Carol Burnett Show, The (1967-78)


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tabs

About

When The Carol Burnett Show aired in September of 1967 on CBS, no one expected it to run eleven years. The show gave Carol Burnett, along with regulars Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner (who left in 1974), and Tim Conway (whose occasional guest appearances became permanent in 1975) an opportunity to fuse the best of live, vaudeville-style performance with the creative benefits of time and tape. Burnett's ensemble quickly bonded into a tight unit of professionals who looked, and acted, as if performing on The Carol Burnett Show was the best fun an entertainer could have. In reality, the meticulously-structured, musical-comedy program became one of the last, and one of the finest prime time variety shows to link the modern television age with Tin Pan Alley and the Golden Ages of motion pictures and television.

The show brought Carol Burnett's working class persona into a unique relationship with her audience. There was a glamorous, celebrity-brushed side to her work: Burnett could wear exclusive Bob Mackie gowns, banter with popular celebrities, and illustrate her brilliant talent for physical and intellectual comedy in cleverly written and produced skits. Her musical abilities ranged from Shubert's Alley to more refined venues, and her voice could amuse and inspire. She vamped with Hollywood royalty--Lucille Ball, Liza Minelli, Sammy Davis, Jr., even then-California governor Ronald Reagan joked and performed. On the other hand, Burnett's Charwoman character, her dysfunctional and beleaguered "Family" member, Eunice, her zestful Tarzan call, and her weekly question-and-answer sessions with the studio audience gave her an accessibility and down-to-earth warmth that firmly reinstated her back within the world of her viewers. The dichotomy between the two Carols--one homespun, the other neon-minted--gave The Carol Burnett Show a flavor and personality that showcased the idiosyncrasies of its eponymous star. Only later did Burnett reveal the source of that working-class quality--the talented comedienne had lifted herself from appalling poverty, a dysfunctional family, and emotional abuse to become a beloved star. One of Burnett's insightful actions, as she constructed her characters and her persona, was to draw on the contradictions that informed her artistic evolution.

Throughout the show's run, Burnett maintained, and increased, her creative input and control. She worked closely with a team of writers, among them Ken Welch and his wife, Mitzi, who had a strong sense of Burnett's attributes and strengths. (Ken Welch had written the famous "I Made a Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles" routine which had catapulted comic chanteuse Burnett to fame in 1956.) The show combined musical comedy with humorous sketches, using the ensemble of players as well as weekly guest stars, such as Jim Naybors, Cher, and Julie Andrews.

Burnett's three-tiered abilities--singer, actress, comedienne--allowed the writers to create and sustain characters throughout the eleven-year-run. The Charwoman, whose pantomimed mishaps often brought her into the shadow of greatness, became the show's trademark; a caricature of the dusty maid adorned credits and teasers for the program. Eunice, who was always under the abusive power of her Mama, blended the kind of sharply-sketched comedy and tragedy that informs the finest comedic characters. Eunice, Mama, and the rest of the working-class family members insulted, demeaned, and belittled one another, in acrimonious skits that revealed the dark heart of a family in turmoil. Critics complained that Eunice became more disturbing, rather than amusing, as the show progressed. Eventually, the "Family" skits were spun off into a situation comedy, without Burnett, entitled Mama's Family, in which Vicki Lawrence reprised her role as the bilious Mama.

The show centered on Burnett, but its enduring qualities also arose from its talented ensemble of players, whose interactions contributed to the overwhelming sense of "live" performance exuded by the show. Vicki Lawrence was fresh out of high school when her resemblance to Burnett won her a role; her transformation from sprightly youth to dour Mama astonished and delighted audience and cast. The infamous comic rivalry between perennial bemused Harvey Korman and the irrepressible Tim Conway remains one of the show's most distinctive features, as Conway's scripted and ad-libbed highjinks forced Korman to battle uncontrollable laughter during skits. Bits would halt as Korman struggled to stay in character; Conway would continue to pile on more egregious additions, trying to break up his costar. While the other cast members joined in unexpected break-ups, the anarchic camaraderie of Korman and Conway became legendary. 

