distance ourselves from being human rather than doing a microanalysis of life like Seinfeld."

For the lead, they envisioned and landed former Oscar nominee John Lithgow, 50, who had worked with the writers when he hosted SNL. Filling out the cast took another eight months. Gordon-Levitt, 15, was a veteran of numerous TV shows and the movie Angels in the Outfield. Stewart, 32, was pulled from the L.A. stage. Johnston, 28, was discovered in an Off Broadway play (The Lights) by a Carsey-Werner suit. "I was ready to settle for the sassy best friend," says Johnston. "Three funny lines each show, filing my nails, talking about my boyfriend." Now, playing the only character in prime time who could be accused of sexually harassing herself, Johnston is becoming a breakout star, with NBC featuring her in a series of new promos. "The natural reaction was 'Aliens--gotta be a guy show,'" says Vince Manze, NBC senior VP of promotion. "But we're getting more women as Kristen emerges as a leading character."

SOMETHING BORROWED (as in an ABC pilot) In a convoluted subplot we find the loser in this scenario: ABC. Carsey-Werner shot the first 3rd Rock pilot for that network in January 1995 as a possible mid-season replacement. ABC opted not to air the series and asked for reshoots. But the rejiggered pilot didn't make the 1995 fall schedule either. Meanwhile, over at NBC, Jamie McDermott--the 31-year-old exec who helped shepherd Friends and Frasier--had seen the 3rd Rock pilot and was talking it up to Littlefield. Soon after, Carsey-Werner got a call from NBC: Is there any way that we could get involved?

In fact, there was. By passing twice on 3rd Rock, ABC had triggered a standard clause in Lithgow's contract, giving Carsey-Werner the option to exit the deal. They did. ''[ABC Entertainment president] Ted Harbert wasn't like, 'God, this is funny.' He was more like, 'Hmmmmm,''' says Bonnie Turner. ''At NBC, we walked into Warren Littlefield's office and he said, 'It's a riot! I love the stars! Don't change anything!' He went crazy.''

3rd Rock steamrolled ABC's 8:30 competition, Hudson Street. The network counterattacked, replacing Hudson with longtime workhorse Coach. The move managed to stop 3rd Rock's growth, but it hasn't flushed it out of the top 20.

As you can imagine, 3rd Rock is not a popular topic of discussion at ABC, a network that was unseated this season by NBC for the ratings throne and even finished third in the February sweeps. (Harbert--who, it's rumored, will be bumped upstairs to make way for...Jamie McDermott--declined to be interviewed.) ''It's an old story. We've all moved on,'' insists ABC programming VP Alan Sternfeld. But he does defend ABC's support of 3rd Rock: ''We gave this project life when Tom and Marcy brought it here. We're the network that not only spent money to produce the pilot but then spent another million dollars to reshoot it. Does that sound like an ambivalent network?''

No, but $20 million sounds a little less ambivalent. With no other mid-season series to worry about, NBC launched 3rd Rock with a promotion campaign including on-air spots, which the network claims were worth $20 million, and $500,000 of print and radio advertising--nearly twice what it usually invests in a replacement show. ''A network that knows how to back its bets and believe in a show--boy, that is so important,'' says Carsey.

Thanks to 3rd Rock's roll, networks are placing their bets on high-concept comedies. ''You're definitely going to see more of them,'' predicts Fox series VP Bob Greenblatt. ''Everybody was heartened to see that there was a whole other avenue we could go down. '' Back at ABC, a shot at redemption lies in the Henson comedy Aliens in the Family, which debuted March 15. And for Aliens exec producer Andy Borowitz, at least, 3rd Rock's success is great news: ''It was good to see that people wanted something a little wackier.''

