I’m something of a vintage TV junkie. The truth is that I don’t watch a lot of television, usually being preoccupied with many projects and hobbies (including writing for CC), but when I do, there are several cable channels marked as my “favorites” that are usually foolproof for some genuine feel-good throwbacks. They include Buzzr, for old game shows, and Antenna TV for many sitcoms I remember watching while growing up. Recently, Antenna TV has started rerunning episodes of “Three’s Company” from around 1981, after actress Suzanne Somers had already famously exited the snow and took her ditzy-but-lovable “Chrissy Snow” character out the door with her.
What else were producers of the show to do but to cast another really attractive blonde as a foil for Jack Tripper, played by the unsung hero of slapstick comedy, John Ritter, and pert, no-nonsense Janet Wood, excellently played straight by Joyce DeWitt? I was only a couple of years into my elementary school years when the character of Cindy Snow, Chrissy’s farm-raised cousin, first made an appearance as played by former L.A. Rams cheerleader Jenilee Harrison.
After the change in the cast, I remember thinking that things weren’t quite right with the show, as I missed Chrissy’s goofy, snort-giggling antics. Cindy soon won me over, though, with her overexaggerated facial expressions, clumsiness and bubbly personality. My conservative parents must have been completely oblivious to all (and there was a lot) of the sexual innuendo on that show, as “Three’s Company” – unlike “Match Game” and a few other shows of that era – never made their banned-from-our-house list. (Even “The Smurfs” were banished from our living room at some point because of their use of what Mom considered “witchcraft”. I state this only for context as I try to keep a straight face.)
The Probe seemed very much like the “Cindy Snow” of Ford’s lineup when first introduced in mid-1988 for the ’89 model year. “A Mustang replacement that is both front-wheel-drive and based on a Mazda? Back to the drawing board, Ford!”, purists screamed. Initially, people liked the Probe (as a not-Mustang), snapping up copies at an average annual rate of over 100,000 for its first three, official years on the market. Meanwhile, the Fox-platform Mustang was still kept on the roster, selling in consistently good numbers, much like Suzanne Somers rode out her contract by appearing in filmed “remote” scenes showing Chrissy on the line with the other cast members, quite literally phoning it in. (Origin of that phrase, perhaps?)
The introduction of a proper, RWD Mustang replacement for ’94 (the SN-95) could be likened to when Priscilla Barnes was cast for the show’s sixth season as nurse Terri Alden – which was no doubt due to the alarming four-point drop in the show’s Nielsen ratings after the first cast-swap the prior year. Terri added a sort of classy, intelligent hotness to the still-entertaining, madcap dynamic between Jack, Janet and (still to some extent) Cindy. Like the redesigned ’94 Mustang, Ms. Barnes’ comedic timing in her portrayal of Terri was an instant hit, and ratings improved by almost a full point – which was no small feat, considering the show had already been on the air for five seasons.
Poor Jenilee Harrison had her character written off of the show after only two seasons, much like the Probe was unceremoniously dumped after only a paltry 19,400 units were sold during a foreshortened, final ’97 model year, with just under 700,000 sold over its two generations and nine years. I still like the Probe, having owned (and loved) a ’94 base model. I also still maintain that the Cindy Snow character was a worthwhile addition to “Three’s Company”, having had pretty big shoes to fill in attempting to replace one of prime time’s favorite characters. Ms. Harrison’s zany, sexy, likeable portrayal of Cindy was underrated, much like the almost-Mustang called the Probe.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Black 1995 – ’97 Probe GT spotted 9/2/16.
Red 1994 – ’95 Mustang GT spotted 5/16/18.
White 1994 Probe GT spotted 3/27/15.