Betty White on ‘Off Their Rockers’ and Why TV Legends Become Like Friends

Betty White and the cast of "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" (Matthias Clamer/NBC)

Betty White and the cast of "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" (Matthias Clamer/NBC)

It pretty much goes without saying that Betty White is everywhere these days. But the part of White’s so-called “comeback” that is lost on many people is this: she’s never really gone anywhere. And it’s because, as she put it, ” 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.”

White was on a conference call with reporters to talk about the prank show “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers,” which returns to NBC tonight at 8 pm Eastern (NBC aired a preview after White’s 90th birthday celebration in January). The concept of the show, where a roving group of senior pranksters play funny practical jokes on people who are much younger than they were, was imported from Belgium.

“The fact that older people are the drivers of the action is really important and I think for an older demo there’s certainly something to be seen,” said producer Chris Coelen, who was on the call with White.

White’s participation is limited to hosting doing interstitials with the band of jokers, who do things like pull their own teeth out, honk loudly on their scooters, or talk very frankly about having sex with their young wives. It’s all in an effort to keep young folks off balance, because they never expect seniors to do such wacky things.

“They can either laugh with us or at us but they’ll at least – we’re not curing cancer or stopping warfare,” said White. “We’re just up there for fun and either laugh with us or at us or don’t watch us.”

Coelen and White chose the actors via a casting process, and Coelen said they “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” pulling these pranks.

As we’ve been seeing, Betty isn’t the only emeritus actor who’s been gracing our airwaves lately, with Cloris Leachman getting huge laughs on “Raising Hope” and Ed Asner becoming 2012’s guest star du jour, with spots on “The Middle,” “Hawaii Five-0” and White’s own show, “Hot in Cleveland.” Asner felt that the movement involved a bit of nostalgia on the part of show writers and producers, but his former “Mary Tyler Moore” co-star disagreed.

“I did the first broadcast that was ever done in Los Angeles,” she said. “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.”

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