Houston Chronicle
August 3, 1986

ABC Gets Perfect Comedy
from Two 'Perfect Strangers'

Written by: Ann Hodges

Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker were nearly "Perfect Strangers " the first time ABC sent them out to play.

Now, their fans stop them on the street, and even Lucy loves them.

"Those two fellows on "Perfect Strangers" are wonderful.  I love them, and I love their show."  That was Lucille Ball's unsolicited testimonial.

"It's like being a watercolorist and having Renoir say `Interesting . . . Good work,'" said Pinchot, with a big smile of pleasure at hearing Lucy's compliment.

Pinchot has more than one reason to smile.  This week, ABC gives "Perfect Strangers" a second network run, in a prime-time double-play.  And come September, the show goes on, as a fall weekly regular.

At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday on Ch. 13, there's a repeat of the opening show, the one that shows how the "Perfect Strangers" get to know each other.  The way that happens is pretty funny business.  This is the pilot that got such good reviews last midseason.

Larry Appleton, played with wide-eyed niceness by Linn-Baker, is a pleasant would-be photojournalist who pays the rent on his tidy bachelor apartment by working in a neighborhood discount store.  His life is apple-pie ordered until that night he answers a knock at the door and in walks Balki Bartokomous, played to a fractured-English faretheewell by Pinchot.

Balki is Larry's cousin, somewhat removed, and he's just arrived in America from somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Balki hasn't just dropped by.  He's moving in - and most likely, taking over.

At 7 p.m. Wednesday, same station, "Perfect Strangers" settles into its new permanent ABC time slot, with another repeat episode titled "Picture This."  In this one, Larry decides he'd better give his cousin Balki a lesson in English.  It's time Balki learned to say no.

What makes "Perfect Strangers" fun is the starring team.  These are bright, young, talented actors, and they're on their way up.

As "Perfect Strangers" producer Thomas L. Miller puts it: "They approach their work like trained stage actors, because that's what they are.  And that approach is what makes the difference in this TV business.  They're inventive onstage.  They read between the lines."

It was reading between the lines, in fact, that won Pinchot this TV role and made him famous in another star's movie.

When the producer of "Perfect Strangers" saw Pinchot steal a scene from "Beverly Hills Cop" right out from under Eddie Murphy's funny bones, he knew he'd found his Balki.

When Pinchot first read the script for "Beverly Hills Cop," it was such a tiny part that he almost didn't try to get it.  But then the movie director instructed him to do it his way, however he wanted, so he decided it was worth a shot.

He played Serge, a gay character in an art gallery, and that role, little more than a cameo, literally catapulted him to fame.

"It was such a small nothing, I decided to go for that completely posturing and preposterous side of Beverly Hills, and just see what happened," Pinchot recalled at our recent Hollywood briefing.

It was the director who let it happen, he says.  "The director said `I don't know what it is you're doing, but whatever it is, let's shoot it.'  That was great of him.  Anybody else would have said, `Oh, that's cute.  But look, don't do it.' "

What did Eddie Murphy say?

Pinchot laughed.  "Eddie had two reactions.  One was `That's funny,' and the other was `How can I end this?' "

It was what happened after the movie was made that surprised Pinchot most.

"It was almost laughable," he said with a laugh.  "My phone was ringing off the wall with calls from media people from all over the world.  There were camera crews in my house from Italy, France and Australia, not to mention "E.T." and "PM Magazine."  It was so ludicrous, there was just no way to take it all in.

"I mean, there I was living in a hovel, and the phone rings and it's Rolling Stone, and I have to say, `I can't talk to you right now, Rolling Stone, because right now I'm talking to USA Today.' "

Pinchot and Linn-Baker met for the first time when the producers of "Perfect Strangers" called them in to do a reading together.  They wanted to check out the chemistry, and the chemistry blew them away.

By coincidence of timing, these two were at Yale University together, and they both studied acting, but their paths never crossed.

"People used to tell me how good Mark was, and that I should see some of his shows," Pinchot recalls.  "But then he was at the drama school, and his picture was in the paper, so he was a star.  I was an underclassman."

After Yale, Linn-Baker headed for Broadway, and he got his first role in a New York Shakespeare Festival production of "All's Well That Ends Well."  It ended well for him.  He wound up starring in "Doonesbury."

He'd had a series of small movie roles by the time he got his first big feature.  He played Peter O'Toole's TV chaperone in "My Favorite Year."

His one and only TV series was "an education in network TV," Linn-Baker reported.  He was a star in a dreary thing called "The Comedy Zone."  It went down fast in the summer of '84.

"The idea was to give us new faces a showcase on TV, and that was the idea that was sold to the network," he recalled.  "But the network didn't really buy that idea.  CBS kept saying, `How can we change this and make it like everything else?'  CBS' Standards and Practice Department wound up running it, and the end was welcome."

He just went back to his first love, the theater.  And he's just spent his summer vacation doing something he's always wanted to do.  He directed a play, "L.A. Freewheeling," on "off-off Broadway" in New York.

All three networks had turned "Perfect Strangers" down before ABC finally bought it.

"This is no overnight project," said producer Miller.  "We got the inspiration for it right after the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.  We were so impressed by the patriotic fervor that rose up in the city, by how nice everybody was to everybody, and by the nations all coming together."

He paused for a laugh.  "What we didn't expect was the day after it all ended, everybody said 'Get these Olympic banners down, and get all those people out of here.'

"One network already had "Moscow On the Hudson" in the hopper, and another one said they had enough wild and crazy guys already.  Even so, we still thought if we captured the feeling of the wonder of someone coming to America and seeing this wonderful country for the first time, that we'd have something people would like."

Finally, with a little help from Pinchot's performance in "Beverly Hills Cop," ABC bought it.

It was a different kind of deal.

"ABC gave us an option," Miller explained.  "We could either test it out in a run of six episodes in a protected time period, or we could do the standard 13, and take our chances at getting the full run.

"We chose the six, and it was a good choice.  By the last show we did, we had pushed and stretched to the point where we felt we'd better get back to reality.  In the end, I think having done that test will give us a better show."

"It's amazing to us how many people have seen the show, and how many of them seem to have enjoyed it," said Linn-Baker.  "That's a great feeling going in."

"This is different from the "Beverly Hills Cop" reaction," Pinchot added.  "After I did that, people on the street were screaming at me `Gimme a twist.'  This time, they greet me like I'm part of the family, and they tell me they hope the show does well.

"Some of them do try to do Balki's accent," he said.  That accent is one of a kind.  Pinchot calls it "my own pudding."

"First I said, `Let me be Greek,' but they didn't think that was a good idea.  They said the Greeks would kill me," he explains in accents of his native California.

"So then I decided to do one that's not from anywhere.  I just listened to people who come to this country and have to learn English to live here.

"The way I figure, Balki grew up in Europe, and he learned his English by sitting through three old movies a day.  That explains why he talks the way he talks."