3rd Rock From The Sun
Title card
Title Card



Created by

Bonnie & Terry Turner


John Lithgow
Kristen Johnston
French Stewart
Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Jane Curtin

Number of Seasons


Number of Episodes


First aired

January 9, 1996 – May 22, 2001

3rd Rock from the Sun (sometimes referred to as simply 3rd Rock) is an American sitcom that aired from 1996 to 2001 on NBC. The show is about four extraterrestrials who are on an expedition to Earth, which they consider to be a very insignificant planet. The extraterrestrials pose as a human family to observe the behavior of human beings.

Overview Edit

Premise Edit

The premise of the show revolves around an extraterrestrial research expedition attempting to live as a normal human family in the fictional city of Rutherford, Ohio, said to be 52 mi (84 km) outside of Cleveland, where they live in an attic apartment. Humor was principally derived from the aliens' attempts to study human society and, because of their living as humans themselves while on Earth, to understand the human condition. This show reflects human life from the perspective of aliens and many sources of humor are from the learning experiences the alien characters have. Most of the episodes are named after the protagonist "Dick". In later episodes, they became more accustomed to Earth and often became more interested in their human lives than in their mission.


Dick and Mary

The show also takes a lot of its humor from its mirroring of West European and American anthropological expeditions and their assumptions of superiority to the "natives", as well as their inability to distinguish themselves from the natives. Dr. Mary Albright (Jane Curtin) is a professor of anthropology at Pendelton State University, and many of the issues with which the four aliens struggle appear in her conversation and work. Furthermore, these four alien researchers end up looking more or less like joyriders as they get drawn further and further into human life.Dick Solomon (John Lithgow), the High Commander and leader of the expedition, is the family provider as a physics professor at Pendelton (with Ian Lithgow, John Lithgow's oldest son, playing one of his less successful students). Information officer Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been given the body of a teenager and is forced to enroll in high school (later college), leaving security officer Sally (Kristen Johnston) and "the one with the transmitter in his head," Harry (French Stewart) to spend their lives as twenty-somethings hanging out at home and bouncing through short-term jobs. The show also revolves around their relationships with humans, mostly their love interests.

The family often communicates through Harry with their off-world (and usually unseen) boss, The Big Giant Head, who when he finally visits Earth, appears in the body of William Shatner. Harry unexpectedly (and often in inconvenient circumstances) stands up, his arms stiff (acting as the antenna), and proclaims: "Incoming message from the Big Giant Head."

Typical episode themes Edit

Almost all the episodes revolve around the Solomons' difficulties, and successes, in integrating themselves into Earth culture and understanding human customs — they are always desperately trying to "read" humans correctly, and when they succeed (or think they succeed), they are ecstatic.

Details about their alien nature are rarely given and inconsistent, except to reinforce the idea that their former lives were almost barren of emotion and most of the relationships humans have with each other. Their original forms, for example, are described as nonsexual, with reproduction a matter of sending packets of genetic material to each other in the mail. Leaders like The Big Giant Head are unelected and assumed infallible (in fact, it is stated that politicians on their planet are chosen by seeing which one can outrun the giant fireball). The upshot is that living in an Earth culture provides the Solomons with an almost intolerable degree of emotional stimulation and conflict.  Although they are ill-equipped to handle such an emotional maelstrom, they love it.

Several episodes feature send-ups of TV and films. For example, in the episode "Dick's Big Giant Headache", both Dick and the Big Giant Head mention seeing something on the wing of the plane after having traveled by airline.  That was a nod to both Lithgow and Shatner having played the same role of the passenger who sees a gremlin on the wing in The Twilight Zone (Shatner in the original story and Lithgow in a remake).

Common mythology Edit

Occasionally, references would be made to specific features of the aliens' abilities and of their experiences on their own world, which built up a common mythology for the show. The theme of the idiot savant repeatedly resurfaces, since each member of the family makes up for their extreme naïveté with some special skill owing to their alien nature.

