PASADENA, CALIF. — Who thought of doing a reboot of The Odd Couple first?
Canadian Matthew Perry stars as the iconic slob Oscar Madison in a CBS remake that network executives are salivating over as the next big thing prior to its Feb. 19 premiere.
Perry, co-star of Friends, is working with a dream team that includes executive producer Bob Daily, also known for his work on the Emmy-winning Frasier. Garry Marshall, the television legend who produced the original series, is also a consultant.
“I thought it would be a good idea to do an Odd Couple again. Then I discovered that CBS was developing something, so it all just sort of magically came true,” said Perry at the Television Critics Association Conference.
The Odd Couple remake comes in the wake of the Kelsey Grammer and Martin Lawrence-starring Partners, which debuted on FX in 2013 and which features another odd-couple-type pairing.
In Partners, Grammer and Lawrence play Chicago lawyers from different backgrounds who meet in court.
When I asked Grammer in an interview at the time what he thought about CBS’s planned remake, he gave a derisive snort.
“We did pitch (CBS chair) Les Moonves this show and for some reason, right after that, the edict came out for an Odd Couple. So make of it what you will. I love Matthew, though. But I think Martin and I might win on the odd part,” Grammer said.
The entertainment industry is all about reinventing the past and there are precious few degrees of separation among the major players. So, apart from the lawyers, maybe who decided to do this first is moot.
But it’s curious that the man behind the show (Daily) is also the guy who helped develop Frasier, which starred Grammer in the much-loved role of the pompous psychiatrist. And it turns out there was more than a bit of Felix embedded into the Frasier character from the start.
“The DNA of those two characters was steeped into television,” says Daily. “I worked on Frasier . . . that was basically The Odd Couple with one Oscar and two Felixes. They’re so iconic and timeless; it’s been 30 years, it’s time for reinterpretation.”
Whether The Odd Couple will appeal to audiences 50 years later is another issue.
It started as a 1965 play by Neil Simon. It was then turned into a successful film starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in 1968, and finally the TV series in the ’70s starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.
“I thought long and hard whether it was even attemptable because Tony Randall is a major hero of mine. And I was worried that I might be doing an impression of Tony Randall or something,” said Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!) who plays Felix. “But then when I remembered that he was really the third Felix Unger and I might be something like about the fifth, I felt like maybe there was something new to bring to it. So I did bring my cello and my yoga skills.”
Comedy veteran Marshall said the world has certainly changed since he started doing the TV show, including the fact that women writers were not allowed on the show.
“They weren’t allowed. They wouldn’t hire any,” said Marshall.
The network was also petrified that the audience would think Felix and Oscar were gay, says Marshall.
“Every week they said put more girls in it. We did scenes where they hugged and kissed and it drove the network crazy. Now they can talk about it!”
While the finicky Felix role is played by the talented, but lesser known Lennon, Perry says some people thought it was a part that he was more suited for.
“People thought I was more of a Felix, because Chandler (Bing, on Friends) is kind of a Felix. But in real life I’m more of an Oscar,” he said.
And the sky’s the limit for the series, it seems. When asked about his hopes for the show, Perry deadpanned: “I think this show is just as good as Dances with Wolves.”