The Paley Center for Media, which has locations in both New York and LA, dedicates itself to the preservation of television and radio history. Inside their vast archives of more than 150,000 television shows, commercials, and radio programs, there are thousands of important and funny programs waiting to be rediscovered by comedy nerds like you and me. Each week, this column will highlight a new gem waiting for you at the Paley Library to quietly laugh at. (Seriously, it’s a library, so keep it down.)
Like westerns before it, the variety show is a TV genre that has gone the way of the dodo in America. Every once in a while it tries to sneak back on to a schedule, or someone like Viva Variety will try to subvert the genre, but they never seem to last too long. But in the sixties and seventies, TV was lousy with them. Most featured some kind of celebrity to anchor the show and introduce the sketches, or the musical guest, or the dancing dog act, or whatever was on tap that evening. Some were political, like Rowin and Martin, some were more musical like Sonny and Cher, and some were awful, like Pinky Lady and Jeff. One show that doesn’t exactly fit into any of those categories was 3 Girls 3.
You’ve probably never heard of 3 Girls 3, and that’s because it only lasted four weeks, but it started with something that was a bit unusual for a variety show: it cast three unknowns. Debbie Allen, Ellen Foley, and Mimi Kennedy were thrust together to host a primetime TV show. Sure, that happens every so often today, but this is back when there were only three networks. This was a real gimmick. What’s even more surprising is that even though this show only lasted a month, each of these women have continued working consistently in Hollywood. You might know Mimi Kennedy as the mom from Midnight in Paris, or Dharma’s mom on Dharma and Greg, Ellen Foley was on the first season of Night Court, and did a ton of Broadway stuff, and Debbie Allen has played a recurring urologist (my new favorite term) on Grey’s Anatomy, and seems to appear in any project on television that involves dancing. The reason that none of these women disappeared after this show is because they’re all very talented, and that was clear even from this one hour’s worth of content from June of 1977 that I watched.
The show opens with our hosts driving to the studio (all in the front seat, of course) while singing the theme song. They take the stage, perform a medley of show tunes and then a short monologue in which they talk a little bit about the audition process and establish their characters as the silly one, the dry one, and the tough one. The audience is very responsive, although I’m not sure that there actually was an audience there since there are zero crowd shots and every TV show during this time sounds like a laugh track machine anyway. They then bring out their guest for the night, Mr. Steve Martin! (I buried the lede!) READ MORE