SOMETHING BLUE (well, it's kinda dirty) The cast and staff of 3rd Rock have gathered to do a first read-through of next week's script, ''I Enjoy Being a Dick,'' an episode that finds Dr. Solomon attempting to infiltrate a women-only seminar (hence Lithgow's above-mentioned drag). The laid-back, 45-minute session offers lots of big laughs, including an exchange between Curtin's and Lithgow's characters. Albright wonders whether she has said something sexist, to which Solomon replies, ''No. Sexist would be if you told me that I had a nice ass, then said if I didn't go to bed with you I'd be fired.'' Two script drafts later, ''nice ass'' has been changed to ''tight butt.'' ''Standards doesn't like too many asses,'' says Zander.

It's a wobbly tightrope to walk: 3rd Rock thrives on anti-PC comedy ("Wear something that shows off the crack in your breasts," Solomon told Albright in one episode), yet its bold sensibilities have drawn the ire of critics, who blast the show for its bathroom humor. "Body-part jokes were a function of the first few episodes because they were occupying human bodies for the first time," Bonnie responds. "We've passed that stage." Adds Littlefield, "There was a concern, and it has been addressed."

Addressed, perhaps, but Lithgow hopes not stamped out. "I want to be offensive to at least somebody in every episode," he says. "Comedy should outrage as much as it entertains." Fair enough. As long as we don't have to see Lithgow in a thong.



An Article from The New York Times

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK;Aliens in Ohio, Afraid of Jell-O (But No Coneheads in Sight)

Published: April 23, 1996

Some think it's idiotic. Others find it brilliant. Actually, "Third Rock From the Sun" is brilliantly idiotic, a daffy pastiche of farce, burlesque and satire. And confounding most of the television industry, this NBC series (it was rejected by ABC) has steadily evolved into a full-fledged hit since its premiere in early January. Once again, most prime-time experts are reduced to fidgety mumbling.

The show was created by Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner, wife and husband, whose work on "Saturday Night Live" included writing the "Wayne's World" sketches with Mike Meyers and the "Church Lady" ones with Dana Carvey. In "Third Rock," they have whipped up four aliens who assume human forms and settle down in a fictional university town in Ohio to study the rituals and habits of the locals.

Unlike "Aliens in the House," which came and went rapidly this year, "Third Rock" has no odd-looking extraterrestrials lurking about. Although Jane Curtin is in the cast, there are no Coneheads in sight. These aliens are more like amiable eccentrics, looking innocently and hilariously at the ordinary foibles of their neighbors and colleagues.

The high commander of the investigative team is Dick Solomon, played with maniacal zest by John Lithgow, whose distinguished career has included acclaimed Broadway performances in plays ranging from "The Changing Room" to "M. Butterfly" and innumerable high-profile roles in movies ("The World According to Garp") and on television ("The Resting Place"). Now, it seems, he is about to win full-magnitude stardom in a sitcom. Life can be wondrous.

Dick's "fam'ly" consists of Sally (Kristen Johnson), a statuesque young woman in the enduring mold of Loretta Swit's Hot Lips Houlihan or, going back to Jerry Lester days, Dagmar; Harry (French Stepart), who sees the world with skewed amusement through a perpetual squint, and Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who although older than Dick, is the youngster of the group, constantly suffering from puberty spasms. Add Ms. Curtin as Mary Albright, Dick's university colleague and the usually horrified object of his bizarre affections, and the "Third Rock" company adds up to a casting-director's dream.

Descending on what is referred to as "a flea-infested little planet in the boondocks of th' galaxy," the third planet from the Sun, these oddities must pose as a human family, which, we are warned, "is not as easy as it seems." Of course, what they find is equally odd. The pilot episode, opening with calls on U.F.O. sightings, featured a woman crying, "They want my eggs!"

Like "The John Larroquette Show," "Third Rock" stays so loose that it seems to be inventing itself as it goes along, not always successfully but inventively enough to reward patience. Everything is potential fodder, even a gift mold of lime Jell-O that the petrified Sally begins stabbing with a huge knife. Even, heaven help us, television itself. Sally, looking glum: "I've been watching television for three hours without a thought in my head." Harry, looking glummer: "And that's just the tip of the iceberg."

