View Smaller Image
Poster: Stuck In The '70's
(see this users gallery)
Perfect Strangers aired from March 1986 until August 1993 on ABC.
A slapstick "buddy" comedy that explored the wonderment of a newly arrived immigrant at the ways of America-"The land of the whopper." Balki ( Bronson Pinchot) was a young shepherd from the Mediterranean island of Mypos, who showed up unexpectedly at the Chicago apartment of his distant cousin, bachelor Larry ( Mark Linn-Baker). Balki's wide-eyed , fun-loving manner, his nutty Myposian customs, and his tendency to take everything Americans told him quite literally, promised considerable disruption for Larry's carefully organized life, but Larry took him in. After all, getting started as a shepherd in Chicago was not going to be easy.
Larry was just getting started himself, hoping to become a photojournalist. For the time being he worked downstairs at the Ritz Discount Shop, run by a greedy , insensitive man named " Twinky" ( Ernie Sabella)( Twinkie on blind people: "Give somebody a white cane , they think they own the streets"). Susan ( Lise Cutter) was Larry's friend, a nurse who lived upstairs. She was soon replaced by Mary Anne and Jennifer(Rebecca Arthur, Melanie Wilson), two stewardesses who lived in the building.
Stories involved Balki's comic misadventures as he learned about America, studied citizenship at night school, and chased girls with Larry. His answer to every problem: "Don't be ridikalas!" At first Larry got crazy Balki a job in " Twinkie"s store, but in the fall of 1987 they both went to work for The Chicago Chronicle, Larry as a cub reporter and Balki in the mailroom. Harriet ( Jo Marie Payton-France who eventually got her own spin-off series called Family Matters) was the wisecracking elevator operator at the paper, Harry ( Eugene Roche) the occasionally seen editor, and Lydia ( Belito Moreno)-who looked a lot like Twinkie's wife of the previous season ( Ms. Moreno had played her as well)-the neurotic advice columnist.
Before long Balki earned his high school diploma and began taking college courses at night; at the Chronicle his constant optimism tormented his snide , Scrooge-like mailroom boss, Mr. Gorpley ( Sam Anderson). Larry was promoted to investigative reporter, and by 1990 he had also been assigned to write dialogue for a comic strip-which was drawn by none other than Balki, who turned out to have considerable artistic talents. The strip was about a sheep named Dimitri ( and you wondered what kind of career the writers could concoct for a shepherd in Chicago!). Balki insisted that Larry's diologue must reflect " a sheep's sensibility." Wainwright ( F.J. O'Neill) was the publisher of the paper, and Tess ( Alison Porter), a young girl who lived in Larry and Balki's apartment building for a time.
Advances were made on the romantic front too, with Larry dating Jennifer and Balki having a crush on Mary Anne. Larry and Jennifer were married in 1991 and moved into a big Victorian house-where they were joined , of course, by Balki and Mary Anne. In a sitcom, there is no escape.
Original episodes of the series ended rather abruptly in April 1992, with Balki about to marry Mary Anne. A few additional original episodes aired during the summer of 1993 in which he had married her, and both wives gave birth-Mary Anne in the driveway to Robespierre and Jennifer in a runaway baloon to Tucker. As the series finally expired for good, the two couples promised to stay close forever.
Perfect Strangers was a solid hit during its several years on ABC, eventually joining Full House and others as part of the network's TGIF family lineup. Silly dialogue, slapstick pratfalls and one very useful catchphrase made Perfect Strangers a favorite of all ages and the show remained successful in syndication long after its last prime-time episode.
A Review from The New York Times
CBS AND ABC PRESENT TWO SERIES PREMIERES
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: March 25, 1986
TWO new series that begin this evening return to the past for what they hope is inspiration. CBS's hourlong ''Morningstar/Eveningstar,'' at 8 o'clock, tries valiantly to evoke the soothing warmth that in the 1970's was the trademark of ''The Waltons.'' The executive producers are Earl Hamner, creator of ''The Waltons,'' and Fred Silverman, the former CBS programming chief who gave Mr. Hamner his big break. ABC's ''Perfect Strangers,'' a half-hour comedy that airs at 8:30 P.M., goes back even further, to vaudeville and comedy with a funny accent, this time provided by a young man named Balki who comes from ''a small Mediterranean island country'' that sounds very much like Greece. The good news is that Balki is played by a gifted comic actor named Bronson Pinchot.
