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John Lithgow Looks Back at '3rd Rock'

26 Jul, 2005 By: Brendan Howard

John Lithgow

You can see him in 3rd Rock From the Sun: Season 1 (four-DVD set $39.98), streeting July 28 from Anchor Bay Entertainment. You can hear his voice as The High Commander Dick Solomon if you push a button on the set's box. However, you won't hear John Lithgow talking in commentaries for the first-season DVD set — or the second, for that matter.

“I don't even like when people talk in the room [while I'm watching a movie],” Lithgow said.

The other problem is, Lithgow wrapped the last episode of “3rd Rock” in 2001, and he remembers only about “30 of the 138” shows about a quartet of aliens masquerading as humans to learn about Earth. With the chance to see first-season episodes on the set again, Lithgow was delighted.

“I was amazed at how fresh and funny they are,” Lithgow said.

Some of the sharpness of early episodes of the Emmy-winning show is the result of the talented writers and cast, but also its spot as a mid-season replacement.

“When the pilot wasn't picked up by ABC, NBC snaked it away from them,” Lithgow said. “By that time, NBC could only put it into production as a mid-season replacement. We shot all 13 episodes before a single one had been on the air. We had a chance to develop it in a kind of isolation.”

Isolated from ratings, anyway. Every episode was performed before an audience, a point of pride for the cast. A blooper reel will give fans at home the chance to see some of it.“The atmosphere of shooting the show was very wacky,” he said. “Audiences love to watch the process.”

There is a “sad tale of ‘3rd Rock,’ according to Lithgow: It moved to 18 different time slots in its lifetime.

“The quality of it never flagged,” he said. “It was a victim of its own success. NBC felt they could move it into nights where the schedule needed puffing-up. By the third season, we weren't getting the numbers.”

However, when the show did end in 2001 after five seasons, Lithgow and the others were satisfied.

“We were tired of the ratings war, the pressure to change the show to make it popular,” Lithgow said. “All of us had other things to get into.”

The hours were good, though, as Lithgow compares them to his work in film and theater (he's currently in a Tony-winning production of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Broadway).

“It's the most civilized schedule of any acting activity,” Lithgow said. “10 to 4 and one evening a week. And every two to three weeks, you get a week off.”

As further seasons hit DVD, Lithgow is looking ahead to more work on extras and watching the strange crew of “3rd Rock” aliens learn more about humanity.

“These aliens hit the ground, and everything they did or saw was completely new … Sally crying, us getting sick, using a tissue for the first time,” Lithgow said. “[In later seasons,] all of that was long past. They had moved on to far more complex problems, like the income tax system.”

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