Garry Marshall: Women Writers Weren't Allowed on the Original 'Odd Couple'

The Odd Couple CBS - H 2014

The Odd Couple CBS - H 2014

Much has changed since The Odd Couple's original run in the 1970s.

As CBS prepares to reboot the comedy that starred Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, executive producer Garry Marshall — who worked on the original series and ABC's '80s remake—stressed that the time (and chemistry between leads Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon) was right.

Among the changes, Marshall told reporters at the Television Critics Association's winter press tour, are the addition of women in the writers' room for his new CBS show, launching Feb. 19. 

Read more TV's Remake Craze: Who Gets the Money and Owns the Rights?

"They weren't allowed, they wouldn't hire any," Marshall recalled of the original series. "I had three of the greatest writers: Susan Silver, who went on to Mary Tyler Moore; Susan Harris [Soap, Benson, The Golden Girls], who became one of the best writers in the world; and Susan Miller, who was the head writer on Saturday Night Live, all not hired." He stressed that the addition of female writers has "improved the whole show."

"The network didn't want them. This show has three great female writers…[and] they help balance it out," said Marshall, who is pitching a comedy about triplets written by his son, Scott, around town.

Producers on hand Monday, including EP Bob Daily, agreed that the time was right to revisit the beloved title — the latest incarnation of Neil Simon's classic about the uptight Felix Unger (Lennon) and his easygoing roommate Oscar Madison (Perry). The new take will see Oscar single and exploring dating and his feelings about re-entering that scene following a divorce.

"I'm from the '70s; we didn't talk so much about our feelings in the '70s. Now, that's all we talk about," Marshall said. "So now girls talk about feelings better than boys, so there's more women shows."

Marshall, who joked that Perry was his "favorite character from Friends," and Lennon — whom he "didn't know from Adam" before the pilot — would be in his next movie, said that the chemistry between the duo gets right what ABC's 1980s incarnation got wrong.

Other changes include Oscar and Felix addressing the elephant in the room: two adult men who aren't gay living together.

"The network was so afraid the audience would think it was two gay characters, so every week they said put more girls on it," an animated Marshall recalled of the original series. "We did scenes where they hugged and kissed, and it would drive the network crazy. Now they can talk about it!"

For his part, Perry — a longtime fan of the series — said he does an impression of Walter Matthau in the pilot, which also includes one of Simon's famed Odd Couple lines and what he called the "funniest joke" in the first episode. His Oscar has been updated from a newspaper columnist in the original to a radio host in CBS' new take.

As for why he's doing this show — and returning to the multicamera format for the first time since Friends ended — Perry joked that he's "doing The Odd Couple because my attempt to be a movie star failed."

The actor told reporters that he was proud of his two most recent one-and-done comedies, Mr. Sunshine (ABC) and Go On (NBC), and wanted to be on CBS "because they are able to launch shows better than any other network."

"I forgot the hours on a sitcom are actual normal hours, 10-4, and you can have a normal life," he said of multicam's advantages, joking that tonally, Odd Couple is just as good as Dances With Wolves. "It's fun to be in front of an audience, and I haven't done that since 2004. It's interesting how our performance has gone way up when the audience is there."

As for the show's laugh track, Daily stressed that he is morally opposed to sweetening the yucks, and everything viewers hear is from the live studio audience.

Perry wrote and exec produces the comedy with Frasier's Joe Keenan