Mr. Hamner is credited with developing ''Morningstar/Eveningstar'' from a scenario created by Roger Damon Price. And, as in ''The Waltons,'' Mr. Hamner is back as narrator, succinctly revealing the show's ''concept'' in the opening moments: ''This is the story of some young people who needed a home, some senior citizens who needed love, and how they became a family.'' When the Morningstar orphanage burns down, Bob (Darrell Larson), a young social worker, takes his wards to the Eveningstar retirement home, asking Debbie (Sherry Hursey), another young social worker, for temporary shelter. Given the already stated family concept, the suspense is not exactly killing.
The children, ranging in age from about 7 to 17, move in, grumbling and sassy. ''We've ended up in a waxworks,'' says one. The older folks are a bit nervous; one or two are downright hostile to the idea. ''Ah find it most disruptive,'' says a former Southern belle still preoccupied with the social graces. But in a matter of minutes, Mr. Hamner and Mr. Silverman have established their basic demographics, clearly aimed at the millions who are not turned on by the music-video glitter of a ''Miami Vice.'' This is closer to ''Highway to Heaven'' terrritory. The lovable characters include everybody from an adorable little girl, bearing a remarkable resemblance to the youngest daughter on ''The Cosby Show,'' to a kindly woman who collects stray animals, saying, ''someday I'm going to find a place where I can keep every homeless thing in the world.'' The two social workers, of course, provide a note of contemporary romance.
The result sometimes comes close to sentimentality running amok, but ''Morningstar/Eveningstar,'' for all of its gooey and sometimes shameless machinations, can be accused of nothing more than promoting decency and compassion. It beats mindless violence. And it would be foolhardy to underestimate the cast of veteran actors recruited for the Eveningstar home. Sylvia Sidney plays the Southern woman, Kate Reid the protector of animals. Equally prominent are Elizabeth Wilson as a three-time and still simmering widow; Scatman Crothers as a pianist waiting for his agent to call; Jeff Corey as a crochety loner, and Teresa Wright and Mason Adams as a couple married for 40 years. The always lovely Miss Wright is billed as a guest star, and the reason is revealed in next week's four-hankie episode.
Directed by Jerry Jameson, ''Morningstar/Eveningstar'' is not without a sense of humor. In one scene, sprinkled with good nights as the youngsters climb into bed, one of older boys smirks, ''This is just like 'The Waltons'.'' It is indeed, but maybe that is not such a bad idea for television in the mid-1980's.
Over on ABC, Mark Linn-Baker has left his large suburban family and is just starting out on his own in the big city of Chicago. Opening his apartment door one evening, he is confronted by a fiercely amiable young man who insists that he is a relative and wants to move in. This is Balki (Mr. Pinchot), who reasonably asks, ''What do you think, I'm going to move in with some stranger?'' Although straight from the hills of his Mediterranean home, and thrilled to have arrived in ''the home of the Whopper,'' Balki insists that he is a professional - a professional sheepherder.
This Miller-Boyet production was written by Dale K. McRaven and directed, with a neatly raised eyebrow, by Joel Zwick. Clash-of-cultures routines are, by now, not the stuff of fresh television comedy. There are a limited number of laughs to be drained from the spectacle of a wide-eyed enthusiast discovering such truly American artifacts as pink lemonade and sofas that turn into beds. But Mr. Pinchot, who in a brief role almost stole ''Beverly Hills Cop'' away from Eddie Murphy, makes it all seem hilariously original.
Very nicely complemented by Mr. Linn-Baker as the wisecracking cousin (''related by rumor,'' he decides), Balki rushes into life with a trusting smile that is as innocently calculating as it is disarming. He is Harpo Marx weaned on feta cheese and high hopes. No matter the problem, Balki has a solution. ''Of course I do,'' he assures skeptics, ''don't be ridiculous!'' Balki: ''I can fix things.'' Doubtful boss: ''You can fix things?'' Balki: ''Why not, I'm young.'' Mr. Pinchot is clearly having a good time with Balki, whether telling a story about how he managed to make his grandmother's limp finger as hard as a nail in a board, or doing an impersonation of Tina Turner singing ''What's Love Got to Do With It?'' Now, it would seem, it is just a matter of ''Perfect Strangers'' finding enough worthwhile material to keep Mr. Pinchot and Mr. Linn-Baker reasonably employed.
