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12 Not-So-Ridiculous Facts About Perfect Strangers

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ABC

If Bronson Pinchot was ever afraid he might be typecast for his over-the-top foreign accent in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop, eight seasons of his over-the-top foreign accent on ABC’s Perfect Strangers confirmed it. Premiering in 1986, the buddy show featured Pinchot’s sheep-herding Balki Bartokomous clashing with modern Chicago and cousin-slash-roommate Larry Appleton (Mark Linn-Baker) in a quest to be less ridiculous. Check out the details on recasting, spin-offs, and how they won over Lucille Ball. 

1. THE SHOW WAS INSPIRED BY THE 1984 OLYMPICS.

Television producers Thomas Miller, Robert Boyett, and Dale McRaven all agreed that watching international athletes experience American life while in Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics got them thinking about exploring that kind of culture shock in a series. While Pinchot was their first choice for European immigrant Balki, he had already committed to another show, Sara, for NBC. When that show was canceled, he agreed to do Perfect Strangers.

2. TOM CRUISE WARNED PINCHOT NOT TO DO TV.

Before landing Perfect Strangers, Pinchot had a supporting role in 1983’s Risky Business starring Tom Cruise. While on the set, Pinchot told US Magazine that Cruise picked up on the fact he was low on funds. Cruise offered to lend him money and cautioned him against ever doing television. “Whatever you do, don’t do it,” Cruise allegedly told him. Pinchot explained that, as he was not Tom Cruise, he wasn't in a position to turn down anything.

3. LOUIE ANDERSON WAS ORIGINALLY CAST AS LARRY.

In a slightly more cynical version of the pilot, comedian Louie Anderson appeared as Cousin Louie opposite Pinchot’s Balki. Producers thought the chemistry was missing, so Anderson was let go; of the several actors to audition after his departure, everyone agreed Pinchot had the best dynamic playing against fellow Yale graduate Mark Linn-Baker.

4. THE SHOW WAS ON THE AIR THREE WEEKS AFTER THE FIRST SCENE WAS SHOT.

While ABC loved the premise and script for Perfect Strangers, executives thought the show might get lost in the wave of new shows premiering in the fall of 1986. Instead, they proposed producers quickly assemble six episodes to debut in winter 1986 as a mid-season replacement. In order to do this, episodes were taped in record time, with one show airing just one week after it had first been rehearsed.

5. PINCHOT AND LINN-BAKER NEARLY KNOCKED EACH OTHER OUT.

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In a network-authorized, pre-Internet newsletter circulated among fans of the series, author Paula Wilshe related a story of a 1988 taping that resulted in a bloody mess. For a scene where Larry is teaching Balki how to be more assertive, Pinchot grabbed his co-star and shook him so violently their heads collided. Both men went down: Pinchot damaged a tooth on Linn-Baker’s forehead, requiring a root canal, while Linn-Baker needed stitches. 

6. MYPOS WAS CREATED TO AVOID OFFENDING ANYONE.

After some discussion over making Balki a character of Greek descent, producers decided that he would hail from the fictitious country of Mypos. According to Pinchot, this was done because the bizarre customs mentioned in the show might prove offensive to a real territory.

7. LUCILLE BALL WAS A FAN.

Both Pinchot and Linn-Baker perceived Perfect Strangers as a kind of spiritual cousin of I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners, with physical, character-driven humor that was in contrast to the topical, “issue”-oriented sitcoms of the 1980s. When the show returned for a second season in August 1986, Lucille Ball told press that they were both “just great” and that “I love those two guys.” Pinchot was impressed. “It’s like being a watercolorist and having Renoir say, ‘Interesting, good work,’” he said.

8. BALKI WAS NAMED AFTER PINCHOT’S SISTER’S DOG.

Sort of. In 1986, Pinchot told TV Guide that "Balki" was short for “balcony,” which is what his family considered naming his sister’s dog when they were kids. They ultimately named the pet something else, but Balki stuck: Pinchot remembered it when producers were trying to decide what to name his character.

9. CREDIT (OR BLAME) THE SHOW FOR FAMILY MATTERS.

It’s not often that a spin-off exceeds the popularity of the original, but ABC’s Family Matters proved otherwise. The elevator operator in the duo’s apartment building was Harriette Winslow (Jo Marie Payton), who made regular appearances in the third and fourth seasons along with her police officer husband, Carl (Reginald VelJohnson). The characters migrated to their own series in fall 1989, making a star of Jaleel White’s Urkel. (Pinchot and Linn-Baker filmed a cameo for the Family Matters pilot, but it never aired.)

10. THE SHOW HELPED ANCHOR ABC’S TGIF DYNASTY.

TGIF was ABC’s very clever, very effective marketing campaign that turned a block of its Friday night sitcoms into one marathon viewing session. To promote the idea, the cast of the various shows would shoot promotional material, usually at the very end of a long workday. It was unpaid work, and many casts (including Family Matters) felt it was fatiguing, but Pinchot and Linn-Baker were happy to do it because they were close enough friends to make it fun. “We would do hours, hundreds and hundreds, of those interstitials, and nobody … could have talked us up and said, ‘This is why this is good for you,’” Pinchot told Entertainment Weekly in 2015. “We did it for each other.”