As in burlesque and the current revival of "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," the humor can be ribald. A simple flashlight suddenly turns unmistakably suggestive, and the word "doodle" is juggled deftly with a leer or two. Dick challenges Mary: "I have a hundred-dollar bill hidden somewhere on my body. Find it and it's yours." Sally, still getting used to her quite extraordinary body, brings new dimensions to the concept of sensuous showgirl. But then, getting seri ous in the middle of an episode about art classes, Harry notes, "Let's not forget what one great thinker of the 20th century said: 'Art is no damned good' -- Jesse Helms." That's followed by Dick offering himself as a nude model, and announcing to the students, "Prepare to meet your muse."

Mr. Lithgow is apparently determined to leave no comic shtick newly burnished, using everything from pratfalls to Jack Benny-patented slow takes. Always very serious and trying desperately to look dignified, Dick inevitably ends up slipping on various banana peels, but somehow recovering with a modicum of grace. Even the usually appalled Mary concedes in reluctant awe, "You are exactly what you seem, and I must admit your lack of nuance is refreshing."

On Sunday, in a special episode, when Mary refused to allow Dick to participate in her woman's discussi'n group, he showed up in drag and triggered all sorts of commotion when he silenced her disapproval with a passionate kiss. Later, at home, just as Tommy was trying to confide "something about my family" to his girlfriend, a frazzled Dick in drag rushed in, pulled off his wig and shrieked, "I need some herbal tea and a fat-free cookie!" Tonight in a new time slot -- 8 instead of 8:30 -- "Third Rock" skims cleverly over issues of heritage and ethnicity after Tommy, not fitting in with his schoolmat's, complains that "not knowing who we are, I can't rebel."

At one point early on in the series, Dick wondered: "Why do they call themselves the human race? Do they think someone's going to win?" Well, it laoks as if "Third Rock" could. Big.

An Article from Entertainment Weekly
Published on December 27, 1996

Cover Story
By Lisa Schwarzbaum

Mork, E.T., ALF, and the squawking, green, bubble-brained creatures from Mars Attacks! have proved, human behavior -- always a knee-slapper -- is never funnier than when being studied by aliens who don't have a clue about table manners. And these days there are no funnier, less inhibited extraterrestrials patrolling the airwaves than the crew from 3rd Rock From the Sun. When mission leader Dick Solomon (John Lithgow) and his team touched down on NBC's earth last January, assuming human forms and coagulating into a nuclear -- if nutjob -- family unit, the network had a breakout hit on its hands; four months into its second season, 3rd Rock ranks 11th in the Nielsens.

But who knew such a broad, high-concept comedy would fly in an era of garrulous, urban-based sitcoms -- an era where funny stuff is usually defined as that which sophisticated friends say to each other while sitting on a couch? Well, Lithgow, for one. ''It seemed like an absolute natural from the first time I heard about it,'' says the actor, who is surely not the first stage and film professional to have sworn never to do a sitcom -- and who picked up an Emmy for his efforts in September. ''I had said I didn't want to be pigeonholed by a role. That's what's happened. And I'm very proud!'' As high commander of this ensemble lunacy, the very tall Lithgow gets to pretzel himself into very strange situations, many involving his romance with earthling Dr. Mary Albright (the wonderful Jane Curtin, back where she belongs). But his contortions are no stranger than those foisted upon Amazonian first assistant Sally (Kristen Johnston); scientist-turned-teen Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt); and universal oddball Harry (French Stewart), a squinty-eyed clown who'd probably be out of place on any planet. As Stewart puts it, ''I'm perfectly willing to go dork nuts -- you know, throw dork fuel to feed the dork fire.''

If you think about it, brainy yet clueless aliens make the perfect laboratory for studying human customs: Like when Dick, feeling bereft of a heritage, shops around and decides he's a Jew. Like when Sally picks up a hunk at a bar (too bad it's a gay bar, and her quarry thinks she's a man in drag). Like when the Solomons tackle this strange custom called Thanksgiving, during which Harry engages in a food-as-sex scene out of Tom Jones with guest star Jan Hooks that is so dork nuts, the actor cracks up.

