Betty White took the time to talk to the press about Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, her new hidden camera prank show on NBC. I know, Betty White has another show, how amazing is that? I can’t get enough of her and I know you feel the same. Rose Nylund was always my favorite Golden Girl. When you are having a bad day just put on an episode of The Golden Girls and you will feel better in an instant. Betty is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside as she spends her time working with several animal charities. Check Betty out on Hot in Cleveland and don’t miss the premiere of Betty White’s Off Their Rockers, Wednesday night on NBC.
Press Conference Call Highlights:
Q: Since you’re so busy these days why did you want to do a prank show? What appealed to you most about it?
Betty White: It was a very popular show in Europe. As a matter of fact it won several awards and stuff. And when they brought it to me it sounded like something that might be popular here so we thought we’d try it. We did a couple of them to see how it would (sing) and somehow it seemed to catch on. So I, you know, I haven’t the power to say no if – I like what I do for a living too much.
Q: Chris, what was the key about getting Betty involved?
Chris Coelen: Well as Betty said the format had a tremendous amount of success around the world both commercially and critically as Betty said, won the International Emmy Award for best comedy around the world as well as the Rose d’Or for Best Comedy and Best Overall Format. And it has, you know, it’s a very progressive show with a very particular and mischievous sense of humor. And it really felt like what Betty has been able to do so well for, you know, so long really fit nicely in with the format and made a lot of sense.
Betty White: And what’s fun about it I think is the fact that the older people get the jump on the younger ones for a change.
Q: Do young people ever suspect the older people of doing these pranks?
Betty White: Well it’s one of those hidden camera ideas where they don’t know they’re being photographed. And the young people set up a situation in – well maybe they let themselves be overheard on something that they wouldn’t normally be overheard on or (anything). And it’s the reaction of the older – of the younger person not knowing quite how to handle it and what to do and thinking it’s for real.
Q: What do you know now that you didn’t know when you were very young – 18, 19 when you were first graduating from High School?
Betty White: I don’t think I knew much at that point. And I don’t know a heck of a lot now. But I think we learn through the years that you appreciate the good stuff when it happens. You don’t look back on it and think oh, that was so great then and I didn’t appreciate it. I was blessed with a mother and father who said taste the good stuff now and realize how fortunate and how wonderful things are this minute because enough minutes are not wonderful that you have to save up all the good ones to make it balance out.
Q: Betty, what do you think of your success at this stage of your life, of having so many different TV shows, so many different things you’re being successful at concurrently? How do you think that’s changed people’s opinions in general of what senior citizens are capable of?
Betty White: Well my mail reflects the fact that they kind of get a kick out of the fact that I’m 90 years old and I just don’t go away. I happen to be blessed with loving what I do for a living. I love this business and I’m so fortunate to be able to still work in this business. And I get these marvelous letters about how encouraging it is to see someone making the most of their time and still enjoying it instead of oh, I can’t wait to stop working or oh, I can’t wait to retire or oh, I hate my job. And I think it goes back to the old basic of accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.
Q: Chris, who is the audience for the show? Are you targeting a particular generation or demographic?
Chris Coelen: 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.
Q: A review by Mark Middleton at the Huffington Post, an older gentleman himself, criticized the show for being ageist. He says that “it only serves to perpetuate nearly every negative stereotype of age.” I’m just wondering how you respond to that criticism.
Chris Coelen: 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 White: 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 Coelen: Well said.
Q: Could both talk a little bit about the actors that are actually pulling the pranks and Betty, have you worked with any of them over the years before this show?
Betty White: I have not but I’ve met a couple of them years ago in other context but I haven’t actually worked with them so this is kind of an all new experience for me. How about you Chris?
Chris Coelen: Yes. They’re terrific. We did a casting session, a group of us, Betty and myself and some other of the executive producers did a casting. And we looked for a very special group of people who had comedy chops but also who were really fearless and were willing and able to go out into the public and just have a great time with, you know, it takes a very special person to be able to pull the kind of stunts that we’re pulling off in this show.
Q: Betty, you’re obviously too famous a face to go out and do it but do you wish that you were able to go out and do some of these pranks yourself?
Betty White: No. In a word, no. I’m delighted that they do them and do them so well. But I’m not good at that.
Q: Ed Asner, who you had on Hot in Cleveland, when asked about older actors such as him and you, Cloris Leachman, Christopher Plummer and people who are getting a lot of attention these days, he thought nostalgia had a lot to do with it. Do you think it’s nostalgia or do you think all of these people are pros and people just want pros to do this work?
Betty White: Well I don’t think so. I started when television first started. I did the first broadcast that was ever done in Los Angeles. And television at that point was such a novelty. Well it’s become such a way of life now that I think over that time some of the same people are still around. And maybe it’s nostalgia but I think it’s just that they’ve become like personal friends that you’ve gotten to know. When television came along it – the big novelty was the fact that these people were in your room with you. And the thing that I love about television there are no more than two or three people watching you at a time. If there are more than two or three people in a room they’re talking to each other, they’re not listening to you. So I think that’s what people get more personally associated with that guy over there in the corner in the box.
