3rd Rock From the Sun

1996 | United States

Originally pitched to the ABC Network in the USA, 3rd Rock From The Sun was the creation of Bonnie and Terry Turner, co-writers of the movies Wayne's World and Coneheads, who would later write another hit US series, That 70's Show. However the network turned '3rd Rock' down before it was snapped up by NBC as a midseason replacement in early 1996. ABC executives were stunned when the show quickly became a top-20 hit for its competition. 

In the spirit of Mork & Mindy and My Favourite Martian, '3rd Rock' was a space age "fish out of water" sitcom. A group of four aliens were ordered to visit Earth and observe how we live. To blend in, the four turned into human life forms and lived together in a cramped attic apartment located in the fictional town of Rutherford, Ohio. Leader of this motley pack was Commander Dick Solomon, who became a university physics professor with eyes for earthling and fellow teacher Dr. Mary Albright. Living with Dick was first assistant Sally, a tall woman who tries to explore the female species, but doesn't quite fit the mould of a typical woman, having originally been Dick's non-female first lieutenant, retaining all that being's aggressive traits. Other members of the Solomon's extra terrestrial family included teenage scientist Tommy, really an old man trapped in an adolescent's body; and the oddball Harry, the wackiest of a wacky quartet.

At its best, 3rd Rock From The Sun was an off-centre look at our lives from the aliens' innocent point of view as they learn everything about Earth - including illness, sex, TV, smoking, death and so many other issues, important or otherwise. Unfortunately, NBC treated the series as a battering ram against popular shows on other networks, and it was moved from timeslot to timeslot, with disastrous results. In its six-year run, '3rd Rock' was aired in 18 different timeslots, more than any other US television series ever. Despite low ratings, the show managed to get renewed year after year. But in early 2001, its luck ran out. 

The final episode (which aired May 22nd, 2001) wrapped up the aliens' mission as they were ordered back home. Singer Elvis Costello closed out the series by crooning (what else) "Fly Me To The Moon." Although its quality was somewhat uneven in its later years, '3rd Rock' was a generally well-acted and funny show-John Lithgow was a revelation in his first comedic role and the series as a whole was a refreshing change from the "single people in the city" sitcoms that proliferated during the late 1990's.

Published on February 6th, 2019. Written by Mike Spadoni (November 2001) for Television Heaven.