The giddiness and fizz that aerate the laugh-out-loud humor of 3rd Rock (overseen, not surprisingly, by Wayne's World scripters and ex-Saturday Night Live writers Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner) make the show look improvised. Yet every move is carefully worked out by a cast that has no problem making total fools of themselves. ''It's an open dare,'' says Lithgow. ''I've thrown down my gauntlet to the writers: Use me!'' ''I love to be devastatingly stupid,'' agrees Stewart. It's a dork's universe on 3rd Rock -- and it feels like home.

An Article from The New York Times

'Third Rock' Aliens Inhabit Dreamland

Published: May 18, 1997

TRYING TO MIMIC HUMAN ways, Harry, the geeky alien played by French Stewart on the NBC sitcom ''Third Rock from the Sun,'' has rarely stumbled through life with as much elan as he did on a sound stage here the other day. In a porkpie hat and a pink plaid suit, he waltzed with a group of beautiful dancers and then, as luck would have it, got the girl of his dreams.

And so it went at the filming of the season's last episode of ''Third Rock,'' which will be broadcast tonight at 8. The episode is special for several reasons. It will last for an hour instead of the usual half-hour, and it was enhanced with a 3D effect that will be visible to viewers equipped with glasses available from two sponsors. Most important, it is an episode based on an intriguing question: if aliens dreamed, what would they dream?

The zany show, of course, has a zany answer. Its four aliens, beached up in a Midwestern college town, dream in images from old movies and television shows. In other words, even the collective unconscious of prime-time aliens is tuned into cable.

In the spirit of sweeps month, when the networks do just about anything to grab the attention of viewers, boost ratings and increase advertising rates, the producers of ''Third Rock'' brought in Phil Joanou, a movie director (''Final Analysis,'' ''State of Grace''), to make the dream sequences. He was given a relatively large budget, about $1.5 million, just to do the 16 minutes of dreams and told to have fun. On the set filled with dancers the other day, it seemed that everyone involved with this reprise of film and television history was.

''The truth of the matter is, I had about two days to think this thing up,'' said Mr. Joanou, a bundle of nervous energy in a baseball cap. ''I just lay down on a couch, closed my eyes, and that's what I saw. I think they want to show there's more behind this show than slapstick.''

Dick, the commander alien played by John Lithgow, is caged and interrogated by Mary (Jane Curtin) as she seeks to learn if he is hiding something from her, which, of course, he is (his alien identity). At one point he is put in a frightening dentist's chair, which looks like something from the Terry Gilliam movie ''Brazil,'' and is interrogated by Mary, who is dressed in black leather and sings with a German accent and wears a platinum wig like Marlene Dietrich in ''The Blue Angel.''

Sally (Kristen Johnston) prances through a Fellini-like dream, complete with Italian accents and subtitles, as a moody starlet who discovers that her boyfriend is a (real) chicken. Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) appears in a sequence that is a takeoff on Saturday-morning cartoons with a touch of Monty Python. He pursues the secret of human life across desert and sea before finding himself alone on an island with a teacher on whom he has had a crush.

Perhaps the most audacious dream is Harry's. His sequence might best be described as Buster Keaton meets ''Guys and Dolls''; he breaks into song (Randy Newman's ''Life's Been Good to Me'') and hoofs his way through a quaintly choreographed dance number.

''This is like fantasy baseball,'' Mr. Stewart said between takes. ''I always wanted to do this kind of thing, but when you hear my voice you'll see why nobody suggested it before.''

Mr. Joanou saw a larger purpose. ''You used to see a lot of this great dance stuff on TV,'' he said. ''Maybe it'll come back. We sort of brought a lot of stuff back here.''

An Article from The New York Times

COVER STORY; Lost in Space: Will Land Anywhere For a Few Laughs

Published: April 12, 1998

Sent to reconnoiter the ways of Earthlings, the alien expeditionary team finds a lot to puzzle over: the entire subject of sex, for example, or a Tupperware party (''this is odd'') or wine selection (''some of this stuff is over a year old''). Not least of the mystifications are the people who make up network programming schedules.