An Article from USA TODAY
A 'Perfect' opportunity for a hit
By Tom Green
HOLLYWOOD-Talk about perfect, get a load of the chances that Perfect Strangers has for clicking tonight as television's newest hit comedy:
ABC has offered up its most favorable time slot, the half-hour bridging the network's freshest show's, Who's the Boss? and Moonlighting.
The stars are familiar faces, if not names. Bronson Pinchot, 26, did more with one minute of screen time in Beverly Hills Cop than most actors do in 100. And Mark Linn-Baker, 29, charmed everybody as the young man in My Favorite Year.
Creative credentials are impeccable. Dale McRaven, the creator of Perfect Strangers, also created Mork & Mindy. Co-executive producers Thomas Miller and Robert Boyett produced Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley.
The story casts Pinchot as a Mediterranean island sheepherder who comes to the USA and moves in with his shy and uptight distant cousin ( Linn-Baker). Pinchot is a foreigner , but, Linn-Baker says, his character is too unique to withstand comparrisons to Robin Williams'alien, Mork.
" This is not one guy doing a star turn in the middle of a set with a pretty girl nodding," Pinchot says. Adds Linn-Baker: " This is character comedy."
In Beverly Hills Cop, Pinchot played Serge, the effete art gallery clerk with the untraceable accent-faintly Greek this time-he is not doing the same character in Perfect Strangers.
" This is an ersatz accent I'm doing," Pinchot says. " No one really talks like this , although some taxicab drivers come very, very close."
The series was created with Pinchot in on it from the start. Initially, he admits, there was more of a Mork & Mindy feel to the show, focusing on his character and the silly things he would do next.
Another actor had been cast as the USA cousin, but nobody liked the chemistry. The producers were so pleased with Linn-Baker that they played up his character.
" I haven't had the pleasure before of clicking with somebody as much as I've clicked with him," Pinchot says.
The pairing ( both went to Yale) appears to be an off screen hit as well. The outgoing Pinchot shrieks with delight when the more introspective Linn-Baker cracks a joke.
" My character is much more shy than I am," Linn-Baker says.
"You are very shy," Pinchot says.
"I'm not shy as a performer. But I'm a shy person."
"But in a delightful way," Pinchot says. "Not in a repressed Emily Dickinson way."
Pinchot has such an overpowering personality that on their first meeting Linn-Baker got to say very little the whole evening.
"I was so excited. It's hard for me to hold in excitement. I hugged him. I love his work. I went home and wrote myself a note to put on my bulletin board. It said,Let Mark talk,' I think it's still there."
A Review from USA TODAY
TV PREVIEW/BY MONICA COLLINS
We love to love the affectionate alien. The cute, bumbly creature from another planet who doesn't know Snickers from show polish speaks a universal language.
Perhaps we love the innocence of these creatures, their sense of discovery. In a cluttered, circuit-overloaded culture, they provide a fresh voice, even if it's a voice we can barely understand.
Perfect Strangers presents the latest lovable alien. Balki, the Mediterranean shepherd who somehow finds himself in the middle of Chicago, is not technically from another planet, but he might as well be.
He's a guy who thinks that he can find a job prodding sheep in the middle of the Windy City. He thinks the phrase " walking papers" means you're given documents entitling you to a stroll by Lake Michigan. He is an innocent who doesn't know the meaning of money or greed.
Bronson Pinchot is wonderful as Balki. And Mark Linn-Baker, as the alien's down-to-Earth Chicago cousin, is also terrific. These two guys have found the right chemistry for cut-up and straight-man.
As Balki lurches around, trying to make sense of modern-day Chicago, his discoveries are rather ludicrous but engaging. We are laughing at him, with him, around him. Whatever-we are laughing.
This is broad comedy, not the Cheers bar. Naivete, not sophistication. So be it.
Perfect Strangers provides honest laughter. It's funny. And, in TV comedy, that's reason to take it seriously.
An Article from The New York Times
A Team With a Genius for Successful Sitcoms
By RICHARD BERNSTEIN, SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: June 13, 1990
There are two ways of looking at Tom Miller and Bob Boyett, a team of television sitcom producers who have an extraordinary six shows either on the air or scheduled for next season.
