Aliens all around us! Between Men in Black, Independence Day, The X-Files, Mars Attacks! and Contact, it’s fair to say that Hollywood was obsessed with E.T.s in the ’90s, but perhaps nothing reflected the phenomenon so well as 3rd Rock From the Sun.
The sitcom, which debuted in January 1996, had one of the strangest premises in TV history. Four extraterrestrial visitors — played by John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart and Joseph Gordon-Levitt — pretended to be a human family living near Cleveland, Ohio, as they conducted research on human society for their home planet.
Using the surname Solomon as an alias, the group reported to an off-world boss called the Big Giant Head, who was at first unseen but eventually appeared in the form of William Shatner. They were also friendly with a local anthropologist named Dr. Mary Albright, played by Jane Curtin (who herself played an alien on Saturday Night Live and in the spinoff movie Coneheads).
It’s weird stuff, but in 1997, the show took home the most Emmys of any show nominated that year, winning in five of eight categories including Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for Lithgow and Johnston, respectively.
Though his turn as Dick Solomon garnered a ton of critical acclaim and industry recognition, Lithgow required a tough sell before agreeing to appear on the show. He had already turned down a role on Cheers — instead, Frasier Crane, who later got his own spinoff, was performed by Kelsey Grammer.
When husband-and-wife cocreators Bonnie and Terry Turner invited him out to breakfast one day, the Tony winner had no idea they were really trying to convince him to star on 3rd Rock.
“I thought, ‘How am I going to say no as graciously as I can and get out of here?’” the actor recalled in a 2012 interview with the Television Academy. However, the pair quickly changed his mind: “Within five minutes, [they’d] persuaded me to be in 3rd Rock From the Sun.”
Keep scrolling to find out what the Solomons and their friends have been up to since the sitcom’s end: