Skip to main content

The Incomparable Comedy of The Carol Burnett Show

Carol Burnett as "The Charwoman"

Carol Burnett as "The Charwoman"

The Carol Burnett Show

It may have been an Admiral console, a Sony portable, a Magnavox, Motorola, Zenith or RCA Victor. It may have been color or black-and-white. There were many "modern" as well as "old" television sets in regular use during the decade of the 60's. Network television broadcasts had begun only twenty to twenty-five years earlier. On Monday September 11, 1967 at 10:00 PM a variety series debuted, that changed the face of television dramatically... through comedy. Already a well-known television personality, Carol Burnett was destined to become one of the most loved American entertainers in history. "The Carol Burnett Show" brought vaudeville-style entertainment to television audiences by way of musical guests, comedy sketches, dance numbers and a live orchestra.

The Person

Carol Burnett was born in San Antonio, Texas on April 26, 1933. After her parents' divorce she moved to Hollywood, California to live with her grandmother; and in 1951 she graduated from Hollywood High School. UCLA was her next stop, where she studied theater arts, and developed her stage skills as a member of a musical comedy/opera workshop. A move to New York in 1954 in pursuit of the Broadway stage was financed by a benefactor (she agreed to keep the name secret) who had seen one of her workshop's productions. She signed with the William Morris Agency in New York, and soon found comedy and singing opportunities.

Television came before the Broadway stage for Carol. In 1955 Burnett worked with ventriloquist Paul Winchell on the Paul Winchell show. A comedic nightclub act which included an original song that described a fictional love interest in then Secretary-of-State John Foster Dulles gained her valuable exposure and television guest appearances; and in 1959 she became a regular on the Garry Moore show (a popular variety show with musical and comedy segments). Carol sometimes played as many as five different characters in this hour-long show. This was a format Burnett would later perfect on her own show.

Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins

Tim on Tim:

Tim Conway's Personal Biography

"I was born and then I did The Carol Burnett Show for eleven years. What else is there to know? I have six Emmy's. Big deal. I am also in The Comedy Hall of Fame, it was a natural since I spent alot of my time in grade school out in the hall. I went to Bowling Green State University for eleven years. A very slow lerner (I proof read my bio). I was in the army (ours) for two years and was in McHales Navy for three years. That is a total of five years of service. My ambition was to be a jockey, but at my weight, even the horses were asking me to get off. I have seven children, two grand children and a puppy. I have been married since 1984, a record for Hollywood. I do not have a serious thought in my head.

Enjoy the show" -

The Show

Under contract with CBS, Burnett starred in several extremely successful television specials with top celebrities. In 1967, when the network insisted that she either star in a situation comedy or a variety series, she chose the variety format. The next 11 seasons would present the live studio audiences, and TV viewers nation-wide with a no-holds-barred brand of simple, often satirical comedy, and an impressive string of guest stars.

Skilled comedic delivery in the frequent theatrical sketches quickly made them viewers' favorites. Guest stars such as Jim Nabors, Dick Van Dyke and Tim Conway made repeat appearances. Tim Conway's role became permanent in 1975, solidifying the framework of a treasure house of artistic television memories.

The First Season's Celebrity Guests

SeasonGuest Stars


Jim Nabors, Liza Minelli, Sid Caesar, Jonathan Winters, Lucille Ball, Gloria Loring, Imogene Coca, Lainie Kazan, Phyllis Diller, Gwen Verdon, Bobbie Gentry, The Smothers Brothers, Richard Kiley, Diahann Carroll, Nannette Fabray, Sonny and Cher, Richard Chamberlain, Juliet Prowse, Martha Raye, Lesley Ann Warren, Don Adams, Barbara Eden, Leonard Nimoy, Mickey Rooney, John Davidson, Ella Fitzgerald, Lynn Redgrave, Mike Douglas, Trini Lopez, Ken Berry, Betty Grable, Peter Lawford, Minnie Pearl, Barbara McNair, the cast of the Garry Moore show, Mel Torme, Lana Turner, Frank Gorshin, Shirley Jones, George Chakiris, Dionne Warwick, Jack Palance, Art Carney, Tim Conway, Jack Jones, Soupy Sales, Shani Wallis