These refreshing ad-libs often appeared during movie parodies, another of the show's trademarks. Burnett had been deeply influenced by classical Hollywood films during her childhood, and she and her writers drew from a copious knowledge of motion pictures to design film-related skits. Nothing was sacred: genres, films, actors, and characters from familiar and obscure pictures provided fodder for the ensemble. A take-off of Gone With the Wind ("Went With the Wind") found Burnett dressed in Bob Mackie window drapes, complete with curtain rods doubling as shoulder pads, rolling down the stairs as she deconstructed one of the film's most famous moments--Scarlett's miscarriage during a fight with Rhett. "From Here to Maternity," "Sunnyset Boulevard," "Lovely Story:" Burnett and her ensemble paid tribute to the bygone Golden Age with arch and loving comic elegies.

The show ended in 1978, still attaining decent ratings at a time when variety shows no longer attracted large audiences. Burnett wished to go on to other projects, and wanted to close The Carol Burnett Show while it could still entertain its viewers. The show periodically appears in syndication as Carol and Company; in 1992, Carol Burnett: A Reunion, brought highlights of the run back to CBS prime time, where the special did well in the ratings. Ultimately, The Carol Burnett Show represents a sophisticated fusion of music, comedy, drama, celebrity, parody, and slapstick which both resurrected and archived the traditions of America's vaudeville-variety past.

-Kathryn C. D'Alessandro

REGULAR PERFORMERS

Carol Burnett

Harvey Korman (1967-77) 

Lyle Waggoner (1967-74)

Vicki Lawrence

Tim Conway (1975-79)

Dick Van Dyke (1977)

Kenneth Mars (1979)

Craig Richard Nelson (1979)

MUSIC

The Harry Zimmerman Orchestra (1967-71)

The Peter Matz Orchestra (1971-78)

DANCERS

The Ernest Flatt Dancers

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

CBS

September 1967-May 1971   Monday 10:00-11:00

September 1971-November 1972   Wednesday 8:00-9:00

December 1972-December 1977   Saturday 10:00-11:00

December 1977-March 1978   Sunday 10:00-11:00

June 1978-August 1978   Wednesday 8:00-9:00

ABC

August 1979-September 1979   Saturday 8:00-9:00

FURTHER READING

Marc, David. "Carol Burnett: The Last of the Big-time Comedy-Variety Stars." Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Chur, Netherlands), July 1992.

O'Connor, John J. "Funny Women of Television: A Museum of Television and Radio Tribute." The New York Times, 24 October, 1991.

Highlights
Carol Burnett on her co-stars and how she created characters on The Carol Burnett Show
08:20
Ken Berry on guest-starring on The Carol Burnett Show
04:41
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on some memorable characters they created
09:12
Hector Ramirez on working as a camera operator for The Carol Burnett Show
06:35
Vicki Lawrence on the "Carol and Sis" sketches on The Carol Burnett Show
Who talked about this show

Bob Banner

View Interview
Bob Banner on producing The Carol Burnett Show
03:22

Rona Barrett

View Interview
Rona Barrett on Vicki Lawrence's imitation of her on The Carol Burnett Show
00:53

Ken Berry

View Interview
Ken Berry on guest-starring on The Carol Burnett Show
04:41
Ken Berry on what made Carol Burnett a great boss during his time on The Carol Burnett Show
01:19

Carol Burnett

View Interview
Carol Burnett on her co-stars and how she created characters on The Carol Burnett Show
08:20
Carol Burnett on the genesis of The Carol Burnett Show
04:08
Carol Burnett on the famous "Went with the Wind!" sketch on The Carol Burnett Show
00:49

Sid Caesar

View Interview
Sid Caesar on Carol Burnett's work in the comedy-variety field in the 1960s, following his seminal 1950s work
00:18

Alf Clausen

View Interview
Alf Clausen on being a copyist for The Carol Burnett Show and various feature films
04:55

Tim Conway

View Interview
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on some memorable characters they created
09:12
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on the cast and guest stars on The Carol Burnett Show
04:24
Tim Conway on his 10 year guest appearance on The Carol Burnett Show
02:20
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show
00:15
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on their first appearances on The Carol Burnett Show
27:02
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on the end of The Carol Burnett Show
03:51

Elias Davis

View Interview
Elias Davis and David Pollock on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
03:05
Elias Davis and David Pollock on the process of writing for The Carol Burnett Show
07:11
Elias Davis and David Pollock on various Carol Burnett Show sketches they wrote or participated in writing
02:56
Elias Davis and David Pollock on leaving The Carol Burnett Show
04:17

