By Paul Katz
Updated April 13, 2007 04:00 AM

It’s a classic sitcom formula: Pair a fastidious priss with a slovenly bumpkin and watch the volcano of idiosyncrasies erupt. This has yielded classic shows (Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy), but The Odd Couple — two divorced men with polar-opposite personalities share a New York apartment — is unparalleled. Still, bringing Neil Simon’s sidesplitting 1965 comedy of manners from the stage to the small screen was problematic. Exec producer Garry Marshall reveals in his commentary track that the studio initially didn’t care for the pilot: ”They said it was too much like the play. That was the point!”

The excellent 1968 film starred Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, but the TV Couple — Jack Klugman (as gruff sportswriter Oscar Madison) and Tony Randall (neatnik Felix Unger) — are the actors forever linked to these roles. (Although producers did consider Mickey Rooney and Dean Martin.) By the end of season 1, the series superseded its prior incarnations as Klugman and Randall subtly deepened the characters’ friendship, even as the bickering continued. Randall, who died in 2004, is represented on the extras in a gag reel and a clip from The Mike Douglas Show; the 84-year-old Klugman provides commentary for the ”It’s All Over Now, Baby Bird” episode and proves he’s still full of impish humor. ”The executives at the network figured two guys living alone together — they had to be gay, and that would [hurt] the ratings,” he says. ”Today you can’t have a successful show unless you have a gay person on it.” A-