August 5, 1986
Duo Have Winning Combination
By Noel Holston,
To get a TV series even to the pilot
stage, a producer has to promise a network something, preferably some easily
grasped concept, something that sounds old yet new.
Longtime producer Bob Boyett recalled
recently in Los Angeles how he and his partner, Tom Miller, got ABC to spring
for what became the Tom Hanks - Peter Scolari comedy Bosom Buddies.
"We got Bosom Buddies on the
air by saying, 'We'll do a Billy Wilder kind of show,'" Boyett said.
"And ABC said, 'What kind of a Billy Wilder kind of a show?' So we
said out of desperation, 'Like Some Like It Hot.' Then we drove
back to the studio in the car saying, 'How in the world are we going to do
"But we did get the network to commit
on the basis of that,'' Boyett said. "And we ended up doing Bosom
Buddies, which really wasn't a show about two guys in drag. It was a
show about two characters in a relationship.
"You have to have some kind of a
unique conceptual twist to get somebody to buy a show. Then, hopefully, if
you do your job well, your characters will evolve so that the show becomes about
the difference in two human beings."
Boyett and Miller are lucky. They've
been involved with enough hits, among them Happy Days and Laverne
& Shirley, that they can plunder their own canon for those unique
conceptual twists that end up being meaningless.
Take their latest hit, Perfect
Strangers, which ABC tested in the spring. The network is relaunching
it tonight in its old Tuesday, 8:30-9 time slot, then moving it tomorrow to the
8-8:30 slot on Wednesday.
Perfect Strangers is basically Bosom
Buddies crossed with another of Boyett and Miller's old hits, Mork &
Mindy. Perfect Strangers' catalyst character, Balki Bartokomous
(Bronson Pinchot), is not from outer space. But such is his naivete and
his awe at things peculiarly American that he could be from Mars (or Ork)
instead of a remote Mediterranean island.
The setup is that Balki pops up on the
doorstep of his distant American cousin Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker).
Larry doesn't want a roommate, much less a ward, but he's too nice a guy to turn
Balki away. So Larry winds up playing straight man and voice of realism to
the funny immigrant.
Funny immigrant -- that was the selling
hook this time, Boyett said. "We saw it as a new way to do an alien,
a person who comes to this country who's bright-eyed and sees it from a
different perspective than we do."
But Boyett believes that Perfect
Strangers advanced beyond its gimmick even as the first six episodes were
His estimation is not mere producer
propaganda. Perfect Strangers' "alien" jokes wore thin
quickly, yet the series is nonetheless ingratiating because the actors are funny
and their characters really seem to care for each other. Surely that, and
not Balki's malapropisms ("I've got to get something off my neck"), is
the reason the show's ratings equaled those of the 11th ranked show of the
The key, Miller is confident, is that Strangers
is about friendship. "Happy Days is a classic
example," Miller said. "It was about Richie and the Fonz.
It was about the relationship between an apple-pie sort of kid and a kid who's
cool. Laverne & Shirley was about a friendship.
Friendship is the theme that goes through most of the work we've ever
done. It's like Lucy and Ethel. The idealized friendship. It
will never go out of style."