Mike Douglas

View Interview
Make Douglas appearing on The Carol Burnett Show (airdate: January 1, 1968) NOTE: He did not appear on the premiere telecast in 1967
05:28

Nanette Fabray

View Interview
Nanette Fabray on appearing on The Carol Burnett Show and doing sign language for the first time on television, and promoting sign language on television
03:53
Nanette Fabray on working with Carol Burnett and Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show
01:05

Jamie Farr

View Interview
Jamie Farr on the best night of television ever - Saturday night with All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Bob Newhart Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Carol Burnett Show
01:05

Geri Jewell

View Interview
Geri Jewell on attending a taping of The Carol Burnett Show when she was a kid and why Carol Burnett meant so much to her
04:16

Arnie Kogen

View Interview
Arnie Kogen on going to write for The Carol Burnett Show
02:19
Arnie Kogen on working with Carol Burnett on The Carol Burnett Show
02:24
Arnie Kogen on working with Joe Hamilton, the producer of The Carol Burnett Show, and on a typical work week writing for the show
01:54
Arnie Kogen on specific sketches he was involved in writing on The Carol Burnett Show, and on writing for Tim Conway
06:17
Arnie Kogen on the cast of The Carol Burnett Show breaking each other up during sketches
02:09
Arnie Kogen on the cast of The Carol Burnett Show
01:37
Arnie Kogen on specific sketches he wrote for The Carol Burnett Show, and on the writing process for the show
03:05
Arnie Kogen on incorporating guest stars into sketches on The Carol Burnett Show
02:29
Arnie Kogen on teaming with Ray Jessel to write for The Carol Burnett Show
04:10
Arnie Kogen on the legacy of The Carol Burnett Show
01:22
Arnie Kogen on winning Emmy Awards for his work on The Carol Burnett Show
01:15

Buz Kohan

View Interview
Buz Kohan on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
Buz Kohan on writing The Carol Burnett Show and working with special guest star Carl Reiner

Harvey Korman

View Interview
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show
00:15
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on their first appearances on The Carol Burnett Show
27:02
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on the cast and guest stars on The Carol Burnett Show
04:24
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on some memorable characters they created
09:12
Tim Conway and Harvey Korman on the end of The Carol Burnett Show
03:51

Vicki Lawrence

View Interview
Vicki Lawrence on the "Carol and Sis" sketches on The Carol Burnett Show
Vicki Lawrence on how her resemblance to Carol Burnett inadvertently led to her being cast on The Carol Burnett Show as her kid sister
02:29
Vicki Lawrence on her audition for The Carol Burnett Show where she was cast as Carol's little sister
Vicki Lawrence on her first day of rehearsals on The Carol Burnett Show as "Little Sis"
Vicki Lawrence on the process of taping The Carol Burnett Show live
Vicki Lawrence on specific episodes of The Carol Burnett Show such as "Went with the Wind," and on Harvey Korman being nervous about playing Clark Gable
Vicki Lawrence on the costumes and makeup as "Mama" on Mama's Family and The Carol Burnett Show - the costumes were by Bob Mackie
Vicki Lawrence on how the writers of "The Family" sketches on The Carol Burnett Show (later to evolve into Mama's Family) did not want "Mama" to be a Southern character
Vicki Lawrence on some memorable guest-stars on The Carol Burnett Show: Rita Hayworth, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tony Randall
01:42
Vicki Lawrence on a memorable blooper on The Carol Burnett Show during the "Family" sketch with Tim Conway
03:35
Vicki Lawrence on the episode of The Carol Burnett Show which won her an Emmy Award
01:25
Vicki Lawrence on what she learned about comedic timing from her castmates on The Carol Burnett Show: Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, and Carol Burnett
Vicki Lawrence on the legacy of The Carol Burnett Show: "the last of the great variety shows"
01:38

Barry Levinson

View Interview
Barry Levinson on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
02:02
Barry Levinson on the cast of The Carol Burnett Show memorizing the script rather than reading off of cue cards
01:28
Barry Levinson on the writing process on The Carol Burnett Show
00:46
Barry Levinson on the production schedule on The Carol Burnett Show and the high bar that Carol Burnett set for the entire cast
02:34
Barry Levinson on winning two Emmys for his work on The Carol Burnett Show
00:28

