Created by Robert L. Boyett, Thomas L. Miller and Chris Thompson
Starring Tom Hanks, Peter Scolari, Donna Dixon, Wendy Jo Sperber, Holland Taylor, Telma Hopkins, Lucille Benson.
I’ve mentioned the concept of “better than it has any right to be” to discuss movies and TV shows that sound terrible when described but which, when you watch them, turn out to be better than you might have thought. Bosom Buddies falls into this category primarily because of two reasons: the excellence of the cast, and the fact that the creators didn’t conceive the show in the same was as the network.
The concept of two men dressing in drag was so old and dated that you’d think the producers would have known better. And they did. Boyette and Miller had pitched the show as a buddy comedy; Laverne and Shirley with men.* They made the mistake of telling the network executives that they wanted something akin to Billy Wilder’s comedies. “Who’s Billy Wilder?” the executives asked. The producers said, “He directed Some Like It Hot.” “Great,” said the executives. “Drag comedy. We love it.”
Boyett and Miller couldn’t turn down the offer, and had to fit it to match the inadvertent concept. So, after choosing “My Life” by Billy Joel as their theme song, Bosom Buddies went on the air.
The concept revolved around Kip Wilson (Tom Hanks) and Henry Desmond (Peter Scolari), two young aspiring admen who had their apartment torn down. Amy Cassady (Wendy Jo Sperber), a co-worker, told them about the great deal she got in a New York apartment. The problem was it was located at the Susan B. Anthony Hotel, and was only open to women. This being sitcom land, a plan presents itself.
So Kip and Henry become Buffy and Hildegard** and take up residence in the hotel. Kip pushes for the arrangement because he has a crush on Amy’s roommate Sonny (Donna Dixon) and convinces Henry to go along to get material for a book he is writing. They have to keep away from the hotel manager, Lily Sinclair (Lucille Benson). Telma Hopkins plays Isabel Hammond, another resident.***
The first episode was not promising, with the acting a bit broad, and plenty of the T&A that was popular at the time with the audience (but not with critics). But the show quickly began to downplay the Three’s Company leering as well as the drag angle. It was a part of each show to keep the network executives happy, but much of each episode would take place in Kip and Henry’s workplace, with their scheming boss Ruth Dunbar (Holland Taylor).
In the second season, the show got an major overhaul that made it even better. In the first episode, and Kip and Henry revealed their deception. Isabel, who had taken over from Lily Benson in running the hotel,**** let them continue to stay, and the drag angle was dropped almost completely. Instead, Kip and Henry were running their own TV production agency, with financial backing from Ruth Dunbar. The romance between Kip and Sonny could develop far more normally.
The scripts were a big help, but the talent is clearly the best part of the show. Tom Hanks, of course, became a major and well-respected actor.***** Peter Scolari , though, has had a very successful career in TV, with voiceover work plus a regular role in Newhart (I preferred his character to Hanks, since he was more of the funny man). Holland Taylor has also been in several TV shows as a regular, most notably as Mrs. Harper in 2 1/2 Men; she’s at her best as an acid-tounged woman. It’s the same for Wendy Jo Sperber and Telma Hopkins – both became very successful, if not exactly household words.
The show also succeeded not by its stories – which were fairly routine – but by the one-liners sprinkled throughout and with the occasional touch of real drama.
The show ran for two seasons and was never a big hit. It was critically scorned, but looking at it now, it’s a show that was entertaining and worth a look.
*They had produced that show, as well as Happy Days, so had some clout.
**The names were a result of each one trying to give the other the most ridiculous name possible
***Hopkins was making the switch from a singing career (she was part of Tony Orlando and Dawn).
****Evidently, she ran off to join Chuck Cunningham.
******There’s an amusing and prophetic scene in the third episode where Hanks pretends to have won an Oscar.