The wild humor of Robin Williams is back on television this fall after a long absence. After several decades of doing dramatic films and comedy concerts he’s starring in the CBS comedy series The Crazy Ones, premiering Thursday, Sept. 26, on CBS. He’s playing the unpredictable and undeniably crazy head of an advertising firm, working with his daughter, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who tries to keep him under control. Other members of the strong cast are James Wolk (Political Animals, Lone Star), Amanda Setton (Gossip Girl), and Hamish Linklater (New Adventures of Old Christine) as movers and shakers in the ad biz.
Williams, 62, concedes it’s been a long time since he shot to fame with the sitcom Mork & Mindy (1978), joking “the last time I was on TV, ‘wired’ meant a gram and a bottle of Jack Daniels. It’s wonderful to have a steady gig after so long.” And he says he’s “a happy clown” who enjoys riding his bike around almost every day, “that’s one of my happiest moments. I really love cycling up and down the hills when I’m at home in San Francisco. And I can fix a flat.”
What else makes him happy these days? “My family, work. I think, you know, creating, like when I’m not doing this show, I get to do something called ‘Set List’ once in a while. It’s like an improv show where you get seven suggestions and you put together an improvised standup comedy set. That’s a joy.”
Working on The Crazy Ones has created the odd pairing of two very different creative minds, Williams and executive producer-creator David E. Kelley, who has been at the helm as producer-writer of such great legal series as Ally McBeal, The Practice, and Boston Legal. Kelley says he is “used to having actors read scripts as written,” but he’s given Robin carte blanche to ad lib at times. “After scenes we go to Robin and say ‘Do you want to play with it?’ And he does.”
Also letting Robin be Robin is Jason Winer, the executive producer and director, who knows his way around the sitcom world with the success of Modern Family. He reports that there will be a comedy bonus of out-takes for viewers. “Whenever you have Robin Williams in a show people wonder how much will he be making up on the fly and how much is written in advance. The outtakes are an opportunity to give curious people a glimpse behind the curtain. It’s something that adds to the show,” says Winer.
Williams explains that the workplace comedy about a father and daughter reconnecting by working together “is a great base to do comedy. The scripts were great stuff and I’ve got great people to play off of. It’s like heaven, a great ensemble. But I think the pressure to be funny all the time is like a dance. I think sometimes there’s that pressure, other times it’s like ‘good luck.’ We try to get crazy and sometimes push the envelope. Like Mork & Mindy allowed me to be outrageous.”
The Crazy Ones, with its setting of a big advertising firm, “is a new form of television for me. There’s a lot more to talk about just in terms of products, the world, the technology, and just what you can get away with,” Williams explains. The show uses real products for story ideas to base it in reality and grab the audience’s attention. “We’ll make it funny and topical, talk about real products. For me I want to see if we can use a real product like Apple and make up a new product for them, like the New Apple iEye. They actually deposit it behind your frontal lobe. Oh, reboot [slapping his head].”
Working with the show’s cast “is a joy,” Robin says. “We play off each other and make it work. It’s the idea of working with others that makes it interesting and finding the emotional reality as crazy as it gets.”
To find that emotional reality Williams says things that have happened in his own real life are not off limits. “Part of things that have happened in my life, like rehab, divorce, and all that stuff, they’ve kind of built into the character of this man. He’s had a kind of an interesting life, to say the least, just like myself. I went to rehab in wine country just to keep my options open,” Robin laughs.