Billy Crystal Explains TV Return in 'The Comedians'

Billy Crystal - H 2014
AP Images/Invision

Billy Crystal - H 2014

Billy Crystal and Josh Gad's FX buddy comedy, The Comedians, got a series order almost a year ago — but not much has been said, or revealed, about the project since.

For Crystal, 66, the stateside spin on a Swedish format marks a full-time return to TV after nearly a 30-year hiatus. His last regular gig was on Saturday Night Live. So when the veteran film actor joined his co-stars and fellow executive producers onstage at Sunday's Television Critics Association press tour, the first question asked of Crystal was "Why this?"

"When I was sent the Swedish show, I was bowled over in the first five minutes," he explained. "I was not looking to do anything at the time. I thought, 'Sweden — how could this be funny? It's dark at noon, and then they drink.'"

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The premise — Crystal and Gad play dramatized versions of themselves, co-headlining a sketch show — isn't exactly groundbreaking, which prompted one reporter to ask why it needed to be an adaptation of another format at all.

"It was such a beautifully constructed situation, to pair a veteran comedian with a younger comedian," said Crystal, while fellow producer Ben Wexler was quick to add that they borrowed only the premise and the title. "It was a teardown. Other than the basic situation, we totally reinvented it."

As for why he wanted to do TV at all, Crystal says the material reminded him most of his earlier work.

"I get to play an extended version of myself. I get to do live sketches in front of live audiences and do these filmed pieces," he said. "At this point in my career, it's a blessing. It reinforces everything I've done my entire career. … The work was something that I loved to do — working with Chris Guest on Spinal Tap and the stuff that we did at SNL."

The Comedians premieres Thursday, April 9, at 10 p.m. on FX.