Though Dick's understanding of physics is far weaker than his "son" Tommy's, it is implied that even his basic scientific knowledge makes advanced Earth physics appear rudimentary, leading to his becoming respected in his field despite his childish behavior. A segment from an episode has him reading a passage from A Brief History of Time and laughing at Stephen Hawkings' description of virtual particles quipping, "These Earth people will swallow anything". Even so, Dick is often shown as the member of the family with the least to recommend in terms of his ability, leading them to question his right to command. Sally, for instance, is depicted as not only having an attractive body (she is sometimes described as being Amazonian), but being amazingly physically strong and fit, able to fight and defeat large groups of men much larger than her (even when doing so is unnecessary and culturally inappropriate).

Tommy, although 14 years old at the show's beginning, is actually the oldest of the four and was assigned the role of teenager because it was felt he was the only one who could handle its stress.  He has the ability of near-instant recall and has an encyclopedic knowledge about Earth society, which often seems useless to his colleagues, but ensures that he remains a straight-A student.

Harry's behavior is naive, endearing, and bizarre.  Somehow, this mental condition gives him an inexplicable sex appeal for women and makes him the only Solomon with any talent in the arts – Harry often seems to have a knack for all fine arts, including music and theater.  He is consistently shown as being a very talented painter, especially as a portraitist and caricaturist].  He often seems like the "wise fool" of folk narratives – the one everyone calls stupid who ends up knowing what is really important.

Relationships With Humans Edit

Each alien became involved in various relationships with humans throughout the course of the series, primarily focusing on Dick's infatuation – at first met with disgust and then, finally, reciprocation – with anthropology professor Dr. Mary Albright who shares an office with him. Much is often made of Mary's angst, insecurity, and neuroses brought on by a lifetime of studying the human condition, as well as an unstable relationship with her parents, and the cheerful, childlike naivete displayed by Dick, the primary factor in him that attracts her.

Sally and Don

Sally and Don

Sally similarly acquires a long-term boyfriend, Officer Don Orville, an overweight and incompetent police officer who becomes attracted to her after several incidents in which he is forced to confront or arrest the Solomons for various crimes. Sally's attraction to him has little to do with his physical appearance and more to do with his perceived power and authority as a police officer (and in particular, his uniform.) The two generally have conversations while speaking in a manner similar to an old 1930s crime drama.

Tommy manages an on-again/off-again relationship with classmate August Leffler, a reserved ice queen teenager and later the more bubbly Alissa Strudwick.

Harry has a relationship with his landlord Mrs. Dubcek's daughter Vicki, in an on-screen relationship that often features overly melodramatic scenes. Harry, despite no apparent skills in the art of seduction, also manages to foil a plot to dissolve the Earth by seducing Mascha , one of a coven of strikingly beautiful Venusians who tried to overthrow the Earth by seducing its men into giving them everything of value.

Some humor comes from the fact that at some point in the show, most of the character relationships have been mixed up - a strange attraction is briefly shown between Mary and Tommy because of their similar passion for the social sciences and the study of humanity, in which Tommy chooses to step aside and let Dick pursue her instead. Nina, Dick and Mary's assistant who primarily serves as his straight man and comic foil, is seen briefly having a fling with Harry. Mrs. Dubcek, who is at first merely a source of comic relief, her own bizarre foibles and imperceptibly causing her to be a terrible role model for proper human behavior to the Solomons, is also revealed to have had a fling with Harry.

Alien Quirks Edit

Initially, the only reference to the aliens' true forms is a comment made in the first episode, when upon discovering that human heads cannot swivel to 180°, Dick asks: "Then how do they lick their backs?". As time went on, the show began to intersperse concrete references to the aliens' nature and their home world which played a role in affecting the show's plot. They usually described their original bodies as "gelatinous purple tubes" that lacked sex organs or most of the forms of physical definition that humans possess. In fact, when Sally asks why she had to be the woman, Dick reminds her why, telling her, "It's because you lost."

Evidently, individuals in their species are so near-identical to each other that the Solomons were unaware of the concept of race or ethnicity, and had never invented one for themselves, leading them to attempt to choose one (a source of humor since the Solomons all appear quite white).  Mrs. Dubcek enlightens them when she refers to her second husband as "one of you people ... you know, Jewish."  She figured this out from their surname, Solomon.  Amazed, Harry exclaims, "Mazel tov!"