''We don't know how they think or why they do what they do,'' said Marcy Carsey. No alien herself, Ms. Carsey speaks for several of her interplanetary visitors as an executive producer of the NBC comedy ''Third Rock From the Sun.'' At present, the show can be found on Wednesday night at 9 P.M., but better keep checking.

''Have you seen a list of our scheduling jumps?'' Ms. Carsey asked during a recent interview. So far, counting a one-night stand for a special episode after the Super Bowl on Jan. 26, the changes number six since the show made its debut in Jan. 1996. Before that it even jumped networks: when the ''Third Rock'' pilot failed to earn the show a spot on ABC'sschedule, it was picked up by NBC. Next month NBC will reveal its line-up for the 1998 fall season, and perhaps another switch for ''Third Rock.''

With all the jumping around, one might think the show isn't appreciated. Actually, it's a question of putting it into a position where it can do the schedule the most good.

Seldom has the fall been more critical for the network. ''Seinfeld,'' NBC's anchor on Thursday nights and the most popular show on television, has announced its retirement. ''Third Rock,'' a relatively new show still building its audience, generally isn't regarded as a replacement, but it could figure in the scheduling rearrangements.

''It's a signature comedy for us,'' said Warren Littlefield, president of NBC entertainment. Ratings are high. Critics are pleased. ''Creatively the show is in a great place'' he added.

The scene is the fictional town of Rutherford, Ohio, where investigators from another planet have taken on human form and set up their surveillance. John Lithgow stars as an affably fretful physics professor named Dick Solomon (really the mission's High Commander). Second in command is Sally Solomon (Kristen Johnson), a tall, powerful lieutenant on the home planet but in Rutherford an earthy blonde Amazon with man problems, a constant air of incredulity and a roundhouse right. Filling out the suburban household are the two young men of the Solomon family. Harry (French Stewart) has gone perpetually squint-eyed with inquisitiveness. The adolescent Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is the youngest Solomon but actually the oldest alien.

In Rutherford, the Solomons adopt the attitudes and foibles of their purely human colleagues and friends. Jane Curtin portrays the human Dr. Mary Albright, Dick Solomon's fellow professor and tentative love interest. Wayne Knight is Officer Don, a pudgy policeman who might just make a match for Sally if the pair ever get their respective anxieties under control and into alignment.

Now if they can just land a fat air time. ''When it comes to setting the schedule next fall, I don't know what the answer will be,'' Mr. Littlefield said. Tuesday and Thursday are the big comedy nights on NBC and the show could go in that direction. Or someplace else.

Those who make the show can only labor on. ''We try to keep it as our focus and let NBC keep the scheduling as their focus,'' said Bonnie Turner, who with her husband Terry created ''Third Rock'' and is one of its nine writers and five executive producers.

''Third Rock'' began on Tuesday at 8:30, a so-called satellite slot on the half-hour. Seven shows later came the first scheduling jump. ''On ABC 'Roseanne' was marrying off a daughter and Danny was having a heart attack,'' Ms. Turner said. That was pretty strong competition for a new show. ''So they swapped us and we became the 8 o'clock show,'' she said.

In the fall of 1996, the network parlayed the ''Third Rock'' Tuesday success into a slot on Sunday at 8, where it overwhelmed ''Lois and Clark,'' its opposite on ABC, and won five Emmys.

The Sunday performance encouraged NBC to build a Wednesday comedy schedule around ''Third Rock,'' which for the 1997 season was positioned in the sweet spot at 9. ''They saw our show as a tent pole, something they could build on,'' Terry Turner said. In that position ''Third Rock'' has taken a solid whipping from ''The Drew Carey Show'' on ABC but carries on in what Mr. Littlefield describes as a strong second place.

