'Perfect Strangers' Might Never Have Happened Without the 1984 Olympics

ABC’s sitcom Perfect Strangers ran throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s. The TV show helped launch the careers of American actors Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot, and also spawned the popular spin-off sitcom Family Matters. By the time it went off the air in 1993 after eight seasons and 150 episodes, Perfect Strangers had become a pop culture phenomenon. What many fans didn’t realize is that the show’s over-the-top premise, which was played up for laughs, was inspired by the real-life Olympics.

‘Perfect Strangers’ premiered in March 1986

ABC debuted its sitcom on March 25, 1986. It starred Lin-Baker as Larry Appleton. Appleton is presented as a young man from Wisconsin, who decides to set out to Chicago and live on his own for the very first time. Not long after relocating to the Windy City, a stranger shows up at his door: Pinchot’s Balki Bartokomous.

The Bartokomous character hails from a fictional island in the Mediterranean sea. Bartokomous has given up his past career as a shepherd, and immigrates to America where he knocks on Appleton’s door and introduces himself as Appleton’s distant cousin.

The clash of personalities, cultures, and languages serves as the premise for much of the show’s jokes and comedic scenarios. Audiences followed Appleton and Bartokomous’ journey together for seven years, with the show’s series finale airing on August 6, 1993.

The Summer Olympics occurred in 1984

Officially known as the Games of the XXIII Olympiad, the 1984 Summer Olympics took place in Los Angeles, California, from July 28th to August 12th.

The games took place under the shadow of numerous cultural, social and political controversies. Although the Los Angeles Times reports that the 1984 Olympics were one of the most well-run and most financially successful Olympics in modern history, numerous countries boycotted the entire competition.

This was in retaliation for the Americans’ decision to boycott the 1980 Summer Olympics alongside some of the United States’ allies.

In total, 17 countries boycotted the 1984 games. The controversies surrounding the boycott led to a rise in American patriotism, and also many conversations about cultural, political and social clashes.

The premise of ‘Perfect Strangers’ was inspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics

Perfect Strangers was created by Dale McRaven and producers Robert Boyett and Tom Miller (Miller and Boyett were also the ones who brought Full House, Happy Days, and other hit sitcoms to American television).

According to Mental Floss, Miller, Boyett and McRaven were inspired to create the show after watching the 1984 Summer Olympics.

“This is no overnight project,” Miller told the Houston Chronicle back in August 1986 in an interview archived by PerfectStrangers.tv.  “We got the inspiration for it right after the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984.  We were so impressed by the patriotic fervor that rose up in the city, by how nice everybody was to everybody, and by the nations all coming together.”

Mental Floss also points out that the producers were amused by watching foreign athletes try to navigate American culture. And thus, the entire setup of Perfect Strangers — where a Mediterranean shepherd shows up in bustling Chicago — was born. 

In the show’s final season, Bartokomous returns from his honeymoon in his home country with his new wife at his side. And both Appleton and Bartokomous become fathers.

Today, Linn-Baker has done recent guest roles on shows like The Blacklist and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Meanwhile, Pinchot most recently played the villainous school principal on Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

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