11. THE ENTIRE CAST WAS PART OF THE RAPTURE.

In an exceptionally bizarre reference, the rapture-like disappearance of part of the world’s population in HBO’s The Leftovers apparently included the entire cast of Perfect Strangers. It’s a throwaway line, but it also cost Mark Linn-Baker an acting gig: After he auditioned for a role on the show, producers agreed they couldn’t cast him since “their” version of Linn-Baker had gone on to his great reward.

12. THE STUDIO AUDIENCE WOULD USUALLY ASK THEM TO DANCE.

BasementRejects

After a studio taping, Linn-Baker and Pinchot would field audience questions. In many cases, someone would ask them to do the Dance of Joy, Balki’s signature piece of performance art. Owing to relief the long shoot was over, or just expressing gratitude the show was a hit, they’d usually do it.

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The 10 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
Disney/Marvel
Disney/Marvel

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. CUBE (1997)

This low-budget independent film may have helped inspire the current "escape room" attraction fad. Six strangers wake up in a strange room that leads only to other rooms—all of them equipped with increasingly sadistic ways of murdering occupants.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. NEXT (2007)

Nic Cage stars a a magician who can see a few minutes into the future. He's looking to profit with the skill: the FBI and others are looking to exploit it.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

6. GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOLUME 2 (2017)

Marvel's tale of a misfit band of space jockeys was a surprise hit in 2014. The sequel offers more Groot, more Rocket Raccoon, and the addition of Kurt Russell as a human manifestation of an entire sentient planet.

7. STARDUST (2007)

Director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel features Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert De Niro as supporting players in the tale of a man (a pre-Daredevil Charlie Cox) in search of a fallen star to gift to his love.

8. KING KONG (2005)

Director Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings) set his considerable sights on a remake of the 1933 classic, with the title gorilla pestered and exploited by opportunistic humans.

9. DONNIE DARKO (2001)

What will a teenage mope do when a giant rabbit tells him the world is about to end? The answer comes in this critical and cult hit, which drew attention for its moody cinematography and an arresting performance by a then-unknown Jake Gyllenhaal.  

10. ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)

Soon we'll have a movie for every single major or minor incident ever depicted in the Star Wars universe. For now, we'll have to settle for this one-off that explains how the Rebel Alliance got their hands on the plans for the Death Star.

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15 Surprising Facts About Hill Street Blues
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NBC

Until the impressive record was surpassed by The West Wing in 2000, Hill Street Blues held the title of most Emmy-awarded freshman series, with eight trophies for its debut season alone (despite its basement-level ratings). The drama that chronicled the lives of the men and women working the Hill Street police station beat has been credited with changing television ever since its debut in 1981.

Among Hill Street Blues's innovations are the use of handheld cameras, a large ensemble cast, multi-episode story arcs, and a mix of high drama and comedy—elements which still permeate the small screen today. Here are 15 facts about the groundbreaking series.

1. STEVEN BOCHCO AND MICHAEL KOZOLL CREATED IT, DESPITE NOT WANTING TO DO ANOTHER COP SHOW.

MTM Enterprises was specifically hired by NBC to create a cop show, so Steven Bochco (who later co-created L.A. Law and NYPD Blue) and Michael Kozoll (co-writer of First Blood) agreed to do it—as long as the network left them “completely alone to do whatever we want,” according to Bochco. NBC agreed, and the two wrote the pilot script in 10 days.

2. IT WAS INFLUENCED BY A 1977 DOCUMENTARY.

The show's creators looked to The Police Tapes, a 1977 documentary that chronicled a South Bronx police precinct during a particularly hostile time in New York City's history, for inspiration. NBC's then-president Fred Silverman was inspired to create a cop show in the first place after seeing Fort Apache, the Bronx (1981), which stars Paul Newman as a veteran cop in a South Bronx police district.

3. BRUCE WEITZ HAD AN AGGRESSIVE AUDITION.

Bruce Weitz landed the role of undercover officer Mick Belker by playing the part. "I went to the audition dressed as how I thought the character should dress—and loud and pushy," Weitz recalled. "When I got into the room, I jumped up on [MTM co-founder] Grant Tinker's desk and went after his nose. I heard he said afterwards, 'There's no way I can't offer him the job.'"

4. JOE SPANO THOUGHT HE WAS MISCAST.

Joe Spano in 'Hill Street Blues'
NBC

Joe Spano auditioned for the role of Officer Andrew Renko, but ended up playing Lieutenant Henry Goldblume. “I was always disappointed that I didn’t end up playing Renko,” Spano told Playboy in 1983. Spano also wasn't a fan of his character's penchant for bow ties, which he claimed was Michael Kozoll's idea. "I fought it all the way," he said. "I thought it was a stereotypical thing to do. But it actually turned out to be right. You don’t play into the bow tie—you fight against it."