The Turners blame their current runner-up position to the weak shows that were placed ahead and after it at the start of the season. ''Built to Last,'' a new comedy preceding ''Third Rock'' at 8:30 not only didn't last but proved to be the weakest new show in NBC history. ''Working,'' the comedy that follows ''Third Rock'' at 9:30, is stronger but hardly a show that people flock to.

''When you have to be your own lead-in, it gets to be a little difficult,'' said Terry Turner.

Ms. Carsey, a partner in Carsey-Werner, the independent production company whose roster of hits include ''The Cosby Show,'' ''Roseanne,'' ''Grace Under Fire'' and ''Cybill,'' said that all the schedule jumping indicated NBC's faith in ''Third Rock'' but a show rides with its running mates. ''The network has to place its bets somewhere,'' she said, ''but it's an uncomfortable feeling being out there all by ourselves.''

They get no argument from Mr. Littlefield. ''We failed,'' he said. ''NBC was not able to give it a lead-in, wasn't able to protect it.''

For the fall, the show's role seems to be as chess piece, good for parrying other networks' moves and filling in where needed. Last month NBC averted another major loss when ''Mad About You,'' its solid performer at 8 on Tuesday (one of ''Third Rock's'' old spots), signed back on for another season. Could that show be thrown into the ''Seinfeld'' gap? Mr. Littlefield listed some possible Seinfeld replacements: ''Frasier,'' ''Friends,'' ''Mad About You,'' ''Just Shoot Me.''

In addition to a half-dozen established shows, NBC will consider the pilots of 14 newcomers. ''I can't tell you what my development will look like because we haven't made all the stuff yet,'' he added. ''We have a lot of variables.''

''Third Rock'' belongs somewhere in that company. ''Anybody who has a comedy on NBC would prefer Tuesday or Thursday,'' Ms. Carsey said. ''But if they want us on Wednesday, that's all right, as long as there's a proven show in front of us. We told them we'd take on tigers if that's what they want us to do, but we would like it better if we were on a carefully crafted comedy night.''

An Article from The New York Times

TELEVISION/RADIO; Farewell to 'Third Rock,' Truly Out of This World

Published: May 13, 2001

I WILL always remember the moment I became hooked on ''Third Rock From the Sun.'' The NBC sitcom was barely two minutes old, and the fact that it was about four space aliens who had arrived to investigate Earth was just being established. They had all assumed human form, and while two had become men and the third was a boy, the fourth had turned into a tall, beautiful woman.

As the invaders checked out their new bodies, the woman (Kristen Johnston) turned to the high commander (John Lithgow) with a panicked look on her face and asked, ''Why am I the woman?'' Her alien superior calmly turned to her and announced, ''Because you lost.''

With that one joke, the series captured exactly what the six seasons of its network run were going to be like: irreverent, incorrect and, occasionally, insightful. There has been nothing else like it on the air. And now, after moving the show through 13 time slots in its half-dozen seasons, NBC has canceled ''Third Rock.'' The final two episodes will be shown Tuesday and May 22.

''There is an interesting history here of a huge hit that turned into a forgotten, dismal failure,'' Mr. Lithgow said recently. ''It almost takes ingenuity to do away with a show like this. Not even NBC's precious 'Seinfeld' could have survived the moves we went through.''

Maybe the problem, ultimately, was just bad timing. ''Third Rock's'' high concept -- aliens trying to live as a human family -- was straight out of the 1960's era that brought us the likes of ''I Dream of Jeannie'' and ''My Favorite Martian.'' There was no attempt to be relevant. Scenes were not punctuated by snide, wittier-than-thou putdowns. All that counted was the joke, and the sillier and more farcical the better.

This was a series that once did an entire episode about supermodels trying to take over the earth by making the best beer commercial ever and using it to hypnotize men during the Super Bowl. In one of the show's best running gags, the lovely, leggy female alien, Sally (Ms. Johnston), romanced a short, overweight, bespectacled cop, Don (Wayne Knight). When it came to casting the drunken lecher who was also the boss of all aliens, better known as Big Giant Head, the producers lured William Shatner, long before he reappeared on the pop culture radar with his Priceline commercials.

