After conquering the Oscars, for which he earned four Emmys, and winning a Tony, Billy Crystal is coming back to series television.
He’ll tackle his first regular role on a prime-time series since the 1977-81 sitcom “Soap” by teaming with Josh Gad (“Frozen,” “The Book of Mormon”) in “The Comedians,” which FX gave a 13-episode order Wednesday (March 19). (Crystal was also a regular on “Saturday Night Live” for one season in 1984-85.)
“It’s based on a Swedish show, of all the places to be funny,” Crystal tells Zap2it. “You think of that as the land of [filmmaker] Ingmar Bergman and death. This is the story of the pairing of a veteran comedian and a young comedian, and they’re put together by a network to do a sketch variety show. Reluctantly.”
Crystal likens the result to Garry Shandling’s “The Larry Sanders Show,” since it involves “our own show, which is done in front of a live audience, and then our lives backstage. Larry Charles [‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘Seinfeld’] directed the pilot — which, I have to say, I think is pretty terrific — and it’s a brilliant, fresh group of improvisational actors.” (Stephnie Weir, Matt Oberg and Megan Ferguson also star.)
Well before “The Comedians” debuts, nine-time Oscar host Crystal will return to TV in the HBO version of his autobiographical, Tony-honored stage show “700 Sundays” Saturday, April 19. The star of such movies as “When Harry Met Sally … ” and “Parental Guidance” realizes how much TV has changed since he last worked in it steadily, but he’s ready to dive back in.
“I’m very excited about it,” he says. “It’s challenging material. I’m not playing the crusty grandfather who can’t remember where he left his keys, I’m playing myself. And Josh plays himself. I get to do basically what I did at ‘SNL,’ except I also have a home life in this. I play characters, I play myself … it’s wonderful that way.
“It’s kind of a darker, edgier version of myself, which I love doing,” adds Crystal. “At this point, I just want to keep doing good work.”
“The Comedians” is set to go into production later this year and will premiere on FX in 2015.