Hot Dogs

The Carol Burnett Show Cast

The Carol Burnett Show Cast

Bump Up The Lights

The Formula

The regular cast of performers included Harvey Korman (who personally won four Emmy awards and one Golden Globe award for his work on the show), Vicki Lawrence (fresh out of high school, and strongly resembling Burnett), Lyle Waggoner (who left the show in 1974), and Tim Conway (who joined the cast full-time in 1975). Rehearsals proceeded Monday through Thursday, and the show was taped twice on Friday in front of two different live audiences. Burnett usually took audience questions and requests at the opening of each show in a 3-4 minute segment that she would graciously introduce by saying "Let's turn up the lights..." Surprises and laughs were as common and encouraged in this short opening segment of audience participation as they were in the written and structured show. She gave autographs, hugs and kisses... sang duets, and danced. And in a variety of glamorous gowns created by designer Bob Mackie, she frequently bested Johnny Weissmuller with her Tarzan yell.

With precision, skill and determination cast and crew usually finished taping each show in 90 minutes; and rarely was it necessary to re-tape a segment after the two full original productions were completed. Vicki Lawrence would later say of Burnett and of the show, "For Carol, it was all about that audience. Keeping that audience happy, that 250-person audience that was in our studio". The fast pace of the show included multiple costume and set changes, as well as a certain improvisation ingredient that gave some of the many comedy sketches timeless impact.

Scroll to Continue

The enthusiasm with which the cast and crew performed, and their constant stream of successful episodes led many in the entertainment industry to believe that working on The Carol Burnett Show was the best job in Hollywood. The cast commonly kept each other on the edge of laughter, giving their audiences and television viewers a glimpse into just how fun the job was. Harvey Korman and Tim Conway worked this to perfection for eleven years in the wildly popular TV show format; and later traveled the United States using the same style and characters in a two-man, one-woman stage show (called "Together Again") which co-starred comedian and impersonator Louise DuArt.

A comedy sketch called "The Family" became a popular and much anticipated portion of the show. The sketch was originally written with Burnett playing the mother figure in a southern family of odd-balls. However, Burnett felt an affinity for the younger daughter character in the sketch (Eunice); and so the younger Vicki Lawrence took on the character of "Mama". The show's writers protested by walking out on the first performance of the sketch; firmly believing that it would only be successful with Carol Burnett in the role of the older woman. However, the immediate and quickly sky-rocketing popularity of the sketch among viewers quickly proved them wrong. Vicki Lawrence would go on to play Mama (Thelma Harper) in 130 episodes of her own show "Mama's Family" from 1983 to 1990.

Thelma Harper~ "You ain't right in the head, Eunice. I think somebody blew your pilot light out!"

The Star of the Show

The Star of the Show

The Impact

The Carol Burnett Show won 23 Emmy awards, and won or was nominated for more than one Emmy in each of its eleven seasons. The awards that Burnett herself has won or been nominated for, apart from the show named after her, are many and varied.

The impact of The Carol Burnett Show spans more than one generation of viewers. Because the show was largely made for families, young viewers carried an appreciation for the show and its many characters into their own families and homes. Because the original quality of the show has been preserved as video technology has developed, it will likely be appreciated by generations to come. The Carol Burnett Show is available in several different formats and combinations including the full length shows, opening questions to closing credits.

© 2013 Mr. Smith


Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on July 08, 2015:

One of the best variety shows ever.

Great hub!

Lori Colbo from United States on May 26, 2014:

Hand down, The Carol Burnette Show was the greatest television comedy/variety show of all time. Voted across the board.

Mr. Smith (author) from Indiana on April 26, 2013:

Well, there's always hope! Thanks for reading.

Cat from New York on April 26, 2013:

Mr. Smith,

They just don't make 'em like her anymore do they? Excellent job highlight Carol Burnette's career!

Voted up and awesome!

Related Articles