Robin Williams always has been the crazy one, singularly speaking. But now he's starring in a new sitcom called The Crazy Ones.
"Because it's amazing, the stuff that's on right now," says Williams, explaining why the time is right for his return to network TV. "If we can push the envelope with this, there's a lot to do.
"There is so much good content on TV. Plus the format, it's a totally open field. When I started there were three networks, no other content. It can't just be riffing. When Mork & Mindy started it was very playful, but eventually it burned out.
"(Mork & Mindy, which aired from 1978 to 1982) was a great ride, but I wasn't that present, literally. I've joked about it, but I was on everything but skates. Now to be present and part of the process (on The Crazy Ones), it's exciting when we start talking about the stories every week."
In The Crazy Ones, which debuts Thursday on CBS and City, Williams plays a larger-than-life advertising genius named Simon Roberts, whose wacky methods probably would get him fired if he weren't the boss. Simon's partner in the firm is his strait-laced daughter Sydney, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar.
At least in the pilot episode, Williams has a "co-riffer" in the form of co-star James Wolk, who you'll recognize for his role as the kiss-assy and creepy Bob Benson in the most recent season of Mad Men. In The Crazy Ones, Wolk plays an ad-agency up-and-comer named Zach Cropper. Simon and Zach put on quite a show as they woo Kelly Clarkson, who guest-stars as herself.
"(The improv) has to be appropriate," Williams says of his current approach to the style that made him famous. "You try things, but even in failing you might find interesting stuff. And that works (with the story taking place) at an ad agency. There are weird ideas, you try them, it's a creative process. That's really fun.
"It's still the idea of getting a stimulus and seeing how far you can go with it. And then pushing your mind to see what you can wrap around it in a new way."
There's no denying that comedy has changed since the Mork & Mindy era, though. We've all been schooled in irony, and its companion course, ironic detachment.
When a person in their teens or 20s acts goofy, it can be seen as cutting-edge or charming. When a person in their 60s does the exact same thing, it can come across as desperate. Robin Williams is 62 now, and he knows he has to walk that fine line between daring and annoying, as it pertains to both mannerisms and subject matters.
"Just in terms of the content now, when something's a week old, it's passe," Williams says. "Andy Warhol said that in the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes. Well, in the future everyone will have their own network. So, welcome!"