Best of all was the dialogue. Each week, ''Third Rock'' got away with some of the dumbest puns and goofiest exchanges this side of the Marx Brothers.

Dr. Albright (Jane Curtin): I have a red Volvo.

Dick (Mr. Lithgow): Please, Dr. Albright! We hardly know each other!

Or the time the alien Harry (French Stewart) asked a woman out on a date the next night.

Woman: Okay. How about 9?

Harry: Let's start with one and see how it goes.

Sure, the jokes were dopey, but they perfectly suited the show's no-holds-barred comic style. While most sitcom acting these days seems to involve appearing as cool and wry as possible, this show operated with a more-is-more philosophy -- its larger-than-life premise demanded larger-than-life performances. Mr. Lithgow's Dick Solomon, the lead alien, was a gasping, quivering yet swaggering bundle of hysterical reactions. Mr. Stewart's dimwitted Harry seemed to keep his eyelids at half-mast through the show's entire run. But it was never just shtick. It was like watching Harpo Marx or Stan Laurel mug his way through a film. Funny, but also endearing.

When ''Third Rock'' first went on the air in the winter of 1996, it couldn't have looked more out of place. NBC's success with situation comedies like ''Seinfeld,'' ''Mad About You'' and ''Friends'' had turned the networks' prime-time schedules into safe havens for young, attractive, acerbic Manhattanites. The fact that a show set in a small Ohio college town, where none of the characters looked as if they had just stepped out of a Gap ad, managed to make it on the air at all was amazing. The series was about as cutting edge as a rerun of ''The Beverly Hillbillies,'' a show to which it bore more than a passing resemblance. (Think about it: four outsiders end up in a strange new world, and they can't make heads or tails of it.)

''All the people in these shows were young, cynical and on the make,'' said Terry Turner, who with his wife, Bonnie, created ''Third Rock.'' ''We saw this going on and just thought, 'We can't all be like that, can we?' ''

At first, being different worked. NBC believed so strongly in the show that it snatched ''Third Rock'' from ABC, where it had been developed. Well before the premiere, the network arranged for Mr. Lithgow to interrupt a news conference by Warren Littlefield, then the president of NBC Entertainment, promoting the 1995 fall schedule. Mr. Lithgow mocked Mr. Littlefield for not putting the show in the fall lineup, referring to him as ''program boy.'' It was an unusual stunt, considering that it would be six months before NBC would get around to putting ''Third Rock'' on the air.

And in its first half-season, ''Third Rock'' was a ratings success on Tuesday nights. The next fall NBC moved the show to Sunday. Even though the ratings began to slip, the network chose to broadcast an episode in the prestigious spot after the Super Bowl in 1998; it was rewarded with the truly bizarre episode about supermodels and their sinister halftime beer commercial.

(One can only imagine the range of emotions at the network. The good news: you've got a bunch of beautiful women on screen. The bad news: they'll be mercilessly mocked. Example: Sally tries to prove she's one of the models by taking one bite of a radish and proudly proclaiming how full she is.)

At the end of that season, NBC tried another promotional stunt, asking the producers to shoot the season finale in 3-D. Why the network thought this would be a ratings grabber is a mystery, but once again, ''Third Rock'' did the unexpected, including segments like a breathtaking 40's-style dance number and a take-off on the film ''Brazil.''

''We felt like we were doing these great science experiments and nobody saw them,'' Mr. Lithgow said. ''The idea of a 3-D episode was something imposed on us, so Bonnie said: 'O.K., we'll do one. But we'll do one that will make sure nobody will dare do it again.' ''

Perhaps as penance, the show was moved again the next season. This time it was to Wednesday, against ABC powerhouses like ''The Drew Carey Show'' and ''Spin City.'' From that point on, the ratings were good enough to justify keeping the show on the air, but never high enough to keep audiences from asking, ''Oh, is that still on?''

