“It’s such an elastic concept and it’s been steeped in TV for the last four decades,” executive producer Bob Daily said about why Neil Simon’s 50-year-old comedy The Odd Couple is not a dusty sitcom premise for today’s generation. “I wrote on Frasier, and that was an Odd Couple with one Oscar and two Felixs,” added Daily at this morning’s TCA panel.
Along for the ride as a consultant behind the scenes is Garry Marshall, who executive produced and developed their original early ’70s sitcom starring Tony Randall as Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. CBS’ new version, which premieres on Thursday, February 19, stars Thomas Lennon as Felix and Matthew Perry as Oscar.
What’s the big difference between the reboot and the classic version? “Sex,” said Daily. “We actually get to see the pains of sharing an apartment while someone is having sex.”
Another big plus — today’s odd couple can have a bromance if they want and get touchy feely, something that was frowned upon during the early ’70s by network heads, per Marshall.
“The network was concerned that we were being too gay,” said Marshall about his days on the first iteration. “They kept saying ‘put more girls in it.’ I would make the guys gush and kiss just to make them crazy. Ours is a more modern show.”
Marshall marveled about Lennon and Perry’s input in the writers room. In the old days, “Klugman would do his part then go off to the race track, while Tony would finish his role and was busy with opera. These are guys are always pitching in.”
Perry, who also serves as EP on The Odd Couple, was key in rebooting the show. “I was driving around in my car and thought it would be great to remake The Odd Couple. I found out it was in development at CBS, so I told them I would like to do it.”
“It was a magical car,” joked Lennon. “That’s what you can do with Friends money — buy magical cars.” In what seemed like a set-up banter between Felix and Oscar, Perry sarcastically answered, “But you’re in Garry’s next movie.”
Triggering laughs from the TCA critics curia, Perry exclaimed, “I’m doing Odd Couple because my attempt at doing a movie career failed.”
The actor said that he settled on being Oscar because “that’s who I’m like in real life” not to mention being Felix “was too close to Chandler” on Friends. He also mentioned that went it came to bringing Lennon aboard. “We didn’t go the usual network read route. We brouught him in and met with executives, who liked him in 10 minutes,” he said.
“Apparently, I annoyed them!” said Lennon, to which Perry answered, “That’s when we knew we had a show.”
Perry is all about having “an open atmosphere creatively on set. Even if the best joke comes from crafts services. That’s the best way to do a TV show, so nobody is tyrannical.”
The actor’s takeaway from working on short-lived sitcoms Mr. Sunshine and Go On in the wake of Emmy-winning juggernaut Friends? “Both shows were cool and had their moments. They were inspired to be something different. The hours were insane on both of them, this sitcom has actual hours from 10 am-4 pm — which I haven’t worked since 2004.”
“But this show is as good as Dances With Wolves,” added Perry.
Community fave Yvette Nicole Brown is a series regular on Odd Couple as Oscar’s assistant. She made a point during the panel to quell that show’s fan base, who thought she abandoned the Dan Harmon series for Odd Couple. Essentially, she left the series as she needed to tend to her father’s health issues — and the hours on Community were quite long. She lucked out when Odd Couple came along thereafter.
A few random notes: All of the plotlines on the new show are original, but there’s a joke in the pilot that was specifically lifted from the original Simon play, which premiered on Broadway in 1965. Instead of being a sportswriter, Oscar is a sports radio show host. Lennon threw himself into being Felix by starting up cello again and doing yoga. In terms of the fastidiousness of his character, Lennon said about playing cello on the show: “Sitting around and reading an article isn’t annoying enough.” Oscar longs for his ex-wife while dating women in the new version.