Q: Chris, why was Betty chosen for this project? Was it because of her name recognition only or was there something about what she brings to this project that you wanted to have?
Chris Coelen: Honestly I mean she, first and foremost, she’s the most talented comedian I’ve ever, ever had the pleasure to work with and that we’ve seen. I mean so to be able to get her skills and her – and frankly her input in the, you know, both on camera but behind the scenes and to be able to imbue the show with some of her sensibility was an amazing, amazing opportunity.
Betty White: Well I’m going to quit right there. I’m going to hang up and quit right – while I’m ahead. Thank you Chris. No, I’m not going to hang up.
Q: What is your secret to staying active and healthy all the way into your 90s?
Betty White: I’m blessed with good health. I just turned 90 in January and I inherited some wonderful good genes from my mother and dad. So being blessed with good health gives you the strength and loving what you do and – is a privilege that keeps you going. So I’m just happy as a lark. People say are you thinking about retiring, I don’t have time to think about retiring.
Q: When you signed on to do Hot in Cleveland did you have a gut feeling that it would be the sensation that it is?
Betty White: 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. 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.
Q: Betty, you’ve done a lot of hosting shows in your time and especially that first show that you did when you started, you were on the air for hours a day and you’ve done game shows, so what keeps bringing you back to hosting or being the center of a show and what do you like about that?
Betty White: Five and a half hours. I just like television. I just love the rapport with the audience. Because I said a little while ago, there are only two or three people in a room watching you. If there are more than that they’re talking to each other. They’re not listening. And so you’re really addressing a very personal conversation. Sure there are a lot of television sets around but only two or three people to a room who are paying attention and I just find that a very intimate, lovely way of performing.
Q: Chris, you’re bringing back a classic genre with the hidden camera show. And there’s not a lot on the air that’s like this right now. So how did that come to be and are there any other classic genres that you would kind of like to see come back to TV?
Chris Coelen: The – how did it come to be? It was, you know, 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.
Q: Do you feel that there’s a formula for good comedic TV?
Betty White: I don’t think – I think when you start explaining why something’s funny or finding a formula for it I think it loses some of its funniness. I think the best kind of comedy is the least self conscious. I think if you just sort of let the comedy happen without the elbow nudge, did you get it, did you get it. I love straight face comedy or subtle – relatively subtle comedy. And then I turn around and I find myself doing very broad comedy but it’s all fun and you have to keep your sense of humor and not take yourself seriously.
Q: What has been one of the biggest obstacles or challenges that you’ve faced working on the show so far?
Chris Coelen: One of the biggest obstacles? You know, gosh there really haven’t been many obstacles at all. I think we’ve gotten a tremendous, you know, reception from everybody that we’ve come into contact with. I think, you know, I suppose it’s, you know, we want to make sure that there’s – because we’re doing so many different bits that we continue to surprise people and continue to change up the kinds of bits that we do every week and, you know, from act to act. And that’s certainly a challenge.
Betty White: Chris can I ask you a question? How many – about how many of these sketches have you done so far?
Chris Coelen: We’re doing 25 to 30 per show and so over 12 shows that’s, you know, over 300, 350 different bits.
Betty White: Wow.
Q: What’s been your favorite moment so far? What prank or behind the scenes moment?
Chris Coelen: 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.
Q: Betty, in Hot in Cleveland, how often do the actors adlib or is everything written and they follow the script to the letter?
Betty White: 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 Coelen: 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 White: Oh bless your heart. Thank you. I try not to butt in anymore than I have to.
Q: Betty, did you always want to work in this industry while you were growing up or did you have other professions in mind?
Betty White: Well I wanted to be – first of all I wanted to be a forest ranger. But back in my day girls couldn’t be forest rangers. And then I got – I wrote the graduation play from grammar school. And of course as any red blooded American girl would do I wrote myself into the lead. Well then I got on stage and I thought oh, this is fun. And I think that’s what started – what – when the show business bug bit me.
Q: Chris, what do you feel has been the most rewarding part of working in this industry for you so far?
Chris Coelen: Wow. Boy, so many things have been rewarding. But I feel like the opportunity to be creative and work with so, you know, many amazing people over the time that I’ve been in it. And as I said, you know, working with Betty has been at the absolute pinnacle of that. And, you know, really to create something that people can find enjoyment from I think is incredibly fun and rewarding.
BETTY WHITE’S OFF THEIR ROCKERS
Betty White and Chris Coelen Interview
Chris Coelen – Executive Producer
Season Premiere on Wednesday Night, April 4 at 8 EST on NBC
March 20, 2012