'The Crazy Ones' at TCA: Product Placement, Ad-Libbing and Taming Robin Williams

Sarah Michelle Geller Robin WIlliams TCA - H 2013
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Sarah Michelle Geller Robin WIlliams TCA - H 2013

To see Robin Williams riff onstage at Monday's Television Critics Association press tour -- or anywhere for that matter -- one would wonder about how easily his energy and fondness for improv might be contained on the set of a single-camera sitcom.

But the cast and executive producers of CBS' half-hour vehicle for the actor, The Crazy Ones, were adamant that the iconic comedian has been sticking to the script.

"He says my words pretty perfectly, and then he uses his," said creator David E. Kelley. "He very much likes the box. He manages the box, and then we give him a few takes where he gets to break out of it. The architecture of the script is mainly the script, but you've got ad-libbing."

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"People forget that Robin is a Juilliard-trained, Oscar-winning actor," said executive producer and pilot director Jason Winer. "His number-one goal is to make his scene partner look good."

Williams' co-stars Sarah Michelle Gellar and James Wolk echoed the EP, saying that he was more concerned with them participating in the alternate takes than himself. And the trio's many unused moments will be used in weekly outtakes that will air after the episodes -- as they do in the pilot.

The star also emphasized that off-the-wall comedy would take a backseat to creating a relatable group of people. "You have to establish a character that people will buy into," said Williams. "Even in Mork and Mindy, I think they bought the innocence of the character."

Aside from the spectacle of Williams appearing without a script -- tangents included Anthony Weiner, several lines of Spanish and waking up in bed with a clown -- one of the most-discussed subjects on the panel was the heavy presence of McDonald's in the pilot. The Crazy Ones, which finds Williams and Gellar playing a father and daughter in a company business, takes place in the world of advertising.

"McDonald's sort of organically made its way into the series," said Winer, who added that the chain was a client of advertising exec and Kelley's inspiration John Montgomery. "Using a brand is exciting because it makes the world seem more authentic. So far no money has exchanged hands. McDonald's did not pay anything for a role in the pilot, nor did they have approval for how they were portrayed."

Gellar, who says she landed the role after "stalking" both Williams and Kelly, got one of the bigger laughs of the afternoon when she briefly opened up about the demanding schedule of her short-lived CW series, Ringer -- where she played two characters.

"I don't think I really thought that whole twin thing through," she said. " 'Yeah, I can handle that with children.' That was not my smartest day."

excluded, I loved Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. But also male actors like John Ritter."