The Solomons encounter other seemingly alien beings, most notably, Jell-O, or when in one episode Dick and a friend of Mary's remain confused throughout—they know they are "different"—but Dick thinks "alien" and the friend thinks "gay." Their first encounters with snow and dreaming cause general hysteria.

Cast Edit


Cast (from left to right) Tommy, Harry, Sally. Dick, Mary, Nina and Mrs. Dubcek

3rd Rock maintained a constant ensemble cast, the four main characters are Dick, Sally, Tommy, and Harry. Several other main characters who left or joined the show through its original run supplemented these four, and numerous guest stars and one-time characters supplemented all of them. The three male aliens' names are a play on the phrase "Tom, Dick and Harry" which is a placeholder for multiple unspecified people. (When Don eventually notices this, they look uncomfortable and Tommy says, "Well,it's not like it's a deliberate attempt on our part to seem average," which is of course exactly what it is.)

Main Cast and Characters Edit

  • John Lithgow as Dick Solomon: The High Commander and head of the expedition to Earth. He is often the most childlike member of the group, being, ironically, the youngest of the crew, despite being the oldest family member (at least appears to be the oldest due to his body). Much of the behavioral or societal-based troubles faced by the crew in their mission while on Earth frequently arise from some juvenile act perpetrated by Dick, troubles which in turn are forced to be overcome by the entire troupe with a great deal of reluctance.
  • Kristen Johnston as Sally Solomon: With a rank of lieutenant, she is the security officer and second-in-command. She has been called Dick’s sister, but was sometimes introduced as Tommy's sister earlier in the series, and, on one occasion, claimed to be his mother, although never Dick's daughter and certainly not his spouse; failure to clarify the exact relationship between Tommy, Harry, and Sally led to humorous confusion whenever either Harry or Sally attempted to act as Tommy's guardian. Sally was chosen to be the woman because she apparently lost some sort of contest and was not too thrilled about it; while the alien species is described as asexual, Sally seems to have a harder time trying to figure out womanhood than the others do manhood. She files a request to be made male early in the mission, though later decides she liked being a woman. A later episode had Dick and her switching bodies on orders from the Big Giant Head, which caused much confusion both on their part, as they has gotten used to their respective genders while on Earth, and the other characters, as they could not get used to Sally acting like Dick and vice versa.
  • French Stewart as Harry Solomon: Originally, he was not part of the mission, but just happened to go for the ride because an extra seat was available. Later, it becomes known that a chip is in his head, and he becomes the Communicator or Transmitter. Occasionally, he gets a message from the Solomons' leader, the Big Giant Head, and shakes violently in the middle of a sentence and squats down, with his arms at 90° angles, declaring "Incoming message from the Big Giant Head!", before going through the motions of delivering the message, which always ends with a violent sneeze. He poses as Dick and Sally's brother, and Tommy's uncle. Harry is often known to be the simplest family member, is occasionally impulsive and misunderstands people. He is also prone to misfortune. Though he seems to fit in on Earth with the earthlings better than anyone else, it is implied this is because he is seen as dimwitted. It is unclear, however, whether he is really dimwitted or just more sensitive to his surroundings.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Tommy Solomon: Information officer and third-in-command behind Sally, Tommy plays the role of Dick's adolescent son, yet he is the oldest and smartest of all the aliens. Throughout the series, Tommy continually reminds the others of his superior intelligence and greater age. Gordon-Levitt left the series (after the fifth season concluded) as a primary character, only appearing as a recurring character in just over half the episodes of season six. In the show this is explained by Tommy's graduating from high school and moving out to college.
  • Jane Curtin as Dr. Mary Albright: Dick's colleague and on-and-off girlfriend, Mary is aware that Dick as an insensitive idiot, but appreciates his joie de vivre and quirkiness. Reference is often made to the insecurity caused by her bad parenting, and the fact that before Dick arrived, she was known for sleeping around, and had even been nicknamed "Dr. Slutbunny".
  • Simbi Khali as Nina Campbell (seasons 3-6, recurring previously): Dick's and Mary's administrative assistant, who finds Dick beyond the pale.
  • Elmarie Wendel as Mrs. Mamie Dubcek (seasons 3-6, recurring previously): Mrs. Dubcek is a "blast from the past", namely the sixties. She boasts of having danced naked with Jack Kerouac in a cage. In addition to being the landlady, she is a friend to the Solomons.
  • Wayne Knight as Officer Don Leslie Orville (seasons 3-6, recurring previously): As Sally's boyfriend, he is an underachieving spineless police officer, who has a talent for romanticizing his rather mundane job. Sally is completely enraptured by his stories, and is reduced to simpering and giggling around him.

