Claim: Actor John Ritter's testicles were briefly visible in an episode of Three's Company.
Origins: No personal scandal tainted the name of actor John Ritter, best known for the eight seasons he spent portraying the character of Jack Tripper, an earnest young man who shared a Santa Monica apartment with two female roommates
in the hit ABC sitcom Three's Company from 1977 to 1984. (His first prominent role, after all, was the recurring character of a minister on the wholesome television drama The Waltons.) Nonetheless, one of Mr. Ritter's performances briefly became something of a cause celebre in March 2001, when a viewer supposedly alerted Nickelodeon (a cable station which was re-running old episodes of Three's Company) that Jack Tripper's testicles could be glimpsed in a 17-year-old episode of the sitcom!
According to a report by MSNBC gossip columnist Jeanette Walls, a sharp-eyed viewer phoned Nickelodeon to call the briefly risqué scene to their attention:
Jack was dressed in blue boxers and plopped down on the bed [and] exposed some things that probably shouldn't be seen on television.
They were shocked and said, 'Gosh, you were right.' They were taken off-guard because this has probably aired hundreds of times since the '80s.
Although Nickelodeon would not identify the specific episode involved, other accounts pegged the scene as part of a final-season episode, "The Charming Stranger," originally broadcast on 20 December 1983. (Unbeknownst to Jack and his roommates, a ventriloquist moves into an adjacent apartment. The trio overhears him rehearsing his act and, unaware of the context, believes him to be a jewel thief and a murderer. Hijinks ensue.) A representative for
Nickelodeon was quoted as confirming "Yes, his scrotum falls out of his shorts," and marveled that the episode had been run so many times without anyone's noticing the blooper. Nickelodeon also said it would snip the offending bit from future repeats.
Still, this isn't something we'd document as true until we'd seen it for ourselves. (What one viewer thinks is a brief glimpse of testicles might look like something else to another viewer, and you can never be too sure what an entertainment company might be promulgating as a publicity stunt.) Unfortunately, if the episode truly has been edited, watching it now won't yield a definitive answer; we'd have to obtain a tape of a pre-2001 airing. (A purportedly unedited version of the clip in question is embedded above.)
For what it's worth, John Ritter explained why this bit went unnoticed for so long during an appearance on Conan O'Brien's late night talk show:
It was a brief shot, and only lasted a second. No one back then noticed it, and when it went out over the air, there were no VHS recorders or DVD players around that could catch it. Then, very recently, some guy with a freeze frame caught the image when pausing the recording. So he called Nick at Nite.
The folks at FremantleMedia, who distributed Three's Company (among other programs), confirmed for us that whatever there was to be seen of the normally-covered parts of Jack Tripper were scarcely noticeable under ordinary viewing conditions:
We have viewed the episode in question in search of the aforementioned 'fall-out', and are disappointed to say that having viewed the scene in question, there is very little to write home about. There is a nano-second where certain flesh is flashed, but not so much that you would really notice, unless you were looking out for it specifically.
For what it's worth, screen captures of the scene in question taken from syndicated airings of the series at the time the rumor emerged showed little for viewers to be shocked about:
The most famous quip about this issue was uttered by John Ritter, who told the New York Observer when they asked him about the controversy: "I've requested that [Nickelodeon] air both versions, edited and unedited, because sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you don't."
Last updated: 9 March 2015
Grossberg, Josh. "Jack Tripper, A Porn Star?"
E! Online News. 10 May 2001.
The New York Observer. "John Ritter, Star of Stage, Screen, and Nickelodeon."