By SHALINI DORE
“It starts with Betty (White), but we all have this sense we’re doing something we love” as her co-stars, Valerie Bertinelli and Jane Leeves nodded in agreement. Event was moderated by Variety deputy editor Cynthia Littleton.
Suzanne Martin, producer and creator of the laffer, said the show starts with reality and then adds in the laughs. “Everybody fantasizes that they can reinvent themselves, but after a certain age you feel you can’t. But this shows you can.”
Every week “Cleveland” gets calls from agents of older actors seeking a cameo, Martin said.
White, 89, who got a standing ovation from the audience (and, in the spirit of fun, played up to them by showing a leg), said she did the pilot with the proviso that if it got picked up she wouldn’t return.
However, after the cabler quickly greenlit the show, White did a few more episodes and then became a regular. With her many commitments White didn’t think she’d have the time, but the producers adjusted the shooting schedule for her.
The cast agreed that being taped in front of a live studio audience — a sitcom formula that had gone out of style — has really helped the show become a cross-generational hit.
“It’s a cliche you hear a million times, but that live audience gives us energy and approval,” White said. “Let’s face it: We’re actors. We’re hams.”
“This is the closest to live theater,” Leeves added, “and they also tell us what’s not working.”
While not much was revealed about upcoming plotlines, Bertinelli said her character would be writing a column for Women’s Day and, in a bit of cross-promotion, the magazine would be running columns by “Melanie.”
In keeping with her personal beliefs, White said she had the writers change a bit about her character’s pot smoking.
“I don’t like drugs and I don’t like celebrating them with jokes,” the multi-Emmy winner said. “I told Suzanne and it was out like that.”
Martin said eliminating the reference to marijuana yielded a much better storyline: White’s character, Elka, was hiding stolen property in her basement for which she gets sent to jail.