August 3, 1986
Gets Perfect Comedy
from Two 'Perfect Strangers'
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
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
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
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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."