Bob Mackie

View Interview
Bob Mackie on creating costumes for The Carol Burnett Show
05:10
Bob Mackie on the famous curtain-rod dress he made for Carol Burnett in "Went With the Wind," a spoof of "Gone With the Wind" on The Carol Burnett Show
02:17
Bob Mackie on Carol Burnett's quick costume changes
01:27
Bob Mackie on costume design for The Carol Burnett Show
23:37
Bob Mackie on Carol Burnett's signature roles on The Carol Burnett Show
03:06

John Moffitt

View Interview
John Moffitt on how Carol Burnett's show was the first CBS set to be colorized
00:35

Gail Parent

View Interview
Gail Parent on being the only female writer on a variety show when she was hired on The Carol Burnett Show
03:31
Gail Parent on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
04:03
Gail Parent on the tone of the humor on The Carol Burnett Show
03:33
Gail Parent on her first days on the job on The Carol Burnett Show
03:21
Gail Parent on the theme song and format of The Carol Burnett Show
03:39
Gail Parent on the popularity of The Carol Burnett Show
01:19
Gail Parent on the writing process of The Carol Burnett Show
06:54
Gail Parent on what made her a good television writer
00:58
Gail Parent on Carol Burnett wanting to stick to the script on The Carol Burnett Show
01:57
Gail Parent on working with her writing partner Kenny Soams on The Carol Burnett Show 
03:09
Gail Parent on coming up with ideas for sketches for The Carol Burnett Show and the notion of a "department"
05:06
Gail Parent on writing for Carol Burnett on The Carol Burnett Show
02:36
Gail Parent on writing the recurring sketch "Carol and Sis" on The Carol Burnett Show
01:04
Gail Parent on the movie spoofs of The Carol Burnett Show
04:20
Gail Parent on writing sketches for the guest stars of The Carol Burnett Show
03:47
Gail Parent on writing for Harvey Korman on The Carol Burnett Show
01:06
Gail Parent on writing for Vicki Lawrence on The Carol Burnett Show
01:40
Gail Parent on writing for Lyle Waggoner on The Carol Burnett Show
00:46
Gail Parent on writing for Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show
02:54
Gail Parent on winning an Emmy for writing The Carol Burnett Show
03:01
Gail Parent on the legacy of The Carol Burnett Show
01:58

David Pollock

View Interview
Elias Davis and David Pollock on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
03:05
Elias Davis and David Pollock on the process of writing for The Carol Burnett Show
07:11
Elias Davis and David Pollock on various Carol Burnett Show sketches they wrote or participated in writing
02:56
Elias Davis and David Pollock on leaving The Carol Burnett Show
04:17

Carroll Pratt

View Interview
Carroll Pratt on providing a laugh track for The Carol Burnett Show, The Jeffersons, Mama's Family, and The Bob Newhart Show, and on not getting screen credit for his work
03:35

Hector Ramirez

View Interview
Hector Ramirez on working as a camera operator for The Carol Burnett Show
06:35

Isabel Sanford

View Interview
Isabel Sanford on becoming a semi-regular on The Carol Burnett Show
04:02

Bob Schiller

View Interview
Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
01:43

Dick Stiles

View Interview
Dick Stiles on his sculpture of Carol Burnett that resides as part of the Television Academy Plaza
02:09

William Tankersley

View Interview
William Tankersley on CBS Standards & Practices' work with The Carol Burnett Show
00:40

Saul Turteltaub

View Interview
Saul Turteltaub on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
08:15

Bob Weiskopf

View Interview
Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf on writing for The Carol Burnett Show
01:43

Tucker Wiard

View Interview
Tucker Wiard on working on The Carol Burnett Show
08:25
Tucker Wiard on hilarious bloopers from The Carol Burnett Show
02:02
Tucker Wiard on winning an Emmy Award for the final episode of The Carol Burnett Show
01:55
Tucker Wiard on the staying power of The Carol Burnett Show
00:40
Tucker Wiard on why the visual quality of The Carol Burnett Show has held up over the years
04:23

Fred Willard

View Interview
Fred Willard on his early comedy career
11:16

Ben Wolf

View Interview
Ben Wolf on shooting The Carol Burnett Show
01:24
Ben Wolf on shooting The Carol Burnett Show
01:47

All Shows

A
B
C
D
E
F
G
H
J
L
M
P
R
S
T
W