Suzanne Somers Was Fired From ‘Three’s Company’ for Asking for Equal Pay

joyce dewitt, john ritter, and suzanne somers smile and pose for photos while standing outside a building, ritter has his arms around both women as they each hold supplies in one arm
How a Pay Dispute Changed Suzanne Somers’ CareerGetty Images
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Every episode of Three’s Company centered around a misunderstanding, but Suzanne Somers’ sudden departure from the show was a real discrepancy that network executives were unwilling to fix.

The iconic sitcom debuted on March 15, 1977, and vaulted Somers into stardom alongside her television roommates John Ritter and Joyce DeWitt. The trio’s zany antics in apartment 201—with Somers as Chrissy Snow, Ritter as Jack Tripper, and DeWitt as Janet Wood—helped the show became a mainstay of the Nielsen Top 10 ratings.

By 1980, Somers—who died on October 15, 2023, at age 76—had graced the cover of numerous magazines and was seemingly at the top of her game. More importantly, she knew her worth to the show. When it came time for contract negotiations, she set a reasonable threshold: the equivalent of her male costars.

What she didn’t expect was to walk out jobless. “The show’s response was, ‘Who do you think you are?’” the actor told People. “They said, ‘John Ritter is the star.’” But Somers’ unexpected exit from Three’s Company helped her redefine her celebrated career.

The men were making five times as much as the women

joyce dewitt, john ritter, and suzanne somers pose for a photo together in front of a purple background
Joyce DeWitt, John Ritter, and Suzanne Somers starred in Three’s Company.Getty Images

When Somers first signed on to the show, she agreed to a $3,500 per week salary to play the bubbly Chrissy. As the show gained traction, her salary climbed, and soon, she was making $30,000 a week. “I had the highest demographic of all women in television 18 to 49,” she said in an interview for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2009.

With a better understanding of the industry than when she started, she went into her contract negotiation for the fifth season with equal pay in mind. “I’m looking around and thinking, ‘Why are all the men... making 10 times more?” she questioned. Her costars, Ritter and DeWitt, already had their contracts set, so she gave them a heads up that she was going to go in strong.

“I say to John and Joyce… I’m going to ask for big money and a piece of the back end and if you two back me up... we’ll all get it, so I’ll be the patsy,” she continued.

Her husband, former television producer Alan Hamel, went to negotiate for her, asking for $150,000 a week, which was the average that men were earning on television at the time and on par with what her costar Ritter was making. (She said she didn’t know at the time Ritter was making more since the three of them had a favored-nations clause.)

Another show’s negotiations affected the outcome

Before heading to the meeting that morning, Hamel checked with Somers again, hypothesizing that it could all “blow out of the water.” “I said, ‘They’re not going to get rid of Chrissy,’” she recalled in the Academy interview.

What Somers and Hamel didn’t know at the time was that the ABC executives were holding onto their pursestrings extra tight because they had just settled a deal with the stars of Laverne & Shirley, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, and were paying the two women more than they had hoped.

Laverne & Shirley had just negotiated a monster deal, and afterwards, they decided they needed to make an example of female actresses so that no other woman would ask to be paid what men were making,” Hamel told People.

In a time before cell phones, Somers waited at home anxiously. “So I hear the front door open, and I can tell by the way the door closes and the sound of his feet walking up the stairs that this is not good,” she recalled. That’s when he told her that she had been fired.

“Never think that you are not replaceable—rule number one,” Somers said.

After she was fired, Somers was escorted by a police guard on set

As if that sudden blow wasn’t hard enough, they hadn’t finished filming the fifth season yet, so she had to go back to set. But it wasn’t business as usual.

“So what they did do was force me to finish out the year but diminish me to a minute,” Somers explained in the Academy interview. “They built this little side set—it was crazy what they did. They would have a police guard come meet me at the back door, walk me in. I was not allowed to see anybody from the original show, only the wardrobe guy, who would bring me a pair of shorts and something.”

On the sparse set was a chair, phone and lamp—with one camera filming her saying lines on the phone. “It just felt so like I was being punished like I was a bad girl. It brought up all my old feelings of low self-worth,” Somers remembered.

The demeaning treatment came all because she asked to be paid the same as the men. “It was just a terrible time,” she said.

The industry shunned her, so she reinvented herself

Off the set, life wasn’t any better. She went from being the most coveted actress in the demographic to not even being able to get an interview with any press outlet. “I sat home for the better part of the year, thinking, ‘Why did I do it? Here I had the world by the tail… why did I think that I should be paid what they’re paying the men?’” Somers said in the Academy interview.

But one day, everything clicked. “I hear voices sometimes, not in a weird way,” she explained. “I hear a voice in my head, like a loudspeaker. It says, ‘Why are you focused on what you don’t have? Why don’t you focus on what it is you do have?’” And that’s when she realized the gift Three’s Company had given her that it couldn’t take away: visibility.

Using her name and face recognition, she plotted not a comeback, but a reinvention. “Everybody in this country knows my name—I have visibility,” she said of the realization. “That’s something.”

Soon she was starring in a Las Vegas production with 13 dancers and a 27-piece orchestra, performing a lively revue with classic stage songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” And in 1987, she was named Las Vegas Entertainer of the Year along with Frank Sinatra.

Somers became a successful entrepreneur, most famously serving as the spokesperson for the ThighMaster exercise machine in the 1990s. In 2014, she was inducted into the Direct Response—a.k.a. “informercial”—Hall of Fame. She was also a fitness and beauty line owner, author, and talk show host.

She even made a triumphant return to the small screen. Starting in 1991, Somers played Carol Foster-Lambert on the popular sitcom Step by Step alongside Patrick Duffy for seven seasons. She also served as a co-host for the comedy show Candid Camera and stepped into the ballroom in 2015 on the ABC reality competition Dancing with the Stars.

All of this success stemmed from her decision to ask for equal pay. “That was the great thing about being fired,” Somers told People in 2020. “I would have never been able to do what I do now.”

Somers relied on her resilience in other ways, too. She was treated for cancer three times during her tenure on Three’s Company and found out she had breast cancer in 2000. Once again, treatment allowed her to live cancer-free for nearly 16 years. But this July, the actor and entrepreneur announced her breast cancer had returned. Somers died one day before her 77th birthday.

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