Dallas Morning News
July 27, 1986

Bronson Pinchot, Mark Linn-Baker Click
in ABC's Perfect Strangers
Written by: Ed Bark

COMEDY CHEMISTRY, which can't be bought in stores, can make a wonder drug of a standard over-the-counter television series.

In recent seasons, ABC has experimented successfully with some formidable buddy systems.

Cindy Williams and Penny Marshall were perfectly suited to the Lucille Ball-style pratfalls of Laverne and Shirley.

Pam Dawber's amazed grace opposite Robin Williams kept Mork and Mindy from becoming purely a one-man show.

Tom Hanks and Peter Scolari, in or out of drag, made Bosom Buddies much more than an excuse for Donna Dixon to get down to her leotard.

Perfect Strangers, which became an insty-hit last spring in a comfy time slot between Who's the Boss? and Moonlighting, is looking like another of ABC's good buddy shows.  The premise is pat -- an odd coupling of two guys who are as different as, say, Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.  But the stars of Perfect Strangers, Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker, took their chemistry well beyond the test tube stage during the series' spring tryout run.

Pinchot is Balki Bartokomous, an innocent from abroad, in this case the Mediterranean.  America is the land of his dreams, which makes one wonder why Balki wasn't worked into ABC's recent Liberty Weekend hoo-hah.

Linn-Baker is Balki's cousin, Larry Appleton, living on his own for the first time after growing up in a large family.  Balki unexpectedly drops in on Larry, who expectedly is upset.  This isn't Tales of the Unexpected, however.  Balki and Linn-Baker became fast friends in the time it takes to sing Feelings.  Next season, ABC will move their friendship to Wednesdays at 7 p.m., where "we'll be the first ones to hit the beach,' as Linn-Baker says, in a tougher time slot opposite NBC's Highway to Heaven and Together We Stand, a new CBS sitcom.  Perfect Strangers begins priming for the fall on August 5, when the series gets one more exposure in the Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. time slot before moving the following night to Wednesdays at 7 p.m.

Perfect Strangers was pitched to all three networks in the afterglow of the 1984 summer Olympics in Los Angeles.  Co-executive producer Robert Boyett said he was "impressed by the patriotic fervor that existed and how Los Angeles became a great hospitable town' before reverting back to cynicism on the day after the Games.  Boyett wanted to rekindle the Olympic flame with a comedy about a foreigner who comes to America to marvel at what a great country it is.  But ABC wasn't immediately interested, CBS was developing a series adapted from the movie Moscow on the Hudson (it never aired) and NBC wanted to model a comedy after the "wild 'n' crazy guys' originated by Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd on Saturday Night Live (it never aired either).

Meanwhile, Pinchot and Linn-Baker kept kicking around.  Both attended Yale University, but didn't know each other at the time.  Both auditioned for the movie Risky Business, but Linn-Baker doesn't remember meeting Pinchot in the waiting room.

Linn-Baker's "breakthrough' role came in the 1982 film My Favorite Year, in which he babysat a besotted actor played by Peter O'Toole.  He also was a regular in the CBS summertime series Comedy Zone.

Pinchot's career unaccountably warmed up in Hot Resort.  "It was just a sub-movie,' he recalled during a recent interview.  "It cost a million dollars to make and it was one of those horrible exploitation films where four guys go to the Caribbean and have sex."

But Pinchot absorbed some behavioral traits on the set of Resort from a makeup woman and a soundman, "both of whom were very strong characters from Israel.'  When asked to play the "small, nothing role' of Serge, the art gallery clerk in Beverly Hills Cop, he used the mannerisms to all but steal the movie from star Eddie Murphy.

"He's not a dummy,' Pinchot said of Murphy.  "He had two salient reactions.  One was, "That's funny.'  The other was, "How can I end this'?'

Post-Cop, Pinchot's stock surged.

"It was almost laughable,' he said.  "People were calling me every single day and camera crews were coming to my apartment from Australia and France.  I was living in this little hovel that used to be a housing unit for Paramount starlets in the '30s.  Now it's a flophouse on el Serrito Place.  I remember a reporter from Rolling Stone calling me on the phone, and I had to tell him, "Wait a minute, I'm talking to USA Today.  Can I call you back'?'"

Pinchot made what seemed to be a deft career move, accepting the role of the gay lawyer Dennis ("a completely straight homosexual,' Pinchot now jokes) in the 1985 NBC sitcom Sara.  Produced by Family Ties creator Gary Goldberg, the series staggered and flopped despite a major buildup from NBC.

"New pages (of script) came in very frequently, because they really didn't know what the show should be,' Pinchot said.  "One day, somebody's dog came on the set and (defecated) under a plant.  And one of the actresses on the show leaned over and said, "New pages'?'

Perfect Strangers finally was sold to ABC on the strength of Pinchot's Serge characterization.

Balki, he says, is a "refined Serge, but not a complete copy.  It's just another hybrid accent.'

Pinchot and Linn-Baker say they are doing television because it pays well and because it was immediately available to them.

"I was absolutely willing to star in several major motion pictures,' Linn-Baker said.  "I don't think either of us sat down at some point and said, "Well, I think rather than a career in major motion pictures right now, I will do the lead in a TV series'.'

There are worse fates, though.  Legendary Lucille Ball, who will try to make a comedy comeback next season on ABC's Life with Lucy series, says Perfect Strangers is one of her favorite sitcoms.

"It's like painting in water colors and having Renoir say, "Good work',' Pinchot said of Lucy's rave.