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Carsey-Werner Distribution

16 Far Out Facts About 3rd Rock from the Sun

Carsey-Werner Distribution
Carsey-Werner Distribution

3rd Rock From the Sun was something of an anomaly—a broad sitcom known for its bawdy humor and physical comedy that also featured award-winning acting and was the subject of critical acclaim. It ran from 1996 to 2001 on NBC and starred John Lithgow, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, French Stewart, and Kristen Johnston as four aliens from a galaxy on the Cepheus-Draco border posing as humans living in the fictional town of Rutherford, Ohio, and working alongside unsuspecting humans including Dr. Mary Albright (Jane Curtin). On the 15th anniversary of the series' finale, here are 16 far out facts about the show.

1. THE PILOT WAS SHOT FOR ABC.

But ABC didn’t put it on the 1995-'96 fall schedule. NBC took a look at it, and liked enough of what they saw. Still, some NBC executives weren’t sure if it was “an NBC show,” so the pilot was re-shot.

2. EARLY REVIEWS SAID IT WAS FULL OF CHEAP SEX JOKES.

"Once it gets past a fixation on breast jokes, its talented cast and clever writing could make it a diverting, screwball sitcom,” said the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “When goofy, 3rd Rock rolls. When dirty, it's stone-cold bad,” said Matt Roush of USA Today. Those serve as good representative examples of the general critical reaction to the first few episodes.

3. MOST OF THE EPISODE TITLES HAVE THE WORD "DICK" IN THEM.

Of 3rd Rock from the Sun’s 139 installments, 108 episodes have the main character Dick Solomon's first name in the title, the first instance being the second episode “Post Nasal Dick,” and the final pun being “Dick Soup for the Soul.”

4. FRENCH STEWART CAME UP WITH THE DISTINCTIVE HARRY SQUINT.

He brought it with him to his initial audition, and it became a signature for his character Harry.

5. STEWART PHYSICALLY SUFFERED FOR HIS ART.

The actor claimed he woke up with bruises and huge rug burns on his body on days following tapings, and that his chiropractic bills were “insane.”

6. KRISTEN JOHNSTON SUFFERED FROM DEPRESSION THROUGHOUT THE SHOW'S RUN.

“You can’t tell anybody, 'I’m so bummed you gave me an Emmy.' You can’t be sad when you’re being celebrated. So it was a big conflict and there’s no shrink that can understand it,” Johnson explained to Entertainment Weekly. Johnston also battled with drugs and alcohol in multiple stages of her life and was diagnosed with lupus myelitis, a rare form of the disease that affects the spinal cord, in 2013. She’s currently in remission, and wrote in her memoir 2012 Guts that she had been clean and sober for five years.

7. JANE CURTIN WORKED ON IT BECAUSE OF CONEHEADS.

3rd Rock creators Terry and Bonnie Turner had written the 1993 movie version of Coneheads with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Davis. Curtin trusted the two because of her relationship with them.

8. JOHN LITHGOW’S SON WAS IN 48 EPISODES.

Ian Lithgow portrayed Leon, a dumb student in Harry Solomon’s physics class. David DeLuise, son of Dom DeLuise, played Bug Pollone in 46 episodes.

9. IT HAD A CLEVER TWILIGHT ZONE CONNECTION.

Lithgow and William Shatner, who played the aliens’ leader the Big Giant Head, both played the man that sees a gremlin on the wing of an airplane in “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Shatner did it first in the classic 1963 TV episode, with Lithgow taking his turn in a remake for 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie. In 3rd Rock’s “Dick’s Big Giant Headache,” the Big Giant Head recounted that he had seen something on the wing of the plane during his flight. Dick’s response was that the same thing happened to him.

10. THERE WAS AN INADVERTENT BREAKING BAD CONNECTION.

Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, and Bob Odenkirk were guest stars on separate episodes that all happened to originally air in 1999: Cranston played a Neil Diamond impersonator in “Paranoid Dick,” Aaron Paul was the nameless, shouty student who announced that Tommy and Alissa were prom king and queen in “Dick’s Big Giant Headache: Part 2,” and Odenkirk played Gary the insurance agent in “The Fifth Solomon.”

11. AN EXPENSIVE EPISODE WAS BROADCAST IN 3-D.

The two-part season two finale, “A Nightmare on Dick Street,” was shot on a budget of $1.5 million and $10 million was spent on the promotional campaign for Barq’s root beer and Little Caesars Pizza to help distribute the necessary eyewear to watch it.

12. A PHYSICIST AND COLUMBIA MATH AND PHYSICS PROFESSOR WROTE SOME OF DICK SOLOMON’S DIALOGUE.

Brian Greene, author of The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory, helped with the “physics-speak” for Lithgow’s character.