''When they moved us to Wednesdays, we all felt a bit beaten,'' Mr. Turner said. ''We gathered everyone together and said, 'All right then, let's just do this show for ourselves.' We figured we were making the most expensive home movie ever.''

The current NBC entertainment president, Jeff Zucker, was not in charge when ''Third Rock'' arrived or when it began to float around the schedule like a golf ball in zero gravity. He is, however, the one who has jettisoned it. In a statement provided for this article, he politely explained that ''we're grateful to 'Third Rock's' producers and the out-of-this-world cast, who provided NBC with so many seasons of sheer lunacy. Their loopy and creative humor will make this one of the classic series of the 1990's.''

Perhaps the best evidence of how true that is came last season. In an episode using the well-worn ''mistaken-for-gay'' plot, Dick Solomon found himself hanging out at a gay club. When a friend told him he felt ''different,'' Dick assumed this meant that the man was an alien and wanted to meet all his friends. Meanwhile, Dick's alien ''family'' decided to rob a bank and donned disguises.

Dick's evening out made him realize that while gay men could at least congregate and commiserate at a nightclub of their own, space aliens had no such luck. This prompted him to whine enviously, ''I wish I was gay!'' In the end, he and his family sat on the roof to stare wistfully at their home planet and ponder life on earth, as they did at the conclusion of most episodes. Dick was in leather, the others in their criminal disguises: Indian chief, sailor, construction worker. When Don the policeman wandered out in uniform, the Village People sight gag was complete.

The episode perfectly illustrated what ''Third Rock'' was all about. Even after six years on the air, it was still the only show that could take a vintage sitcom plot and give it an unusual (and actually rather sweet) twist while doing anything for a silly joke. It's probably a good thing the series is leaving when it is. Better to go out with its legacy as the most underappreciated comedy of its time intact, before the network adds a talking chimp or the Swedish Bikini Team in an attempt to pump up the ratings.

Like its space-alien heroes, ''Third Rock'' could never blend in, because it looked and acted so differently from everything else on television. This individuality was precisely the reason to admire it. It's just too bad that it was also a lot like a U.F.O.: an amazing thing to see, but with such an irregular schedule that few people were ever around to appreciate it when it showed up.

Here is Elmarie Wendell's Obituary from Variety

July 22, 2018 9:13AM PT
Elmarie Wendel, ‘3rd Rock From the Sun’ Actress, Dies at 89

Elmarie Wendel, who played the Solomon family’s landlord Mrs. Dubcek on “3rd Rock From the Sun,” has died. She was 89.

Wendel’s daughter confirmed her death on Instagram Saturday.

“#ripelmariewendel,” the post reads. “You were a great mom and a badass dame.”

Wendel’s “3rd Rock” co-star Jim Beaver remembered her on social media as well.

“She was raucous, funny, endearing, and terribly, terribly sweet,” he wrote. “Goodnight, Mrs. Dubcek, wherever you are.”

Beaver starred as Happy Doug on the series.

In addition to her role on “3rd Rock,” Wendel had credits on “Seinfeld,” “Love & War,” “Murphy Brown,” “Murder, She Wrote,” and “Empty Nest.” She also had a voice role in 2012’s Dr. Seuss adaptation “The Lorax” as Aunt Grizelda. Her most recent recurring role was on “George Lopez” from 2003-2007 as Gina.

Wendel was born Nov. 23, 1928 on a farm in Howard County, Iowa and performed with her musical parents and sisters in and around the Midwest. She eventually made the transition to Broadway and off Broadway production in New York City before going to Los Angeles as part of a traveling production of “Annie.”

To watch some clips from 3rd Rock from the Sun go to

For more on Third Rock From the Sun go to

For Tim's TV Showcase go to

For some 3rd Rock from the Sun-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to

For a Review of Third Rock From the Sun go to

To watch the opening and closing credits go to
Date: Tue April 4, 2017 � Filesize: 66.5kb, 170.3kbDimensions: 1014 x 1000 �
Keywords: The Cast from 3rd Rock Sun (Links Updated 8/4/18)


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