Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fall Preview: CBS' The Crazy Ones

The Crazy Ones
Thursdays at 9PM Eastern / 8PM Central,
Premiering September 26

In 1997, the Los Angeles office of advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day created Apple Computer’s “Think Different” slogan, and an accompanying campaign inaugurated with a now historic TV ad.  “Here’s to the crazy ones,” Richard Dreyfuss narrated, in a salute to the geniuses and innovators who have changed the world.  The spot won raves from critics, and the 1998 Emmy for Best Commercial.

Now, CBS brings us The Crazy Ones, a new advertising-set sitcom which cleverly can be viewed as both an homage to and a lampooning of such self-serious salesmanship.  And with its cunning conceit and all-star cast, the new show is poised to bring the same type of “crazy” energy, and similar accolades, to the genre of half-hour comedy.

The brainchild of John Montgomery, the Executive Creative Director of Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett, and nurtured by accomplished executive producer David E. Kelley, The Crazy Ones snagged Oscar winner Robin Williams for his long-awaited return to series television.  Williams’ hyperkinetic character Simon Roberts is “an idea guy who’s been on everything but skates,” says the 62-year-old comedy icon.  “I watched a documentary about ad guys, and a lot of them live on the edge.  Their whole job is to think outside the envelope, and at the same time get an idea down to the simplest, purest image, to fight for your consciousness.”

“And,” Williams adds, “they can be kind of crazy.”  That’s where Simon’s daughter Sydney, his partner at their joint small agency, comes in.  After seasons of slaying vampires as Buffy, Sarah Michelle Gellar says she was happy to become the organized, ambitious and Type-A Sydney, whose task of wrangling her unfocused father, while finding her own place in the industry he dominates, may be just as exhausting.  “To me, some of the greatest parts of Buffy were the funny moments,” Gellar explains of stepping into this lighter role.  “And I got to a point where I thought, ‘I’ve cried a lot.  I’m ready to be funny.’”

Helping to make that happen is Bill D’Elia, himself a longtime New York ad man turned TV writer, and now one of The Crazy Ones’ executive producers.  The inspiration for Montgomery’s pilot script, he explains, “was this idea to have fun with how we create advertising.  Not to denigrate the products, but the process, and [as ad execs] ourselves.”  With a pitch like that, it’s easy to see while real-life clients are clamoring to come on board; The Crazy Ones features McDonalds in its pilot, and D’Elia expects to recruit two or three more real brands, “plus a few fictitious ones thrown in,” to round out Roberts & Roberts’ roster.

But, the producer insists, The Crazy Ones’ appeal ultimately comes not just from the craftiness of its concept, but from the chemistry of its cast.  From the start, D’Elia says, “Everyone has felt like they’ve been together for a long time.  Robin and Sarah feel like real father and daughter.”  And coworkers played by Hamish Linklater and James Wolk – fresh off his season on that other crazy/advertising show, Mad Men – have already proven themselves more than capable of keeping up with Williams, the king of comedic improv. 

As Williams agrees, “All these people can go one-on-one, and riff just as well.”  But with The Crazy Ones, he notes, “I am often on script because the script is so good.”  The actor credits the show’s quality to its writers and advisors, many of whom are “real ad agency execs, who tell us stories that are just insane.”  Of course, Williams and Gellar might be able to contribute some stories of their own; Williams recently shilled for Snickers, and Gellar has done over 100 commercials – including, at age 7, a spot for Duncan Hines cake mix, directed by D’Elia.  It goes to prove, she adds, that it’s just all one, small Crazy world.

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