Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Debuting January 9, 1996, on NBC, Third Rock from the Sun was one of the most successful example of the "fantasy sitcom" genre, ultimately lasting six seasons and 139 episodes. The weekly, half-hour series began as a team of scientists from a faraway planet arrived on earth on an intelligence-gathering mission. To avoid detection, the aliens took on human form--or to be more precise, they took on the forms of what they assumed to be "typical" earthlings--and assumed new names. John Lithgow starred as "High Commander" Dick Solomon, the somewhat pompous leader of the group, who managed to land a job as a professor at Pendleton College. Dick's second in command, was Lt. Sally Solomon (Kristen Johnson, a tough-as-nails military commando who was none too thrilled at being forced to assume female form (and an embarrassingly young and beautiful female at that). Next on the roster was the crew's crack intelligence officer Tommy Solomon (Joseph Gordon-Leviitt), who, even though he'd assumed the form of Dick's adolescent son, was actually the oldest and smartest member of the team--and never wasted an opportunity to imperiously remind his colleagues of that fact. Bringing up the rear in every sense was dimwitted, impulsive Harry Solomon (French Stewart), who'd come along for the ride to earth "because they had an extra seat." The team's mission was supposed to last only a few weeks, but in the course of developing the human emotions that came with their new human bodies, Dick became attracted to his college colleague Dr. Mary Albright (Jane Curtin) and elected to extend the group's stay on earth a bit longer (of course, neither Mary nor any of the other earthlings on the show had any idea that there was something "different" about the Solomons--at least, not during the first few seasons). Looking askance at the Dick-Mary relationship was Dick's sarcastic secretary Nina Campbell (Simbi Khali), who had her boss pegged as a chauvinistic jerk. As the years rolled on, the romance between Dick and Mary waxed and waned, especially when Mary was appointed the Dean of the college, making her Dick's boss. Meanwhile, Harry fell in love with Vicki Dubceck (Jan Hooks), the daughter of the Solomons' clueless landlady Mamie Dubcek (Elmarie Wendel); Sally found a boyfriend in the rotund form of Officer Don Orville (Wayne Knight); and Tommy's steady date from the third season onward was Alicia Strudwick (Larisa Oleynick), who though outwardly Tommy's same age was actually several years (or maybe several centuries!) too young for him. At the end of the series' fourth season, the Solomons' much-talked-about and much-featured extraterrestrial superior The Big Giant Head likewise showed up on earth in human form, calling himself "Stone Phillips" but actually looking and sounding exactly like William Shatner! Chastizing the team for failing in their mission, the Big Giant Head promptly demoted Dick and put Sally in his place--then betrayed an all-too-human personal shortcoming by rendering Harry's human girlfriend Vicki pregnant! At this point the Big Giant Head dashed off for parts unknown (though he'd be back), and Dick was restored to his former rank. The series' finale was precipitated by Mary's inevitable discovery that Dick was an alien, an event quickly followed by a lavish farewell party that the Solomons threw for themselves, knowing full well that the credit-card people wouldn't be able to track them back to their home planet! The last new episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun was telecast on May 22, 2001. The series had been created by Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner, and packaged by the same people responsible for the hit domestic sitcom Roseanne.