Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
June 25, 1986

'Perfect Strangers' Sounds Perfect
By Ron Weiskind, In L.A.

LOS ANGELES - Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker, the stars of ABC's comedy hit "Perfect Strangers," are as funny in person as they are on screen.  In fact, they admit to cracking each other up on the set and off.

One other notable comic also finds their humor funny -- Lucille Ball, who said so in a news conference over the weekend.  Pinchot's reaction to praise from TV's first lady of comedy: "It's like being a watercolorist and having Renoir see your show and say, 'Nice work.'"

It's also one of the more sincere reactions one is likely to get in this town, where they love you when you're hot and forget you when you're not.  These talented performers know what it's like.  Each has won acclaim for work in a hit movie (Linn-Baker for "My Favorite Year" and Pinchot for "Beverly Hills Cop") and each has been in a flop series ("Comedy Zone" and "Sara," respectively.)

Pinchot, the haughty art dealer Serge in "Cop" remembers how his life changed after the film was released.  "It was almost laughable.  People were calling every day, camera crews were coming from Australia.  It was so different from what was happening before, when I was struggling for work.  I'm living in this hovel in Hollywood and I get a call from Rolling Stone and I have to tell them, 'Can I put you on hold, I'm talking to USA Today.'  This is ridiculous!"

But that's Hollywood and without such absurdities, Pinchot would have a hard time getting laughs.  "The way I make things funny is to expand reality," he said.  That's how he created Serge.

"I decided he had to be someone who showed the totally preposterous, pretentious side of Beverly Hills."  According to Pinchot, when "Beverly Hills Cop" star Eddie Murphy saw this small role develop into a big laugh-getter, he had two reactions: "The first was, that's funny.  The second was, how can I end this?"

Unfortunately, actors are not always given the freedom to make a character memorable.  That's what happened to Pinchot on "Sara," in which he played a gay lawyer, and to Linn-Baker on "Comedy Zone," an experimental comedy revue.

"We were all very ready to make good comedy," Pinchot said of his former series.  "There we were, sitting around -- a ripe tomato, a firm potato and a good piece of stew meat.  So why wasn't it stew?  We never could figure it out.  I kept trying to do things with my character and they kept saying, 'No, no.'  I would up describing my character as a completely straight homosexual."

To Linn-Baker, "Comedy Zone," a 1984 summer series on CBS, was "an education in network television.  The idea was to take a lot of good writers, mostly from theater, and give them a showcase on TV.  But the network really wasn't interested in that idea as anything more than a way to sell the show.  They looked at the material and said, 'Oh my God, how can we make it sound like everything else?'

"There were four layers of bureaucracy on that show, and I'm still not sure which one was running things.  And neither are they.  They talent they amassed on that show!  They had great actors, great writers and four bureaucracies to keep them from doing work."

Yet in spite of all that, and although each got good notices in his film role, here they are back in television.  Why?

Uttered Linn-Baker, with mock pomposity, "I was absolutely willing to star in several major motion pictures.  Financial backing and the producers at the studios were a problem."

Continued Pinchot, in a more serious manner, "You take whatever opening you can get.  You don't just say, 'Well, I think I'll do Stanley Kowalski now.'"

But the actors have no complaints with "Perfect Strangers," which premiered last spring to high ratings and reviews that sometimes praised the series but always lauded the comic abilities of its stars.  Linn-Baker stars as a young man in Chicago, living alone and loving it until a distant relative from a Balkan country moves in with him, cultural gap and all.

"We got the idea for the show from the 1984 Olympics," explained Robert Boyett, one of the executive producers.  "We were inspired by the patriotic fervor in Los Angeles, how the city became so hospitable during the Games and, the day after they ended, how it returned to its normal cynicism.  We thought it would be great to do a series about a man who comes to America and says, 'What a wonderful country,' and put him up against another character who has lived here and knows the flaws."

All three networks turned down the concept at least once, although they all said they liked the idea.  One had bought the TV rights to the movie "Moscow on the Hudson," which has a similar theme.  One was developing a series around the Czech Brothers, the foreign-born "wild and crazy guys" from the early days of "Saturday Night Live."  But persistence led ABC to reconsider and, ultimately, pick up the series.

Despite the success of the series in its short spring run, the actors -- who attended Yale Drama School within a few years of each other and first met while auditioning unsuccessfully for the film "Risky Business" (sic, Bronson did win a role in that film) -- are not convinced yet that "Perfect Strangers" is a hit.

"There are two things you have to remember as an actor," Pinchot said.  "First, when someone tells you how much money you are going to make, remember that you will only see 30 percent of it by the time the government and your agents get through with it.  Second, you have to wipe away what everybody says and not count your chickens before they are hatched."