On one hand, probably nobody will accuse the creators of ''Laverne and Shirley,'' ''Mork and Mindy,'' ''The Hogan Family,'' ''Full House'' or ''Perfect Strangers'' of producing searing, soul-searching drama. Indeed, even by the somewhat less-than-Shakespearean standards of the Emmy Award juries, the Miller-Boyett combination has been ignored. They remain prizeless. Yet on the other hand, Mr. Miller and Mr. Boyett are by any commercial standard among the most successful television producers in history. They may not win Emmies, but they do consistently win in the ratings, producing a particular kind of creation that, evidently, fulfills some rather deep need on the part of millions of viewers.
Specifically, what they are good at - better, perhaps, than anybody else - is a wholesome, light formula that makes people laugh and feel good in 23 minutes, the actual dramatic time available in the half-hour format. They have programs on or due to be on all three major networks. And so they are an important, if generally unseen, influence on the American scene, a pair whose particular tastes and sensibilities have become a kind of entertainment-fare standard.
That Warm, Rosy Feeling
What is the formula? First, there is a family or a small group of friends who share a house or apartment. They are good-natured, rather average, unassuming, modest, generally not very ambitious, rather unsophisticated, and marginally childish. They are a gee-whiz collection of people who are often inadvertently funny; you might say they are adult equivalents of the Sesame Street contingent.
Then there are dashes of meaning, dabs of real life - temptation, loneliness, problems in school, parent-child misunderstandings, teen-aged romances - that by the end of each episode have produced that warm, rosy feeling in the heart of some small trial overcome, some little triumph achieved.
''We don't expect to solve all the problems of the world in 23 minutes,'' Mr. Boyett said one recent morning in the Los Angeles office he shares with Mr. Miller. ''But you can have people do a lot of connecting in just a few minutes, if you sit down and you're serious. The majority of people want to have a good happy wholesome family life and want to feel that the parental figures are participating in a positive way in shaping that life.''
Mr. Miller and Mr. Boyett understand that they are seen inside the industry as the producers of the lesser programs, the early evening preliminaries that warm up audiences for television's presumed heavier programs, like ''China Beach,'' ''L.A. Law,'' ''Thirtysomething.'' The critics characterize their work as being on the mawkish, inconsequential side, as fanciful diversions in which the thorns of life always conveniently disintegrate before the assault of gushy good intentions.
'We Want to Entertain You'
''We're not ashamed of it,'' Mr. Miller said. ''We want to entertain you. We want to give you a good time. And within the good time we also try to touch upon a nerve, touch upon an idea, touch upon a texture that has meaning in your life.''
''It's never about lecturing, it's about entertaining,'' Mr. Miller went on, ''but we always like to have somebody in our shows make some human connections, so the people who watch it say, 'Yes, I understand that and I like it.' ''
Mr. Miller and Mr. Boyett work in impressively spacious offices in the Lorimar Productions building, where they have assembled a team of writers, directors, producers and others. The two men, meeting a visitor in a conference room, an immense bowl of fruit salad on the table, a collection of 21 TV Guide cover stories framed on the wall, give the impression of the same type of unaffected amiability and wholesomeness reflected in their programs.
For both men, the string of successes came after long television careers. Mr. Boyett, 48 years old, comes from Atlanta and describes himself as a would-be playwright who got into television by accident, working in development for ABC. Mr. Miller, 46, and originally from Atlanta, too, came to Hollyood when he was 19 and worked for the director Billy Wilder before eventually developing television programs at Fox and later Paramount.
He hit it big with ''Happy Days,'' a comedy of nostalgia set in the 1950's. When Mr. Miller was preparing the pilots for ''Happy Days,'' Mr. Boyett was a programming executive at ABC. moving later to Paramount, where ''Happy Days'' was produced. The two became friends, and Mr. Boyett eventually joined Mr. Miller and a third producer, Eddie Milkus, to create ''Mork and Mindy,'' ''Laverne and Shirley'' and other successful programs.
Then, after seven years, Mr. Miller and Mr. Boyett left Paramount for a new roof over their heads at Lorimar, where they produced the string of programs now dominating the early evening time slots.
''We wanted to develop some new half-hour programs,'' Mr. Boyett said of the last few months of their work at Paramount, ''but all three networks at that time basically said, 'Comedy is dead.' '' They worked instead on hourlong programs until, one day, Lorimar Productions invited them to develop half-hour shows.
