The Fresno Bee
August 6 - 12, 1989

'Perfect Strangers' gets new time-slot,
spin-off as a lead-in

By Lanny Larson
Bee broadcast writer


Not too many 5-year-olds are ready to have their own kids, but in the world of television, most anything is possible.

So "Perfect Strangers" starts its fifth season on ABC next month in a new time slot and with its very own spinoff as a lead-in.

"Perfect Strangers" moved to its new 9 p.m. Friday place in Channel 30's lineup last week.  ABC wants people used to seeing the show there when the new season begins to attract viewers to the revamped Friday schedule.

"Perfect Strangers" has had little trouble generating time-period-winning numbers (last season against "Beauty and the Beast" on CBS and against an ever-changing NBC lineup.)

At 9 o'clock, "Perfect Strangers" moves out of the traditional family hour (8-9) and into an area where presumably more adult themes can be explored in a show that has been maturing since its innception.

"Perfect Strangers" began as a cartoonish cliche-filled story about Balki Bartokomous (Bronson Pinchot) emigrating to Chicago.  Balki was a goat herder from the tiny Mediterranean island of Mypos.

He settled with his cousin, Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker), who was an up and coming photojournalist, who agreed to teach his cousin the fine points of getting along in America.

The comedy during the first few seasons came from the unrelenting conflict generated by Balki's naivete and the cousins' romantic entanglements with a pair of flight attendants, one as solid as Larry and the other as off-the-wall as Balki.

But after three years of situations that were mostly focused on Balki's naivete about American ways, the show focused more on the assimilating side of Balki.

 

By then Larry was an investigative reporter at a newspaper and Balki was ensconced in the mail room.  That gave the show more to do, more areas to explore and more characters to play with.

One character who emerged was the acid-tongued elevator operator Harriette Winslow (JoMarie Payton-France).  Her scenes with the two and with others along the way were impressive enough that her character won't be around much on "Perfect Strangers" this fifth season.

Instead, she'll have a show of her own (with the help of a talented, funny cast), "Family Matters," which ABC will run at 8:30 p.m. Fridays.

The pilot for the show had the texture of a time-period perfect sitcom about a black family in Chicago.  It makes no point about race (a refreshing change from most other shows in which black characters are leads), sticking instead to funny situations that could affect any urban family.

Reginald VelJohnson, the police sergeant in the movie "Die Hard," plays a cop again "Family Matters." (sic)  He and Payton-France preside over a family that includes their young children (Darius McCrary and Kellie Shanygne Williams); her widowed sister (Thelma Hopkins), who has an infant son; and his mother (Rosetta Le Noire).

The comedy comes from the relationships among the group.  There are several friction points from the in-law relationships, especially that surrounding Hopkins' character, who has been forced to live with her sister as she tries to write a novel and raise her baby.

At the recent TV Critics Association fall preview tour in Los Angeles, there were suggestions that this was a kind of "All in the Family" for the 1990s.

What the new show isn't is like other consciously black comedies of a decade ago: "The Jeffersons" and "Good Times," as examples.  Payton-France told critics those shows had "too much exaggeration."  However, she added, "They did break ground, so we have to give credit where credit is due."

"I don't think they did any real damage," said Hopkins of the old shows.  "Those of us who would like to do things differently would just hope that when it's out (sic) turn we can maybe take those points that . . . we may not have agreed with and do something about changing that."

"We wouldn't be up here today if it wasn't for those shows," VelJohnson said.

What "Family Matters" will try to be, Payton-France told the critics, will be a broad-based sitcom that is evocative (sic) of all working families and promotes strong family values.

"It's going to be right in the middle of the whole scope of what's happening in the world situation," she said.

Payton-France added, "I hope it will help all families.  I hope that we will be an example, not only to the viewing audience in the United States, but the viewing audience in the world."