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CAROL BURNETT SHOW
On September 11, 1967, The Carol Burnett Show debuted with guest Jim Nabors ('Gomer Pyle'), joining CBS's winning Monday Night schedule that included Gunsmoke, The Lucy Show, The Andy Griffith Show and Family Affair, the series proved a perfect fit.
Because of the show's initial success, Burnett had Jim Nabors as her guest for every season opener thereafter as a good luck charm.
'The Carol Burnett Show' featured TV bit player Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner and a young high school girl who contacted Burnett because of her remarkable resemblance to the star.
In one of those great (true) Hollywood discoveries, Vicki Lawrence actually got hired as a regular on a network prime-time variety series by writing to a star. That could never happen now, stars are instructed today not to read or respond to their fan mail because of stalkers.
Characters and skits made famous over the run of the series include Eunice and her bickering family, the queen of England, Mr. Tudball and his secretary Mrs. Wiggins, aged-out movie star Nora Desmond and broad satires of classic movies and TV shows.
One of the funniest Family sketches:
Writers on the staff included veterans of television and Mad magazine. Until 'Saturday Night Live' debuted, 'The Carol Burnett Show' was virtually the only topical satire on television, tame as it was.
There were very few changes during the 11 year run of the program. In 1974, Lyle Waggoner quit the series. Soon after, he starred in 'Wonder Woman', a move he later regretted. It never occurred to him that he would be upstaged by Linda Carter's breasts - that's not exactly career progress.
From You Tube - the first Eunice sketch:
Frequent guest Tim Conway officially joined the regular cast in 1975. His improvs and attempts to break up the cast led to some of 'The Carol Burnett Show's best outings. Burnett wanted Tim Conway to replace Lyle Wagoner right away instead of waiting a year - but Conway had so many recent flops he was considered (by some) to be a jinx.
Harvey Korman signed an exclusive deal with ABC and left in Spring, 1977 (his sitcom failed in 1978), so Dick Van Dyke was brought in as a regular to bolster ratings in the fall of 1977.
Van Dyke had just lost his own brilliant, Emmy-winning (but short-lived) variety series on NBC, and it seemed like a perfect match - but he became dissatisfied with his second banana status and abruptly quit the show in December 1977.
After Van Dyke left, Steve Lawrence and Ken Berry made frequent appearances to provide a male lead, but this was to be the last season for the series. Burnett decided to end the series in 1978 (before the show could be canceled).
An excellent two-hour special was aired as a series finale, with highlights from past years mixed with new material.
During the mid-seventies, Carol Burnett also had a second career as a film actress - she got excellent reviews in a remake of 'Front Page' and in Robert Altman's comedy/drama classic 'The Wedding'.
CBS signed Carol to do specials and made for TV movies, but she was restless to do a series again, so she put together 'Carol Burnett and Company' during the summer of 1979 for ABC (after CBS passed on it).
The four episode series featured Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway with new regulars Craig Richard Nelson and Kenneth Mars. But the variety show format was burnt out, ratings were light and the series wasn't picked up for fall.
That Carol Burnett found any success at all in the Eighties is a testament to her good taste and abilities. Burnett's dramatic TV-movies of the late-seventies were very popular, tackling a number of controversial issues. For instance, 'Friendly Fire' (1979) told the story of a couple that lost their child due to military accident, another told of a family's anguish over having a gay son.
In 1980, 'The Tim Conway Show' debuted on CBS from producer Joe Hamilton. Harvey Korman, Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence all made several guest appearances on this enjoyable variety hour, even reprising characters and skits from 'The Carol Burnett Show'.
Harvey Korman joined the regular cast during the second season when the show was trimmed to a half-hour. 'The Tim Conway Show' ran from March 1980 until August, 1981, a long run for a variety show in the Eighties.
CAROL BURNETT SHOW
Carol Burnett's Best Special?
Carol Burnett is as famous for her award-winning specials as she is for her series work.
Four years after 'The Carol Burnett Show' left the air, the Burnett team put together a wonderful special featuring one of the show's most popular characters - 'Eunice' (Monday, March 15, 1982).
The four-act, ninety-minute filmed theatrical production followed the outrageous characters from the Burnett show's 'Family' skits as they age through the years.
Based on the best scripts from the run of the CBS variety series, this production built the contentious Harper family into three dimensional people without removing the way-out farcical nature that made them work in the first place. The result was perhaps Carol Burnett's finest television work.
'Eunice' features Vicki Lawrence as Mama, Carol Burnett as Eunice, Harvey Korman as Ed and Ken Berry as brother Phillip. In this version, Phillip is a brilliant writer who goes off to New York and eventually wins a Nobel Prize. Of course, all of this is completely lost on his family.
Building like a Tennessee Williams' play, events only alluded to in earlier acts come crashing down around the characters by the fourth act, when the family congregates after Mother Harper's funeral.
Act one finds teenager Eunice cheating on her dopey boyfriend Ed. Meanwhile, brother Phillip is headed to New York and no one can get dad out of the toilet long enough to tell him what a terrible mistake he's making.
Act three, Eunice and Ed are now divorced, as Eunice and her troubled kids find themselves living with Mama. Eunice has picked up a new hobby - drinking.
In act four, Ellen, Phillip and Eunice come back to the home after the funeral service for their departed 'Mama' Harper. Delicious family secrets are revealed by devious sister Ellen when she and Eunice mix it up.
The special was written by Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon, the creators of the original 'Carol Burnett Show' skits.
An interesting sidenote: Dick Clair had himself cryogenically frozen moments before his death, so that he could be resuscitated and made well when a cure was found for his illness. Listen to this exchange from the 'Eunice' special with that in mind.
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