Schenectady Gazette
August 5, 1986

'Perfect 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 this fall.

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 then.

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 "ludicrous."

"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 Stone.'"

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 everything else?'"

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."