BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. - David E. Kelley has a fast car.
His name is Robin Williams.
From the moment that CBS announced that Williams would star in "The Crazy Ones," a new comedy from Kelley ("The Practice," "Ally McBeal") in which the free-associating comedian and actor plays a wild and, well, crazy advertising genius, I've wondered how that might work.
Because Kelley's a writer used to hearing his words delivered pretty much the way he wrote them.
And that isn't necessarily what people expect from a Robin Williams comedy.
"It feels like I'd been handed the keys to a car I was ill-equipped to drive," Kelley told reporters at the Television Critics Association's summer meetings Monday, explaining why he brought on Jason Winer ("Modern Family"), a director with a background in improv, as an executive producer.
Williams "says my words perfectly. Then he uses his. . . . It sounds like he very much likes the box. He manages inside the box, gets the box down, and then we give him a few takes where he gets to break out of it," Kelley said.
"We had a script. We shot the script. After we got each scene, we'd go to Robin and say, 'Do you want to play with it? Play with it.' And he did. And then this guy [he indicated co-star James Wolk] started playing along some. This young lady [Sarah Michelle Gellar, who stars as Williams' character's daughter and business partner] started playing along with some. So, what you have in the end is the architecture of the script, mainly the script, but you've got ad libs and the spontaneity and the joy of those moments on top of it."
Williams, who riffed for much of the news conference - at one point suggesting new products for Apple, at another talking about an "idea for a vampire rehab called " 'Dark Meadows,' Type AAAA" - may actually be grateful to have a script from which to depart.
On "Mork & Mindy," "literally they would put in the script, 'Mork does his thing here,' which was just like, 'Riff, riff, little white boy, here we go,' " he said.
"Mork & Mindy," of course, aired its final episode in 1982.
"It's great to have a steady gig after so long," Williams, who's playing President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the upcoming - and newly re-titled - "Lee Daniels' 'The Butler' " remarked at one point. "It's wonderful."
Surely, I asked him afterward, he'd had opportunities to have another steady TV gig before now?
"Never," he insisted. "I mean, I haven't had one in a long time."
No one's come after him to do a show?
"I don't know why," he said.
Being on television is also different this time around, said the actor, who turned 62 on July 21.
"When 'Mork & Mindy' happened, I was just like, 'Wow.' I was there, it was a great ride, but I wasn't that present, literally. I kind of joked about it," he said in a reference to his drug issues, "but I was on everything but skates. Now to be present, and part of the process, is wonderful."
It's not all tears
Showtime's "Homeland," which returns for its third season Sept. 29, will be around for "as long as you'll have us," says executive producer Alex Gansa, but maybe after that, someone might look for a comedy for Claire Danes.
And not just because she'll need a break after years of playing bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison.
Like her co-star Damian Lewis - yes, he'll be back on "Homeland," but not immediately - Danes is a lot funnier than her angst-ridden résumé might lead you to expect.
And though she claims that she still hasn't seen the "Homeland" spoof on "Saturday Night Live," in which Anne Hathaway played Carrie, she does do a pretty devastating impression of Hathaway's attempts to placate her before the sketch aired.
"I was in Toronto at the time with Hugh [Dancy, her husband], who's doing 'Hannibal.' And I got a series of texts from her saying, you know, 'Hi, um, so I'm hosting 'SNL,' and I really hope we can still be friends.' And then sent me a big bouquet of flowers. And this is all before it aired, and I was like, 'Oh, s---. I don't know if I want to watch this. She's being way too nice about it.' "
When Danes tried to look up the clip online afterward, it wouldn't play in Canada, and eventually she decided, she said, that "so much time has passed and I thought, let's just [say] I enjoyed her flowers," Danes said.
"To be honest, I was very flattered, really, genuinely. To be parodied on 'SNL' means, oh, boy, we are relevant. We're in the zeitgeist. We're cool, cool enough to, you know, make fun of."
On Twitter: @elgray