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If NBC's 66th telecast of the Primetime Emmys do in fact manage to have become a major ratings success, some if not most credit is due this tribute to Robin Williams, which millions were anticipating Monday night -- and which NBC even promoted in advance, with an on-screen bumper promising the "In Memoriam" within 16 minutes, than 10 minutes and so on.
Yes, very unusual. And Bill Crystal's tribute did not disappoint.
Moving, emotional and deeply personal, it turned a lighthearted broadcast into a somber tribute to a beloved actor who changed culture, and television.
"He made us laugh, every time you saw him on TV, movies, nightclubs, arenas, hospitals, homeless shelters," Crystal said of a friend he made nearly 40 years ago, working comedy clubs on both coasts.
He spoke of the "many happy hours" spent with Williams.
"He was the greatest friend you could ever imagine. Supportive, protective, loving. It's very hard to talk about him in the past because he was so present in all of our lives, for almost 40 years the brightest star in the comedy galaxy."
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Billy Crystal, who had (at least) a 30-year association with Robin Williams, will present his tribute on Monday's telecast of the 66th Primetime Emmys.
The program's executive producer, Don Mischer, made the announcement Wednesday. Mischer said last week that the Academy was planning to mount "a proper and meaningful tribute," which will now fall to Crystal, who has long hosted Comic Relief USA with Williams and Whoopi Goldberg. (Crystal and Williams also co-starred in "Father's Day").
Williams presented the tribute to his personal comic icon, Jonathan Winters, at last year's show.
Indeed, Williams' and Crystal's close ties long predate Comic Relief, which they had co-hosted with Goldberg since 1986. Like so many A-list comics, they came up through the east coast/west coast comedy club circuit in the '70s, shared prominent managers (Jack Rollins and Charles Joffe) and at times even seemed to be one another's most visible cheerleader.
After Williams' 2009 heart surgery, for example, Crystal explained to The New York Times how that might impact his comedy going forward. "I think he needs the stand-up in a different way than he did before. It's still a safe place for him to be, but he can talk about things and make himself feel better, not just everybody else."
After Williams' death was reported last week, Crystal could muster only this, in a Tweet: "No words."
Musical accompaniment for the "In Memoriam" tribute will be performed by Sara Bareilles. She had dedicated her song, "Hercules," to Williams during a recent concert, but Mischer did not say what the music choices will be.
Billy Crystal - who hasn't been in a TV series since forever-and-when - will headline a new FX series, also starring Josh Gad, of "Book of Mormon," and most recently, "Frozen." Larry Charles is attached, too, in a production role.
Per FX, this 13-episode series -- to air in 2015 --
In "The Comedians," Crystal plays a superstar veteran comedian who is reluctantly paired with Gad ("Frozen," "The Book of Mormon"), an edgier up-and-coming star, in an unfiltered, behind-the-scenes look at a late night sketch comedy show where egos and generations collide. Rounding out the cast are series regulars Stephanie Weir, Matt Oberg and Megan Ferguson.
After his mid-70s run on ABC's "Soap," as Jodie Dallas, Crystal headed to "Saturday Night Live," for a pair of memorable seasons ('84-'85). There were other bit cameos here and there, but this is his first return to series TV since then, when he was on the show which ran from '77 to '81.
Crystal's one-man play, "700 Sundays," is also coming to HBO.