13. PHIL HARTMAN WAS EDITED OUT OF AN EPISODE DUE TO HIS PASSING.

Eight days after the airing of the season three finale, Phil Hartman was tragically murdered. When the episode re-aired a week before the following season’s premiere, Hartman’s scenes were re-shot with a different actor as a different character, so the resolution to the cliffhanger involving Hartman's character wouldn’t seem awkwardly re-cast or possibly considered disrespectful.

14. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT LEFT THE SERIES EARLY TO GO TO COLLEGE.

Gordon-Levitt only appeared in a little over half of the show’s episodes in the sixth and final season (including the series finale) so he could concentrate on his Columbia University studies. The former child star told Details how he was “scared and depressed” for a time, fearing that he wouldn’t be able to find acting work ever again.

15. IT AIRED DURING 13 DIFFERENT TIMESLOTS THROUGHOUT ITS SIX-SEASON RUN, TO THE ANNOYANCE OF LITHGOW.

The star once referred to 3rd Rock from the Sun with “more than a trace of irritation” as “the wandering Jew” of network television. When the show was canceled, he told The New York Times that even Seinfeld could not have stayed on the air if they had to deal with the same scheduling changes.

16. AN ALTERNATE ENDING TO THE SERIES FINALE RAN IN SYNDICATION.

Spoiler: On NBC, “The Thing That Wouldn’t Die” ended with the four aliens beaming back to their home planet, leaving Dick’s beloved Mary behind. In the alternate ending that was filmed in case the show got a reprieve from its cancellation, Dick returns to take Mary with him. The scene is a special feature on DVD.

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The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day Marathon Is Back
Shout! Factory
Shout! Factory

For many fans, Mystery Science Theater 3000 is as beloved a Thanksgiving tradition as mashed potatoes and gravy (except funnier). It seems appropriate, given that the show celebrates the turkeys of the movie world. And that it made its debut on Thanksgiving Day in 1988 (on KTMA, a local station in Minneapolis). In 1991, to celebrate its third anniversary, Comedy Central hosted a Thanksgiving Day marathon of the series—and in the more than 25 years since, that tradition has continued.

Beginning at 12 p.m. ET on Thursday, Shout! Factory will host yet another Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day marathon, hosted by series creator Joel Hodgson and stars Jonah Ray and Felicia Day. Taking place online at ShoutFactoryTV.com, or via the Shout! Factory TV app on Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire and select smart TVs, the trio will share six classic MST3K episodes that have never been screened as part of a Shout! Factory Turkey Day Marathon. Here’s hoping your favorite episode makes it (cough, Hobgoblins, cough.)

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11 Bite-Sized Facts About Cannibal! The Musical
Troma Entertainment
Troma Entertainment

Back in their film school days, the creators of South Park made a twisted tribute to Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannibal! The Musical is (very) loosely based on the life of Alfred "Alferd" Packer, an American prospector who resorted to eating his travel companions in the harsh winter of 1874. Below, you’ll find a buffet of bite-sized facts about this weirdly upbeat black comedy. Bon appétit!

1. IT ALL STARTED WITH A GAG TRAILER.

In 1992, Trey Parker was studying film at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where pretty much everyone knows all about the legend of Alfred "Alferd" Packer. Indeed, when a new restaurant opened up on campus in 1968, the student body chose to name it after this famous man-eater. The restaurant’s slogan? “Have a friend for lunch.” As a joke, Parker rounded up some of his fellow film majors and spent three days shooting a phony trailer for a nonexistent movie called Alferd Packer: The Musical. Included in the ensemble was Matt Stone, with whom Parker would go on to create South Park.

Once the Alferd Packer promo was finished, those who worked on it weren’t sure if they could turn this concept into a feature-length picture. Fortunately, the trailer was a huge hit. “People thought it was really funny,” Parker told The Denver Post, “so we went around … and said, ‘So do you want to invest?’” Thanks (for the most part) to donations from a few CU grads with wealthy parents, Parker and his co-stars amassed a $100,000 budget.

2. LIANE THE HORSE WAS NAMED AFTER TREY PARKER’S EX-FIANCÉE.

At age 21, Parker was all set to marry his high school sweetheart. “We had plane tickets, the dress was bought, the church was paid for,” Parker shared on the DVD commentary. Then, about a month before the wedding, he caught his bride-to-be with another man. Devastated, Parker broke off the engagement and came up with an unusual way to get even. “I really wrote this movie for her,” he said.

A major character in Cannibal is Liane, Packer’s beloved horse, who leaves him for another rider. The two-timing equine was named after Parker’s former fiancée. Some artistic license was taken here, as there’s no proof that the real Packer ever owned a horse named Liane—or that he ever wistfully sang about being on top of her.