Recurring Cast and Characters Edit

Big Giant Head

Big Giant Head as portrayed by William Shatner

Guest Stars Edit

Main article: List of guest stars in 3rd Rock from the Sun

Over the shows run there have been many guest stars

Production Edit

Theme music Edit

Main article: 3rd Rock from the Sun Theme

The show's opening theme music was composed by Ben Vaughn, and is a 1950s-style rock-and-roll instrumental piece; the theme was extended slightly in Season three, when Simbi Khali, Elmarie Wendel, and Wayne Knight were officially made series regulars and added to the opening credits. Alternate versions of the theme were used during the course of the show's run. For Christmas episodes, jingle bells were added to the theme. For the season-six two-part episode "Dick'll Take Manhattan", a modern jazz underline version of the theme was used. The only major change to the theme was in season five, when the original Ben Vaughn version was replaced by a big band cover of the theme, performed by the group Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and was only used during that season.

Title sequence Edit

Title card

3rd Rock from the Sun Title Card

The opening title sequence, which was produced by the London graphic design firm SVC Television, opens with computerized shots of planets and celestial bodies, some either with the planets dancing or moving in warp speed. It opens and closes with a shot of Earth (which at the open is where the show's title logo appears, after a sunburst appears on the side of Earth). For the episode "Dick'll Take Manhattan" only, the typeface of the cast and creators' names was altered.

Distribution Edit

Season No of Episodes Season Premiere Season Finale Nielsen Rating
1 20 January 9, 1996 May 21, 1996 22
2 26 September 22, 1996 May 18, 1997 28
3 27 September 24, 1997 May 20, 1998 44
4 24 September 23, 1998 May 25, 1999 77
5 22 September 21, 1999 May 23, 2000 82
6 20 October 24, 2000 May 22, 2001 89

Of the 139 episodes in the series, 108 contained "Dick" in the title (in reference to John Lithgow's character). While some of the episode titles with "Dick" in them are innocent (i.e., "Tom, Dick and Mary", "Dick Is From Mars, Sally Is From Venus"), others are more risque and often are double entendres (i.e., "Sensitive Dick", "A Dick Replacement", "Frozen Dick", "Shall We Dick"), due to the fact that the word "Dick" is both a short form of Richard and a slang term for penis. One episode from season six used an abbreviation for a title, "B.D.O.C.", since the full title ("Big Dick on Campus") was deemed too risque.

Syndication Edit

In the United States, the series is distributed for syndication by Carsey-Warner Distribution, and entered broadcast syndication in September 1999, where it continued until the fall of 2004. The series continues to air in select large markets, but is not in wide distribution. ABC Family aired reruns between 2002 and 2006. Reruns of the series aired on TV Land from 2008 through 2010.

In the fall of 2010, ReelzChannel began airing the series. This series rerun is now also aired on Malaysia's national broadcast TV channel in the 12:30am time slot on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

In the United Kingdom, the series originally aired on BBC Two from 1996 to 2001 and ITV2 later repeated the entire series from 2005 to 2006. Cable network Virgin Media currently has 40 episodes from seasons 1 and 2 available 'on demand' from the Comedy Central menu option. The series began airing from the beginning on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom from May 12, 2014. A repeat of Channel 4's episodes are broadcast on 4Seven. In the Republic of Ireland, 3e run reruns of the show during the late night slot after Conan at 12:30 am.

Netflix made the complete series available online in March 2011. It was removed several months later in the fall of 2011 but returned on March 15, 2015.

