On the Money

Come and knock on her door: Somers' life after 'Three's Company'

A still of the cast of Three's Company.
ABC Photo Archives

The actress who helped make "Three's Company" a television mega-hit has reinvented herself into a successful entrepreneur.

After selling more than 10 million ThighMasters, Suzanne Somers is now a brand in her own right—light years away from the naive California girl she played on the comedy of errors more than 30 years ago. However, Hollywood didn't always knock on her door.

After Somers reached TV stardom on the hit comedy show as Chrissy Snow, she was abruptly fired from the series in 1981. Well before women's pay disparities became a hot-button topic, Somers landed herself in hot water over her salary. She asked producers for a 500 percent raise, from $30,000 a week to $150,000, putting her on equal footing with male co-star John Ritter's weekly salary.

"Here I was on the number one show and I couldn't even get an interview because I was considered trouble," Somers told CNBC reflecting on feeling blackballed from Hollywood after departing "Three's Company".

As it happened, getting fired was the best thing to happen to Somers' career, as the actress has earned millions writing books, and promoting both clothes and fitness equipment aimed at female working women.

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The TV industry has since changed exponentially since Somers' dismissal. Nowadays networks pay big bucks to actors who can create buzz and pull in huge ratings. TV actors and network executives are becoming millionaires, often earning even more money in syndication than profits seen during original production.

"I call it selling tickets," Somers said. "It's like 'Friends' when they got a million dollars an episode. You're not going to watch 'Friends' without the friends," she said, referencing the hit TV show that featured a group of 20-something buddies co-habitating in New York City.

Change of luck

Step-by-step success
Step-by-step success

Since then, Somers' luck has changed, and her personal brand has gone global. After finding it hard to land another acting role, Somers described the moment she asked herself whether her show business career would continue.

"Why are you focused on what you don't have?" she remembers asking herself. "Why don't you focus on what you have?" Somers said the epiphany lead to her career outside the entertainment industry, running a multi million dollar empire of beauty, health and fitness products with a loyal fan base of female consumers.

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Inducted into the Informercial Hall of Fame in May, she credits her start in the direct-marketing business to her husband's joking admiration of her legs. The couple decided Somers' gams would appear in the ThighMaster commercials.

Since launching in 1990, the exercise phenomenon has been sold in more than 160 countries.

Highest paid TV actors
Name Program Salary per episode Year
Charlie Sheen Two and a Half Men $1.8 million 2011
Ray Romano Everybody Loves Raymond $1.25 million 2005
Tim Allen Home Improvement $1.25 million 1998
Paul Reiser Mad About You $1 million 1998
Helen Hunt Mad About You
Jennifer Aniston Friends $1 million 2002-2004
Courtney Cox Friends
Lisa Kudrow Friends
Matt LeBlanc Friends
David Schwimmer Friends
Matthew Perry Friends
Johnny Galecki The Big Bang Theory $1 million 2014-2017
Jim Parsons The Big Bang Theory
Kaley Cuoco The Big Bang Theory

"Fame can be used for the better good," Somers said, reflecting on what she refers to as the enormous visibility her brand has given her. The New York Times best-selling author and breast cancer survivor plans to write more health and lifestyle books—even as she pushes her latest product, a poncho that can be worn three different ways.

With her lucrative business ventures, Somers says she has no regrets about her ignominious "Three's Company" exit.

"I think my life turned out great," she added.