''We started here on Oct. 1, 1984,'' Mr. Boyett recalled. A few days later, ''The Cosby Show'' opened to enthusiastic audiences. ''All three networks called and said, 'Get over here, comedy is back and we want you to do comedy,' '' Mr. Boyett continued. ''We just jumped back into the half-hour comedy business.'' Comedy, Mr. Miller observed, was not dead after all.
What most of the Miller-Boyett comedies have is some entirely eccentric or abnormal element thrust into what is otherwise an entirely normal situation. For example, half of the buddy team in ''Perfect Strangers,'' starring Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker, is a colorful immigrant from an exotic Mediterranean island who goes to Chicago to live with his cousin. ''Full House'' is about three men raising three little girls.
A newly developed program, ''The Family Man,'' which is scheduled to appear on Saturday nights at 8 o'clock on CBS next fall, has a familiar eccentric element. As Mr. Miller and Mr. Boyett tell the story, the program came about when a CBS executive called to suggest doing something similar in concept to ''My Three Sons,'' the 1950's hit starring Fred MacMurray.
Improving the Idea
They tinkered with the concept, trying to make it new. They had already signed up a 7-year-old actress, Ashleigh Sterling, believing that there would eventually be a role for her. To the three sons and the widowed father of the 1950's program, Mr. Miller and Mr. Boyett added a little girl, to be played by Miss Sterling, and the father of the deceased wife. The widowed father, meanwhile, is no longer a middle-class white-collar figure, but a working fireman, confronting for the first time the nitty gritty of parenting.
Illustrating the efforts to achieve the warm glow of sentimentality is this moment in the program's pilot: The father, played by Gregory Harrison, is telling his little daughter that the father-in-law, played with avuncular buffoonery by Al Molinaro, won't stay with the bereaved family much longer because he wants to get back to his home in New York.
''He loves New York,'' Mr. Harrison says.
''He loves New York,'' the little daughter, wise beyond her years, replies, ''but he loves us more.''
Needless to say, the character played by Mr. Molinaro stays on.
''It's father doesn't always know best,'' Mr. Miller said, describing one of the program's small twists.
''We wanted to go for some poignancy,'' Mr. Boyett said. ''We knew what critics were going to say. They were going to say, 'Here's another of those dead mother half-hour comedies,' which they can't stand.''
He continued: ''You often see half-hour shows in which the key element of dealing with a problem is missing from the show. For example, you see parents deciding they have to talk to a child and the next scene you see is a parent saying, 'Well, how did it go?' We write the scene. We write right into the toughest scene.''
Weeping at the Grave
In the case of ''The Family Man,'' the crucial moment of poignancy comes when the middle son finally allows himself to admit that he is grief-stricken over the death of his mother, weeping in front of her grave while his father holds him in his arms.
''We don't mind doing a scene that is not interrupted by laughs,'' Mr. Boyett said. Not every scene has to include, he continued, what the industry calls ''treacling,'' cutting in a joke.
Mr. Miller and Mr. Boyett may well expect that ''The Family Man'' will summon up the usual critical complaints - that it is gushy, trite, fake in its presentation of real-life situations, another example of the relentless mediocrity of most television. But they argue that one reason so many millions watch television is that it is more dependably entertaining than just about any other medium, including movies and books.
''In a great successful movie comedy there will be maybe 10 big laughs,'' Mr. Boyett said. ''But people consider 50 percent of the television programs they watch to be pretty good entertainment; otherwise, they wouldn't watch in such big numbers.''
Mr. Miller says that television sitcoms, considering the realities of making them, are remarkably funny. ''You have to turn one out every single week,'' he said. ''You don't have $15 million and a year and a half to write the script. I'm amazed at how good it is. I mean, how many movies make you scream with laughter?''
For the Perfect Strangers Fan Club go to http://www.fanpop.com/spots/perfect-strangers
For a Website dedicated to Bronson Pinchot go to http://www.bronsonpinchot.net/
For another website dedicated to Bronson Pinchot go to http://www.bronsonpinchot.20m.com/
For a Tribute to Mark Linn-Baker go to http://www.geocities.com/Hollywood/Club/6247/
For more on Perfect Strangers go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfect_Strangers_(sitcom)
· Date: Tue June 10, 2008 · Views: 6630 · Filesize: 55.9kb, 73.5kb · Dimensions: 557 x 768 ·
Keywords: Perfect Strangers: 1987 Local TV Guide