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Posted at 6:15 PM ET, 01/ 5/2011

Old actors acting adorable on first day of Winter TV Press Tour 2011

By Lisa de Moraes

Basic cable has fallen in love with old actors. They're such a hoot and when you're up on stage with them at Winter TV Press Tour 2011 you can talk about them like they're not there. Plus, they make adorable subjects of sex jokes. And nobody's better at pretending they've taken a role on your new sitcom because the project is so compelling, not because they can't get the time of day from film directors or suits at broadcast TV networks who are working like little beavers to attract young male viewers.

Betty White in "Hot in Cleveland" on TV Land. (Evans Ward/PictureGroup)

"Are you on Facial Book," 76-year-old George Segal is made to ask his pretend-son on TV Land's new comedy "Retired at 35," so that his son can respond snarkily, "No -- I'm Tittering."

"The quality of the writing is breath-takingly high," Segal tells TV critics at Winter TV Press Tour 2011, convincing no one who'd just watched the clip from the show, about a Wall Street up-and-comer who decides to chuck it all and go live with his parents in retirement in Florida.

"If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage, we like to say," adds Jessica Walter -- still, convincing no one. Walter, who is about to turn 70, plays his wife on the show.

Segal likens the show to Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland saying "let's go out to the barn and make a show." That probably explains why show creator Chris Case says he didn't even bother pitching this show to any broadcast networks because there "was no way they were going to put it on."

The show's other, younger cast members marvel at how Segal and Jessica Walter did not play the "my way or the highway" card during production, and at Segal's willingness to "pass the ball" to them.

"I'd love to work with this guy he's talking about," Segal responds cranky-old-manishly - he knows his role. A few minutes after grousing "Hey this isn't a private conversation - who the hell are you talking about?" to one critic who'd asked Walter to explain the difference between her character on the animated FX show "Archer" and the one on this new TV Land sitcom.

One of the show's younger set, Ryan Michelle Bathe, tells critics she just loves lunch break on the show because you can "sit back and shut your mouth and let [Segal and Walter] talk. It's the most extraordinary 45 minutes...hearing their stories and the people they talk about...They say [some star's] name and you wonder if they mean THAT person, because that person's REALLY famous," she marveled insultingly up on stage, a couple seats away from Walter and Segal.

Ed Asner, meanwhile, is the sex symbol on a new CMT (formerly Country Music Television) comedy series "Working Class," the show's Jill Cargerman jokes to TV critics during a Q&A ssession for that show.

Hahaha - an 81-year-old guy is sooo not sexy! Asner is sitting a few seats away.

A TV critic tells Ed Asner that "the longevity of your career is astounding" and wonders what's up with that.

Ed Asner stars in CMT's new sitcom. (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

"I think talent has something to do with it," Asner barks back. Asner, who walked onto the stage with assistance and a cane, insists he's in that "middle stage" of aging. TV series typically like to have a few "droplets" like him, "so youth can be compared to you," he explains. But he insists he is still in that age stage "before Mickey Rooney or Betty White." (White is about to turn 89).

Asner gets grumpy when a critic asks whether whether kids recognize him from his voice work for the lead role in the animated feature "Up," snarling. "I don't have to send out pictures of myself [for auditions] any more. It re-made my career. These guys never would have paid attention to me if not for 'Up'."

One critic wonders if Asner keeps his seven Emmy Awards in a closet:

Are you out of your [expletive] mind!?" he responds.

"They are scattered throughout the house. Judiciously scattered. I just read Cloris Leachman had eight Emmys. Is that true?"

Informed it was, he responds "[female canine]," adding, "Well, if you want to act nuts like she does." He explains he got his Emmys, "through straight....developmental acting - perfection all the time...Nothing off the charts -- that's Cloris."

But Betty White is maybe the most adorable old person starring on a basic cable sitcom today. She's the oldest of the old gals on TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland."

The key to Betty's success in these days of her serious overexposure is that she has an incredible knack of acting like she's sick of herself while steering attention to herself.

TV critics want to ask her all about what it was like to host "Saturday Night Live" because maybe no person so old had ever hosted the too-hip-to-live NBC sketch show. What advice would she give to the other older gals on "Hot in Cleveland" - Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick and Jane Leeves - if they, or anyone else she knew were ever asked to host "SNL"?

"I had said no three times before because I'm such a California girl" the show is a New York out of water... blah, blah, blah, Betty begins to prattle on happily, settling in to give one of those longish answers that do so much to clog press tour Q&A sessions.

Her big bit of advice? "Don't wear those heels" because between sketches they drag you to a closet the size of a coffee table and people are all over you, changing your costume, wig, and makeup for the next sketch.

TV critics ate it up with a spoon.

Another of that show's old gals - Wendie Malick who's just turned 60 - says she thinks laughter was the best way to stay young. She mentioned that the encountered a viewers who said to her, "Thank you for helping me laugh before I went to sleep last night."

"And, what time did he go home?" White shoots back.

Dontcha just love old actors?

By Lisa de Moraes  | January 5, 2011; 6:15 PM ET
Categories:  Winter TV Press Tour 2011  
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