In the fall of 2011, Canada's TVTropolis cable channel began airing the show, and featured a long weekend marathon run of episodes. The entire series is also available in the United States on Hulu Plus.

DVD releases Edit

Region 1


3rd Rock from the Sun - The Complete Series DVD Cover

Anchor Bay Entertainment released all six seasons of 3rd Rock from the Sun on DVD for the first time in 2005-2006. Seasons 1 & 2 contain the edited, syndicated versions of the episodes instead of the original broadcast versions. As of 2010, these releases have been discontinued and are out of print. On these DVDs, the bloopers segments (on the last disc of each season) are in 16:9 format, indicating the series may have been filmed in 16:9 format.

On May 4, 2011, Mill Creek Entertainment announced they had acquired the rights to re-release the series on DVD in Region 1.Seasons 5 and 6 were re-released on January 8, 2013, containing the same edited versions of episodes seen on the Anchor Bay release.

On May 14, 2013, Mill Creek released 3rd Rock from the Sun - The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.

Region 2

Network DVD released all six seasons on DVD in the UK. All releases contain unedited versions of the episodes.

Region 4

Magna Home Entertainment released all six seasons on DVD in Australia between 2005 and 2007. These releases have been discontinued and are now out of print.

On November 15, 2010, Beyond Home Entertainment re-released all six six seasons on DVD in Region 4

Awards and Nominations Edit

Main article: List of awards and nominations received by 3rd Rock from the Sun

In 1997, 3rd Rock won the most Emmy Awards (five from eight nominations) for a television series:

  • 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 — Outstanding Lead Actor — Comedy Series — John Lithgow
  • 1997, 1998, 1999 — Outstanding Supporting Actress — Comedy Series — Kristen Johnston
  • 1996, 1997 — Outstanding Hairstyling for a Series — Pixie Schwartz
  • 1996 — Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series — James Burrows
  • 1998 — Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series — Terry Hughes
  • 1997 — Outstanding Special Visual Effects — Glen Bennett, Visual Effects Artists; Patrick Shearn, Visual Effects Supervisor; Chris Staves, Visual Effects Artists
  • 1997, 1999, 2000 — Outstanding Sound Mixing — Comedy Series
  • 1998 — Outstanding Sound Mixing — Comedy Series — "A Nightmare on Dick Street"
  • 1997, 1998 — Outstanding Costume Design — Series — Melina Root
  • 1997, 1998 — Outstanding Comedy Series
  • 1997 — Outstanding Choreography — Marguerite Derricks
  • 1998 — Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series — Jan Hooks as Vicki Dubcek
  • 1998 — Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series — John Cleese as Dr. Neesam
  • 1999, 2000 — Outstanding Multi-camera Picture Editing for a Series
  • 1999 — Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series — Kathy Bates as Charlotte Everly and Laurie Metcalf as Jennifer
  • 1999 — Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series — William Shatner as the Big Giant Head
  • 2000 — Outstanding Cinematography for a Multi-camera Series

John Lithgow as Dick Solomon

John Lithgow received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for each year the show was broadcast, winning the Emmy in 1996, 1997, and 1999. Accepting the 1999 award, he said, "Many wonderful things have happened to me in my life, but the two best are 3rd Rock and my dear family."

Other media Edit

3rd Rock from the SunThe Official Report On Earth

3rd Rock from the Sun: The Official Report On Earth

A tie-in book, 3rd Rock from the Sun: The Official Report On Earth, was released in 1997. It is essentially a report of the Solomon's findings during their stay on Earth. Primarily a source of humor, the book includes such features as "What to do if you encounter Jell-O", a fan biography of Katie Couric written by Harry, and Sally's version of a Cosmo quiz. Portions of the book are included in the booklets inside each season set of the series.

Despite the report's being set within the fictional world of 3rd Rock, a foreword written by John Lithgow himself is included in which he explains how he was abducted by the 3rd Rock producers and forced to work on their production. A Post-it note is attached to the foreword, apparently written by Dick Solomon, stating he does not know why the foreword is there, but that Lithgow is an Earth actor who appeared in "some helicopter movie".

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