Strangers' Returns to Air
with Review, Support from Lucy
By R.D. Heldenfels, Gazette Reporter
The young stars of comedy
series "Perfect Strangers" have already gotten the
best review they could hope for.
At a recent press
conference, Lucille Ball said that Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson
Pinchot "are just great . . . I love those two guys."
One could carp that Lucy
is also doing a comedy for ABC, where "Perfect
Strangers" resides, and her comment about the show followed
her praise of series on other networks. But "those
two guys" will take it just the same.
"It's like being a
watercolorist and having Renoir say, 'Interesting. Good
work,'" Pinchot said. It is also good news for a show
which, while successful in its first run, faces a tougher row
Viewers had their first
taste of the adventures of former shepherd Balki Bartokomous (Pinchot)
and his Chicago cousin Larry Appleton (Linn-Baker) in six
episodes last spring. ABC gave the show a good time period
-- between hits "Who's the Boss?" and
"Moonlighting" -- and, despite the show's rough edges,
audiences took to it. Of all the shows to premiere between
January and May 1986 -- the so-called "second season"
-- "Perfect Strangers" ranked highest.
So ABC has put the series
on its fall schedule, albeit without the blessed time period it
had last season.
This year, as Linn-Baker
put it, "We'll be the first ones to hit the beach" --
starting ABC's Wednesday lineup, opposite NBC's established
"Highway to Heaven" and new CBS comedy "Together
We Stand." At least it will have a running start --
ABC will offer repeats of the first six episodes, the first at
8:30 tonight, then at 8 p.m. Wednesdays, beginning tomorrow.
But Linn-Baker and Pinchot
will take that, too.
"I don't think either
of us say, well instead of a career in major motion pictures
now, I think I'll do a series," Linn-Baker said.
"We don't say, 'I
think I'll play Stanley Kowolski now,'" Pinchot added.
Hey, work is work.
While these guys look young to Lucille Ball, both have been
looking for a big break for years, occasionally passing each
other in the night. Linn-Baker was in Yale Drama School
while Pinchot was an undergraduate there; they did not meet but
Pinchot recalled people talking about this great actor Mark
Linn-Baker. Pinchot said they first met at auditions for
"Risky Business" but Linn-Baker said he doesn't
remember the meeting. But they were both scuffling actors
Linn-Baker has done a lot
of stage work. Pinchot's credits include the highly
successful "Risky Business," but he's also in
"Hot Resort," which he called a "sub-movie . . .
sexist and racist and everything else."
He caught fire when he
played Serge in "Beverly Hills Cop" (star Eddie Murphy
had two reactions to the completely improvised Serge, Pinchot
said: "This is funny" and "How do I end
this?"). He now calls the public response
"I was living in this
little hovel that used to be a housing unit for starlets at
Paramount in the '30's and now it's a flophouse," he
said. "And the phone rang. It was someone from
Rolling Stone saying, 'Can I do an article on you?' And I
said, 'Wait a minute, I'm talking to USA Today. Can I call
you back?' And then, to USA Today, 'That was Rolling
Nor did the attention mean everything was rosy. Before the
movie was released, "Family Ties" producer Gary David
Goldberg signed Pinchot to comedy series "Sara."
It was not a success. Pinchot calls it "stinkeroo."
He said "Sara"
never had any clear direction -- Pinchot refers to his
character, a gay lawyer, as "a completely straight
homosexual" -- and script revisions seemed never to
stop. One day, when a dog did his business on the set, an
actress looked at the results and said, "New pages?"
Linn-Baker, similarly, got
good notices in 1982 in "My Favorite Year" -- he was
Benjy, the writer assigned to take care of Peter O'Toole -- and
now jokes, "I was absolutely willing to star in several
major motion pictures."
In reality, he also proved
absolutely willing to star in Life Savers commercials.
And, like Pinchot, he had a grim television experience, in the
CBS anthology series "Comedy Zone."
"The idea for that
show was to take a lot of very good writers from Broadway,
off-Broadway and beyond . . . and to give them a showcase on
television," Linn-Baker said. But CBS "was not
really interested in the idea except as a way to sell it.
And the network was looking at the material and going, 'Oh my
God, look at this stuff. How can we make it like
Linn-Baker noted that, in
movies, a hit seems like a part of the actor's past because the
work has often been done a year before it hits the screen.
"I was in a movie that was a hit seven years later, or
something," he said of "My Favorite Year."
Small wonder, then, that
these guys are just a bit edgy about the prospects for
"Perfect Strangers." At the same time,
experience makes them like the show. Each had a hand in
developing his character, for one thing. And ABC
Entertainment president Brandon Stoddard is supporting the
series. He urged that six episodes be made for spring
viewing, so the show could find an audience when there was less
frenzied competition than a fall premiere would involve.
While not everything has
gone as the actors hoped -- Pinchot wanted Balki to have a Greek
accent but the producers wanted, and got, something closer to
Serge's -- they still feel the show has the feel of classic
comedies such as "The Honeymooners" and, yes, "I
Love Lucy." And they think it hasn't hit its stride
yet -- the first six episodes were a work in progress.
They also like working
together. Pinchot lets fly with a loud laugh when
Linn-Baker jokes. Linn-Baker helplessly giggles as Pinchot
sails through anecdotes -- for instance, when he compared the
cast of "Sara" to the ingredients in a stew.
And audiences seem to like
them, in a much different way than movie viewers do.
"When I got reactions
from 'Beverly Hills Cop,' people would scream out lines like 'Gimme
a tweest,' at me, like I was a thing," Pinchot said.
"From this, you get like, 'Hello. My wife and I just
love you and Mark.' It's like I'm their cousin and they
hope we do well."
So Pinchot and Linn-Baker
are optimistic. But they're not giddy.
"As an actor you have
to wipe away two things," Pinchot said. "When
someone tells you how much they're going to pay, you have to
immediately think, 'I'm actually going to get 30 percent of
that.' Because the government gets 50 percent, your
manager gets some, your agent gets some . . .
"The other thing is
you have to ignore what everyone says . . . until you've
actually seen it and it's done."