HOLLYWOOD -- One of the best things about Robin Williams' new CBS sitcom, according to the man himself, is that it isn't just a "Robin Williams" comedy.
"The joy for me is working with (this cast), because I just watch them," Williams told a group of TV critics who visited the set of The Crazy Ones last week during CBS's portion of the U.S. networks' semi-annual press tour in Los Angeles. "And it's grown into an ensemble; it's a great group of people. So the pressure's off, thank God. It doesn't have to be a Robin Williams vehicle. It's a bus, and there's other people on the bus."
Indeed, one of the early concerns about The Crazy Ones, which airs Thursdays on CBS and Citytv, was that it might turn out to be a bit too "crazy" if Williams was given free reign to riff, rant and improvise. Instead, the series has shown itself to be a tightly scripted ensemble comedy in which Williams shares screen time -- and, more importantly, punch lines -- fairly equally with co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar and supporting players James Wolk, Hamish Linklater and Amanda Setton.
Series creator and executive producer David E. Kelley (Ally McBeal, Picket Fences, Boston Legal) said he recognized early in the show's evolution that there was an opportunity to spread the comedy around.
"You know, when any show starts off, you find your strengths as you go," Kelley explained. "Clearly, at the beginning, we all looked at this as a Robin Williams vehicle. But once it was cast, we knew we had quite an ensemble here, quite a team of, you know, comedic and dramatic athletes.
"And when you sit down, as writers, to write scripts, you kind of go where your luxury is, and that's where your muscles and strengths are. And I don't think... there are any limitations on who you can tell stories for or not tell them for, because it's a pretty good arsenal here."
In The Crazy Ones, Williams portrays Simon Roberts, the idiosyncratic owner of a unique but highly successful Chicago advertising agency. His sometimes erratic behaviour is the key to his brilliance but has also, at times, put the firm's future in peril, so he has brought his more level-headed daughter, Sydney (Gellar), in to serve as his partner and minder.
Also deeply involved in the agency's day-to-day misadventures are Zack Cropper (Wolk), the company's rising-star account exec, Andrew Keaneally (Linklater), the more than slightly neurotic art director, and Lauren Slotsky (Setton), the office assistant with a deceptively deep skill set and a somewhat shady past.
The series pilot featured a hilarious guest-star turn by Kelly Clarkson, whom Simon charmed into putting a new vocal spin on a familiar fast-food jingle, and subsequent episodes have included a few other big-name guest stars (Josh Groban plays a recurring character, and country star Brad Paisley plays himself in an upcoming episode). But the show's producers insist they're not going to turn The Crazy Ones into a showcase for stunt-casting.
"It's about the story first," said executive producer Jon Kinnally. "But what's great about where we're sitting now -- in an advertising agency -- is that we actually can stunt people, like having Brad Paisley on, playing himself. It wouldn't ever feel cheesy, because it's an advertising agency, and those people come and go."
And so far, The Crazy Ones' producers and writers have found there's no shortage of big-laughs possibilities within the show's resident cast.
For Williams, 62, whose last full-time TV-sitcom work was more than 30 years ago on Mork & Mindy (1978-82), the past few months have been an exercise in reacquainting himself with the pace of a weekly television series.
"The work schedule is really interesting because it's like a movie a week," he said. "I mean, some days there's, like, eight pages of dialogue, and on most movies you don't have that every day. So it's about getting to the idea of really preparing for that, and the idea of block-shoot, block-shoot. So it's boom, boom, boom, get ready, then do it.
"The first couple of weeks was, like, all right, but now I'm into the rhythm. And that's why it's great that it isn't totally a Robin Williams vehicle, because after a while I'd go 'F ! That's a s load of work, Daddy! ... Come on, you young people, you take a line.'"
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