While on Thursday night, PBS ended its Television Critics Association (TCA) 2012 Winter Press Tour presentations with a performance from 85-year-old Tony Bennett, NBC Universal kicked off its two days of panels on Friday with soon-to-be-90-year-old comedy legend Betty White.
“He’s a kid,” White joked when told about Bennett.
White talked a little about a 90th birthday tribute called Betty White’s 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America’s Golden Girl, that NBC will be taping with her and several guests — including Ellen DeGeneres, Morgan Freeman, Tina Fey, Ray Romano, Seth Meyers and Tracy Morgan, along with several of her costars from The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Hot in Cleveland — this Sunday, to air Jan. 16 at 8pm ET, one day before her actual birthday. White didn’t really see the big deal.
“They’re all saying, ‘Oh, my goodness! You’re 90!’” she said. “And I keep trying to explain, ‘Don’t give me any credit. I didn’t do anything to get to be 90. It just happened. I didn’t accomplish anything. It just came up on me.’ But I’m blessed with good health, for which I’m deeply grateful. I’m just gonna have fun like, you know, always. Everybody else is far more excited about the 90 than I am. … I might go out and have a little vodka on the rocks.”
As important as her health, White also credited her mindset for her continued work and seemingly unlimited ability to keep taking on projects.
“I’m not only blessed with good health, but good energy,” she said. “I can credit my folks for the genes that put that together. But I can’t get over that at this age, I don’t feel this age. I’m not trying to be any younger. I’m not lying about my age. If I were lying about my age, I would say I was 89. I’m just at one of those good times in your life, and there’s been so many of those through those 90 years, but I’m at one of the high spots. I’m healthy enough to enjoy it. I’m surrounded by friends I adore. Isn’t that kind of the best way to sign off?”
But there is one special friend with whom she admitted she regrets she cannot share these latest good times. There was a very touching moment when she got serious and invoked her late husband.
“I have a major regret — that Allen Ludden isn’t with me. That’s my big regret.”
The strength and youthful energy White displays isn’t limited to her. I saw it in Tony Bennett last night, and in my personal life, my own grandmother displays it at age 87. So it’s no surprise that a network would take a chance on bringing several of these older free spirits together into a series. That’s what happened in the hit Belgian series whose name translates oddly in English to Benidorm Bastards, and which is being adapted for American audiences as Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. White was also here to talk about this hidden-camera series — sort of a Punk’d with seniors — which debuts with a sneak preview immediately after White’s birthday tribute, Jan. 16 at 9:30pm ET. White hosts and executive produces the program, in which a band of seniors hits the streets to pull pranks on the whippersnappers out there.
I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to think of this concept, but the clip shown was hilarious and I found myself laughing aloud. It speaks to how invisible seniors may become to some of us, and how many of us may think they stop living lives and feeling needs, so much so that when some of these young-hearted pranksters come up to strangers and start asking for advice on what a boyfriend’s sexual texts mean, or streak across a store — the looks on the faces of flabbergasted standers-by are priceless.
“I think the angle of this show,” said White, “is that it’s the seniors pranking the younger people, so that, instead of they’re the poor ones being taken advantage of — don’t sell them short. They’re just hip enough and maybe mean enough to want to get even. So I think it’s just kind of a reverse psychology of the ‘poor old senior.’ It’s, ‘Hey, we’ve got a sense of humor, too, warped as it may be.’”
Betty White: © NBC Universal, Inc. Credit Chris Haston/NBC
Off Their Rockers: © NBC Universal, Inc. Credit Jordin Althaus/NBC