Recently, I got to do the coolest thing ever. I got to speak with the legendary Betty White, the star and executive producer of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, as well as executive producer, Chris Coelen. They did a conference call with the press about the show, which premieres episode two tonight on NBC. So jump with me to find out what they had to say!
On how the show came about
Chris Coelen: It was a Belgian format originally. The show was produced or a version of the show was produced in Belgium and we saw it. It was a looser format where it – there was no person at the center of it.
But it had as I said, performed, you know, incredibly well there and then spread across Europe. And one of the things that we liked about its potential and that we talked about when we met with Betty was the idea of progressing the hidden camera genre a little bit.
So it wasn’t just the amazing tradition rooted in Allen Funt and, you know, Candid Camera and, you know, on through shows like Punked, etc.
But it really continued to move the genre forward and it is a hidden camera show in that we use hidden cameras but there are no set marks in that there’s – we’re not targeting somebody from the beginning and there’s no big got you reveal.
It really just is about, you know, seniors blowing the minds of younger people. And in a way it’s more reminiscent of a sketch show in some ways that utilizes the techniques of hidden camera.
Betty White: And one of our ground rules is we have a sense of fun that we’re making fun with people but not mean spirited. There’s nothing mean spirited about it.
On the intended audience for the show
Chris: We think it’s what I suppose you would call a big tent show where there’s something for everybody. And the ratings again around the world not that that’s an absolute indicator for what’s going to happen here but have borne out the big tent nature of the show.
The fact that older people are the drivers of the action is really important and I think for a n older demo there’s certainly something to be seen. There are a lot of young people who are having an amazing time.
They’re completely getting their minds blown by the older people that are on the show and having a great time that, you know, along the way. And the joy that they feel I think is really something for young people.
And at the end of the day the show is really just funny and so I think there’s something for you to see. There’s a reflection of you on camera on the screen and there’s something for everybody no matter what your age.
On the show being called “ageist”
Chris: I don’t think that’s true at all. In fact I think that’s the point. Is that the – it’s a prank show and so you are taking, you know, occasionally and the show doesn’t – really doesn’t troll in stereotypes.
The show, every once in a while and there’s, you know, a lot of bits in a show. There are 25 bits in a show or so.
And, you know, occasionally you’ll take an expectation that somebody has and you subvert it. And so if you choose to read into that that we’re, you know, celebrating the stereotype I think you’re absolutely dead wrong.
I think in fact what you’re trying to do is subvert the very nature and have fun with the very nature of what someone might expect coming into a situation.
Betty: Well I think that another thing Chris, don’t you, is that they can either laugh with us or at us but they’ll at least – we’re not curing cancer or stopping warfare. We’re just up there for fun and either laugh with us or at us or don’t watch us.
Chris: Well said.
On his favorite bit so far
Chris: Well first of all thank you very much for saying that. It’s very, very kind. And I hope you continue to enjoy it. I think there are so many great moments. I mean for me personally again the opportunity to work with Betty has been probably first and foremost the biggest thrill.
And – truly. And I think from a prank perspective as, you know, Betty and I were just talking about, there are so many pranks within the show and so many different favorites to choose from and so many different locations that we’ve been to.
I think that, you know, in the first episode I think that, you know, there are several that leap out to me. I mean there are some that, you know, there’s a great bit with a woman in an information booth who, you know, continually throws out random information to people which I love.
And then one of the bits which I think really to me encompasses the joyfulness of the series is a bit where two of the actors are sitting alongside a young woman who’s studying and they are on a set of stairs and they start doing the wave.
And she just – out of nowhere and she just joins in with them and they just all are having such a fun, you know, good spirited time. And there’s just like I said, a sense of joy that, you know, fills that scene. That’s absolutely one of my favorites as well.
Whether or not anything is ad-libbed or all scripted
Betty: Well I always – I read the commas and the punctuation and all that because those writers have spent hours laboring over writing that stuff. And a lot of actors come in and they start to paraphrase but I think what some of them don’t realize, humor is like a rhythm, it’s like music.
And you throw a couple of extra syllables in, you wreck the beat and you kill the laugh. So I try to follow the writers very carefully because I know how carefully they worked to do it that way.
Chris: But I would add to that, that that, you know, again Betty my experience of working with you is while that’s true that again especially as an executive producer Betty always has, you know, when she does have something to add it’s always, you know, something that, you know, is an ah-ha moment.
And you’re like wow, you know what, I wish I had thought of that. And it always makes it better. It always makes the bit better.
Betty: Oh bless your heart. Thank you. I try not to butt in anymore than I have to.
And of course, Betty couldn’t say goodbye without answering at least one question about Hot in Cleveland…
On whether or not she thought Hot in Cleveland would be the success it is & what she credits its success on
Betty: Oh, anything but. As a matter of fact when they came to me and offered me the part on the pilot I – my schedule as always is a pretty busy one. And I had them include in my contract that should it go to pilot – I mean to series, not many pilots are picked up for series with all the pilots that are done.
But should it go to series I would not be involved or obligated to continue with the show because of my busy schedule. So I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t automatically tied into it. Well sometimes you do a show in February and they don’t pick it up until May.
We were picked up in three weeks and they came and asked if I would do some more. I said no, that was in my contract that I was not obligated to do that. Well I have the strength of a jellyfish. I had done one show with these wonderful girls, Wendy Malick and Jane Leeves and Valerie Bertinelli.
And I had such a wonderful time with them that sure I signed up and said I’d do some more. And then they picked us up for 24 more shows and I said sure and I’ve done them all. I’m just having the time of my life.
[The] writing. We actors can’t take the credit. We love to try to claim the credit. Yes, I did this and yes, I did that. If it isn’t on that page, if those writers haven’t come through you can’t save a bad show. You can help a good show but you can’t save a bad show.
Again, it was truly an honor to speak to Betty, and Chris was great to talk to as well. Check out the new episode of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers tonight on NBC at 8/7c!