Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
The troubled NBC network will be taking on more serious issues later in the day, but it kicked off its TCA sessions in Pasadena today with a breakfast with the ubiquitous Betty White, 89, who is adding to her work schedule on TV Land’s sitcom Hot In Cleveland by hosting and executive producing the new NBC reality show Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. The show is about the elder generation pulling pranks on unsuspecting members of the younger generation. It is adapted from the International Emmy-winning Belgium series Benidorm Bastards.
As usual, this popular member of TV’s least desirable demographic was full of quips, including this reply to a question about whether there’s anything the soon-to-be 90 actress still wants to do: “I’m not going to say Robert Redford, as much as you might expect it.” The network will celebrate White’s birthday with the previously announced 90-minute special January 16, Betty White’s 90th Birthday: A Tribute To America’s Golden Girl, followed by a sneak peak of Off Their Rockers at 9:30 PM. (The network today announced that Ellen DeGeneres, Morgan Freeman, Tina Fey and Carl Reiner are among those who have been added to the birthday salute roster, joining Mary Tyler Moore, Ed Asner and White’s fellow Hot In Cleveland cast members.)
Asked about whether the show’s humor might actually be insulting to seniors, White called the approach “reverse psychology”: “I think the strategy for this show is that it’s the seniors pranking the younger people, so that instead of [older people] being the poor ones being taken advantage of, don’t sell them short. They’re just hip enough, and maybe mean enough, to want to get even. It shows we have a sense of humor, warped as it may be. She added: “My only function in the production is to be sure that it’s not mean-spirited. Things aren’t funny if they are mean-spirited. The humor can get a little banana peel. … It’s just a silly, fun show.”
White added that her energy level remains high, and she’s happy to be taking on new projects. She credited her agent: “When he brings me stuff, I say yes. If I don’t, he beats me,” she said.