5. BARBARA BOSSON WAS BOCHCO’S WIFE, BUT WASN’T PLANNING ON BEING A SERIES REGULAR.

Barbara Bosson played Fay, Captain Frank Furillo’s ex-wife, who was only supposed to appear in the first episode in order to “contextualize” the captain, according to Bochco. But when Silverman watched the episode, he asked, “She’s going to be a regular, right?”

6. IT TOOK MIKE POST TWO HOURS TO WRITE THE ICONIC THEME SONG.

The composer—who also wrote the themes for The Greatest American Hero, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, NYPD Blue, and Law & Order—was instructed by Bochco to write something “antithetical” to the visuals. Post wanted to add more orchestration to the piano piece; Bochco disagreed.

Post also spent four to five hours writing five minutes of new music for each episode of Hill Street Blues.

7. THE PILOT TESTED POORLY.

According to a network memo, among the many problems test audiences noted were that "the main characters were perceived as being not capable and having flawed personalities ... Audiences found the ending unsatisfying. There are too many loose ends ... 'Hill Street' did not come off as a real police station ... There was too much chaos in the station house, again reflecting that the police were incapable of maintaining control even on their home ground." NBC picked it up anyway.

8. RENKO WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE IN THE FIRST EPISODE, AND COFFEY WAS SUPPOSED TO DIE AT THE END OF THE FIRST SEASON.

Charles Haid had other projects lined up, so he agreed to take the part of Renko, a man destined to die almost immediately. But another series Haid was relying on didn’t get picked up, and NBC claimed Renko tested too well for him to meet an early end. Ed Marinaro's Coffey was meant to be shot and killed in “Jungle Madness,” the final episode of the first season. The ending was changed to make it a cliffhanger, and Marinaro’s character survived.

9. THEY HAD HISTORICALLY BAD SEASON ONE RATINGS.

A 'Hill Street Blues' cast photo
NBC Television/Getty Images

In its first season, Hill Street Blues show finished 87th out of 96 shows, making it the lowest-rated drama in television history to get a second season. Bochco credited the show’s renewal to two things: NBC being a last place network at the time, and the NBC sales department noticing that high-end advertisers were buying commercial time during the show.

10. THEY NEVER SPECIFIED WHERE THE SHOW WAS LOCATED, BUT IT’S PROBABLY CHICAGO.

The exterior of the Maxwell Street police station in Chicago filled in for the fictitious Hill Street precinct for the opening credits and background footage. It was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1996 and is currently the University of Illinois at Chicago police department headquarters.

11. PLENTY OF FUTURE STARS MADE EARLY APPEARANCES.

Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Andy Garcia, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny Glover, Frances McDormand, and Michael Richards all found early work on the series.

12. SAMMY DAVIS JR. WANTED ON THE SHOW.

Sammy Davis Jr.
Michael Fresco, Evening Standard, Getty Images

Unfortunately, it never happened. Sometime after Bochco wrote in a reference to the singer, Davis and Bochco ran into each other. Davis said he loved it and started jumping up and down.

13. BOCHCO HAD A WAR WITH THE CENSORS.

Loving to use puns for titles, Bochco wanted to title an episode “Moon Over Uranus,” after Cape Canaveral was just in the news. Standards and Practices said no. Bochco eventually got his way, and proceeded to name the next two season three episodes “Moon Over Uranus: The Sequel” and “Moon Over Uranus: The Final Legacy.”

14. DAVID MILCH AND DICK WOLF’S CAREERS WERE LAUNCHED FROM IT.

David Milch (co-creator of NYPD Blue and creator of Deadwood) went from Yale writing teacher to a TV script writer through his former Yale roommate, Jeff Lewis. His first script for the show was season three's “Trial by Fury” episode, which won an Emmy, a WGA Award, and a Humanitas Prize. He later became an executive producer on the show. The first TV script credited to Dick Wolf (creator of the Law & Order franchise) was the season six episode, "Somewhere Over the Rambow." His first sole credit, for “What Are Friends For?,” earned Wolf an Emmy nomination in 1986.

It’s also worth noting that journalist and author Bob Woodward received a writing credit for season seven's “Der Roachenkavalier” and David Mamet penned the same season's “A Wasted Weekend” for his first television credit.

15. DENNIS FRANZ’S CHARACTER HAD A BRIEF, COMEDIC SPIN-OFF.

Dennis Franz (later Andy Sipowicz on NYPD Blue) first played corrupt cop Sal Benedetto in five episodes, before reappearing for the final two seasons as Lt. Norman Buntz. After Hill Street Blues ended its seven-season run, Franz reprised the latter character in Beverly Hills Buntz, which ran for one season beginning in 1987. In the 30-minute dramedy, Buntz was a private investigator after quitting the police force. Only nine episodes were broadcast by NBC.

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