Don Rickles and Billy Crystal Reminisce About Comedy Through the Years in ‘Dinner With Don’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Before Don Rickles passed away just a month shy of his 91st birthday in April 2017, he shot a new talk show style short-form series entitled “Dinner with Don” for AARP Studios. Now, just months later, AARP is premiering the full series online and Variety has obtained Billy Crystal’s episode exclusively.

“You don’t get to meet a living legend that often, you just don’t. But here was someone who was so uniquely beloved in the community for decades, and we realized we had a hand in a masterclass in comedy,” producer and director Bobby Bauer tells Variety. “In the case of Billy and Don, we had two giants in comedy, gifted beyond compare in their own rights, in that one episode.”

In a true example of “build it and they will come,” Bauer’s Stamper Lumber Co. had Rickles attached to the show concept, and that was enough to get Jeffrey Eagle, vice president of AARP Studios to say yes to buying the show. It was also enough to get guests from Amy Poehler to Robert De Niro to Sarah Silverman to Judd Apatow lining up to appear on the series.

“The real tribute is of course to Don but also the pairings and the uniqueness of that and the stories they shared. Everyone was so willing and open,” Eagle says.

Each episode was shot over an hour-long meal and cut into episodes that range from six to nine minutes each, acting as mini documentaries about both Rickles and his episode guest. Some, like Crystal, had long histories with Rickles to explore on-camera, while others like Snoop Dogg or Paul Rudd, met him for the first time when they sat down together. “It all unfolds in a very real way, and then we do a wrap-up of what each guest knew of Don – the lore – with the experience of meeting him at the end of the episode,” Bauer says.

In the case of Rickles and Crystal, Bauer adds, it was like seeing family reunite when they shot the episode at Vincenti Risorante in Brentwood, Calif. “There was a love and an appreciation, and they have these quips and a shorthand with each other,” Bauer says. “It was so wonderful to see Billy really let his guard down and how honored he was to sit with Don, someone who colored him as a young comic.”

Bauer and his team worked with the guests to provide images of the events and moments they discuss over the meal with Rickles to provide not just an auditory tale of Hollywood history, but a visual one as well. The idea is to provide a multi-generational story to fit with AARP’s general philosophy, which Eagle points out is “Live your best life no matter what your age is.”

Distributing the show primarily on AARP’s YouTube channel but also allowing the episodes to live on Facebook is another way to reach that multi-generational audience. Eagle notes that Mark Zuckerberg’s social site is actually the fastest-growing platform for people aged 50 and above, but it reaches a much wider demographic overall. Allowing the audience to binge digitally also give them the choice of watching all of the episodes linearly or simply picking and choosing based on which guests they are most interested in. “That’s the way folks are engaging in content, and we wanted to be current with that and not hold anything back,” Eagle says.

“Dinner with Don” is available for streaming on AARP’s YouTube and Facebook pages as of Sept. 25.

Watch the full episode of “Dinner with Don” featuring Billy Crystal below:

More TV

  • Kamala Harris

    Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Face Rematch in Next Democratic Debate

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to square off again in the second debate among Democratic hopefuls vying for their party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election CNN, which will broadcast the next round of debates on July 30 and 31, televised a draw Thursday night that decided [...]

  • Jon Wax

    Jon Wax Joins Amazon Studios as Head of Genre Programming

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming Jon Wax is joining Amazon Studios as its head of genre programming, Variety has learned. Wax will take up the position recently vacated by Sharon Tal Yguado. He had joined YouTube in August 2017, heading up drama, unscripted and current programming for YouTube’s premium channel. Prior to that, he had [...]

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

  • Game of Thrones

    HBO's Return to Emmy Nomination Dominance May Be Short-Lived (Column)

    As Hollywood braces for the coming streaming wars, HBO’s huge Emmy nomination haul this week sent a new salvo Netflix’s way: The streamer may have the volume, but HBO still has the goods. At least this year. HBO’s record-breaking 137 nominations came on the strength of just 23 programs — led, of course, by “Game [...]

  • Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer

    Starz Nears Realignment: Why Lionsgate Won't Hire a CEO to Replace Chris Albrecht

    Nearly six months after Starz CEO Chris Albrecht exited in February, Lionsgate brass is moving closer to a revamp of the premium TV network’s executive structure. According to insiders, at least one thing is clear: Albrecht is not expected to be replaced as CEO. Instead, Lionsgate chief executive Jon Feltheimer is taking a more active [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content