3. AN AVANT-GARDE LEGEND WAS CAST IN A MINOR ROLE.

World-renowned for his experimental filmmaking, the late Stan Brakhage taught off and on at the University of Colorado, where he met Parker and Stone. The two convinced him to appear in Cannibal! as George Noon’s father, who gets about two minutes’ worth of screen time.

4. PARKER’S DAD WAS IN IT, TOO.

Just like Stan Marsh’s dad in South Park, Trey Parker’s father, Randy, is a geologist. In Cannibal! The Musical, he portrays the Breckenridge judge who sentences Packer (played by Trey) to death.

5. “SHPADOINKLE” WAS MEANT AS A FILLER WORD.

In addition to penning the Cannibal! script, Parker also wrote the film’s musical numbers. The first of these is “Shpadoinkle Day,” an offbeat tribute to “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Parker knew that the first verse had to include a positive, three-syllable word, but couldn’t think of any that fit. So he used the made-up term “Shpadoinkle” to plug the gap until he could come up with an alternative. However, the creative team liked “shpadoinkle” so much that it stayed put and became one of Cannibal’s running jokes.

6. THEY SHOT IN THE COURTROOM IN WHICH PACKER WAS ACTUALLY TRIED.

On April 6, 1883, Packer was put on trial at the Hinsdale County Courthouse in Lake City, Colorado. Over the next few days, he admitted to dining on two of his dead travel companions—one of whom he supposedly killed in self-defense (the other died of natural causes). Packer was found guilty of murder, but avoided the hangman’s noose by fighting for a second trial, which took place 30 miles away in Gunnison. This time, he was charged with five counts of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 40 years in prison. However, while Packer languished behind bars, public opinion slowly turned in the cannibal’s favor. Under near-constant pressure from The Denver Post, Governor Charles S. Thomas pardoned Packer in 1901.

More than 90 years later, Parker filmed the trial scenes of Cannibal! The Musical at the still-standing Hinsdale County Courthouse. About halfway through the movie, the judge delivers a big speech in which he sentences Packer to death. His on-screen monologue was copied word-for-word from the court transcript of that 1883 Lake City trial.

7. AS THE MINERS SING “THAT’S ALL I’M ASKING FOR,” YOU CAN SEE PARKER MOUTH THE WORD “CUT.”

It goes by fast, but you can see Parker call "cut" to end the shot at the 3:06 mark in the clip above.

8. PARKER USED A PSEUDONYM FOR THE OPENING CREDITS.

Parker billed himself as "Juan Schwartz" in the cast of Cannibal because, according to the movie's website, "Trey doesn't like seeing one person's name plastered all over a movie's credits." Since he is properly credited as writer and director, he likely felt the additional acting credit was a bit too much. Incidentally, Packer called himself “John Shwartze” while evading the law before his arrest.

9. A FEW SONGS WERE DELETED.

The original cut of Cannibal! The Musical ran for two and a half hours, but thanks to some major-league editing, the runtime was reduced to a breezy 93 minutes. “There were fights about that from the get-go, but I give credit to Trey for being the toughest critic,” producer Jason McHugh told MovieMaker Magazine. “He had the maturity to know that a musical comedy about cannibals can’t be two and a half hours long.”

In the streamlining process, two musical numbers got the axe. The first was a quick little dirge called “Don’t Be Stupid,” wherein some nameless miners tell Packer’s group to postpone their journey until springtime. The other was “I’m Shatterproof,” a rap/funk song that Packer, hardened by his recent ordeals, delivers during a bar fight. Also deleted was a reprise of “When I Was On Top of You.”

10. COMEDY CENTRAL WOULDN’T BROADCAST IT.

Cannibal! was distributed by Troma Entertainment, an independent production company best known for creating The Toxic Avenger series. When South Park began to emerge as a major player on cable TV, Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, assumed that Comedy Central would jump at the chance to air some of Parker and Stone’s earlier work. Instead, the channel flatly refused to air Cannibal.

Kaufman was sent a rejection letter from Comedy Central, which read: “Thank you for submitting and re-submitting Cannibal! The Musical, but it is simply not up to our standards for broadcasting.” Troma forwarded a copy of this dispatch to Parker. Today, it’s prominently displayed in his office—at Comedy Central!

11. IT HAS BEEN TURNED INTO A STAGE MUSICAL ON MANY OCCASIONS.

Can’t get tickets to The Book of Mormon? Perhaps you can catch a live reenactment of Cannibal! The Musical instead. Since 1998, the movie has been seen more than 60 stage adaptations. There’s no “official” version of the theatrical show. As such, acting troupes that might be interested in performing Cannibal! have to write their own scripts based on the original movie. 

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