News / Friday Punch
August 7 - 13, 1987
and Balki take a step up during new season
By Dennis Washburn - News television editor
Calif. - You can expect some changes in ABC's Perfect Strangers this
The popular comedy,
which surprised most TV industry observers last year with its good ratings, will
be seen in Birmingham on WRBC / Channel 6 Wednesday nights at 7, opposite NBC's Highway
to Heaven and CBS' new The Oldest Rookie.
It's the story of
Balki Bartokomous, who left his Mediterranean home and journeyed to the United
States to create a hilarious culture clash with his unsuspecting distant cousin,
Larry Appleton. Balki moved in with Larry and the American youth just
didn't know what to make of the naive sheepherder who suddenly began sharing his
And all through last
season, the free-spirited Balki took night courses and improved his English but
his still frustrated his neat and orderly cousin as he mixed his old country
ways with New World ideas.
stars as Balki and Mark Linn-Baker as Larry in the half-hour sitcom. Other
characters are airline stewardesses Jennifer, played by Melanie Wilson, and Mary
Anne, played by Rebecca (sic) Arthur. A new character this year will be
Harriette Winslow, played by Jo Marie Payton-France, an elevator operator in the
building where the cousins work.
up in the world this year," said Pinchot, here at the Sheraton Redondo
He explained that
the pair will change jobs. Last year they worked at a discount store.
"We're going to
get into the newspaper business. Larry will get a job as a kind of cub
reporter at a major newspaper while Balki, wanting to be close to Larry, will
get a job in the mailroom of the newspaper.
"And we'll also
be moving into a larger apartment," he said. "Balki will be able
to have his own room.
that the atmosphere at the discount store last year was fairly depressing and
that a better arena would be a newspaper. It's more exciting.
exactly a report, but almost. He's sort of an assistant to the city
editor, which means he's something of a gofer, although he does occasionally get
to write a story.
"As for me, I
can be naive anywhere, but a newspaper is a much more interesting place.
At the same time I'm working in the mailroom, I'll also be working on getting my
citizenship," he said.
Why the new
"It wasn't my
idea," he said. "I told the writers I like sleeping on a couch,
but they said it's hard to write a scene when one of the actors has no place to
Both the actors are
Yale graduates. And one of the best things about the series has been the
chemistry between them. They seem to react almost instinctively to each
other as though they'd known each other for a long time. Did they know
each other at Yale? No, both answered.
"When Mark was
an undergraduate at Yale, I was a senior in high school," said Pinchot.
"And when I was an undergraduate, he was a graduate student. And even
though we were at the same school, we didn't have an opportunity to get
acquainted. After all, there were thousands of other students there."
"I guess it was
the fact that we did share some similar experiences at school that allows us to
work together so well," Linn-Baker said.
He said one of the
dangers for the series is that the writers tend to advance Pinchot's character
too far and too fast. This year, for instance, both boys will have their
own rooms, their own girlfriends and both have jobs that are clearly not
to be careful or they'll kill much of the comedy that comes from having a rural
foreigner live with an urban American," he said.
He said his own
character of Larry is still changing, still growing up.
"He thinks he
knows quite a lot more than he really does. And when he explains things to
Balki about America, he's apt to be wrong because he doesn't have a lot of
experience in living."
Most TV comedies
start out by simply being funny and then, as the years go on, the shows seem to
pay more attention to social issues. Will this be the case with Perfect
"I don't think so. What we deal with are aspects and
relationships. The storyline is more about human relationships than about
"I think one of
the reasons the show is still around is because it's old-fashioned comedy, not
the sophisticated stuff that many people think of as comedy today," he
How about the
girlfriends? Will Jennifer and Mary Anne still fill those roles?
so," Pinchot said. "They worked out very well for us last year
and we'll probably stick with them rather than bring on new girlfriends.
character, Harriette, the elevator operator at the newspaper, is a little older
and she's apparently been around. She's married and it will probably be
established this year that she has a child."
Both the actors like
to compare Perfect Strangers and their roles to the old Honeymooners
with Jackie Gleason and Art Carney.
Larry, is the Gleason character," said Linn-Baker, "and Bronson, or
Balki, is the Carney character. If you examine them closely, you'll find
that these characters have a lot of the same characteristics as the Honeymooners
Pinchot said much of
the comedy this year will take place in their apartment.
"Home is where
we get to be on our own turf. In the public places we have to curtail our
activities or else people would come in trucks and haul us away to the funny
He said he thinks
they will be able to relate to each other better at the newspaper than in the
store. They've already begun shooting new footage for the show's exterior
"And yes, we
will go to Chicago for some of the shooting," he added.
Where does the
physical comedy in the show come from? Is it something they dream up or is
it mostly written into the script by the writers?
"It's kind of
both ways, I guess. We do come up with a lot of it, though,"
"Last year in
one show, for instance, we had adopted this little kid who was in trouble.
But the show was too sad. There weren't enough laughs when we got the
script. It was a solid twenty minutes and no laughs.
'Can't we do something to create some humor?' They said, 'What?'
Bronson said, 'Let's play tag.'
"So we did and
the next day the script called for us to play tag to help create some
laughs. And it did."
How is the show
doing around the world? Is it seen in other countries?
don't show it in Greece," Pinchot said. "The Greek TV people
seemed to feel that it might be offensive to some of the Greek people and they
used one of my references to the island where I grew up as an example.
This was when I was talking about my island where there was only one goat for
"But most of
the other countries air the show -- France, England, Italy and Spain," he
Linn-Baker is a
native of St. Louis, but he grew up in Wethersfield, Conn. He earned both
his bachelor's and master's degrees in drama from Yale and spent three years
with the Yale Repertory Theater. A skilled pantomimist, he also performed
a solo mime show while in college.
A series of small
film roles led to his highly acclaimed breakthrough leading role in My
A New York City
native, Pinchot grew up in Pasadena, Calif. He went to Yale to study art
and switched to drama after his freshman year.
His first feature
film was Risky Business, which he followed with roles in The Flamingo
Kid, After Hours, Hot Resort and Beverly Hills Cop, for which he won
critical raves as Serge, the haughty art gallery clerk.