The Carol Burnett Show: Just As Funny 50 Years Later
Television has changed in the past 50 years in a multitude of ways. The dramatic span of series we were drawn to in the 1970s, with characters we loved, have been replaced with reality stars that we simply cannot stand. The gritty cop dramas of the 1980s were replaced by a million versions of CSI. There is, though, something so bold and real that it cannot be replaced. People who are truly funny and talented. That’s why The Carol Burnett Show is still watched by generations of fans, old and new, to this very day.
The Carol Burnett Show got its start in September of 1967, as a 34-year-old Texas born Burnett, who was raised by her grandmother in Hollywood, found success on Broadway in the early 1960s, then moved on to television fame on The Garry Moore Show in 1962. Soon, Burnett was proving her ability to dominate variety with music, dancing, laughter and drama. Her variety show, which used a blend of sketch comedy (way before Saturday Night Live), along with musical legends, special guests and a regular cast of players, even incorporated a wardrobe and scene department that would rival anything on television today. The vaudeville creativity that was used to balance the show was beyond anything that had taken place on television before or since.
Burnett’s run on CBS lasted for 11 seasons and could have went on a 11 more. She obviously surrounded herself with people who could match her wit, with the great Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner and the funniest man to ever live, outside of Groucho Marx, Tim Conway.
The show’s magic – and it was magic – was in the emotional connection to the audience at home and in the studio. There was time for laughter, even if the next line had to wait. Nothing was rushed, because the payoff was always worth the time it took to get there. If it were only about the comedy, then Carol Burnett could easily go down in history as the funniest woman to ever live. But it wasn’t just comedy. The musical numbers brought Broadway directly into our living rooms.
Ken Berry, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gorme’, Ella Fitzgerald, Dick Van Dyke, Jim Nabors, Bernadette Peters, Mel Torme’, Carol Channing, whether singing or dancing, would join Carol, Vicki and Harvey in musical numbers that swept us away. Helen Reddy, The Jackson Five, The Pointer Sisters, Cass Elliot and Peggy Lee would bring the joy of modern music to join that classic vibe.
Comedic giants like Lucille Ball, Carl Reiner, Dick Martin and Jonathan Winters would match line for line with the queen of comedy and she was never at a loss for the fast improv needed to build the laugh to a roar.
It felt like a party with every episode and everyone was invited. Parodies of popular commercials, the “Family” sketches featuring Thelma Harper (and her all-too-close-to-home family), even the larger than life movie send-ups, spanning Gone With the Wind, to The Exorcist. All were incredibly unique and without shortcuts. The style and the grace within the show were only matched by the hilarious writing that rode side by side in a variety show that remains unequaled.
Carol hosted all 279 episodes from 1967 to 1978, all while maintaining a TV-G rating. Even today, METV continues to air the syndicated episodes and countless DVDs and books are created every year to celebrate the years of joy from this larger than life show. Much like The Beatles, a decade of creative genius was just not enough. We’re looking forward to seeing Burnett’s return to television in her upcoming Netflix series, but we’ll always consider the classic Carol Burnett Show to be the single greatest achievement in variety entertainment.