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Seemingly out of the blue, NBC picked up the half-hour sitcom Mama's Family as a midseason replacement in January, 1983. The series was based on the sketches (and a 1978 special) featuring the bickering family from 'The Carol Burnett Show'.
The production was headed by Joe Hamilton and Carol Burnett made several appearances during the show's first season as Eunice, and these episodes stand as some of the funniest sitcoms ever filmed (believe it or not).
Regulars were Ken Berry as dullard brother Vint, Rue McClanahan ('Maude') as Thelma's sister Fran and Dorothy Lyman (Opal on 'All My Children') as the slutty neighbor Naomi Oates. Eric Brown and Karin Argoud played the bratty kids.
Back (occasionally) were Betty White as sister Ellen and Harvey Korman (who directed many episodes) served as the show's narrator. When the program returned for a second season, Carol Burnett turned up only one more time; she and her husband had split up - Burnett got the house and he got the show, presumably.
That same year, Burnett also returned for a few episodes of the daytime soap 'All My Children', something she first did for fun in 1976.
After limping through the second season, 'Mama's Family' was canceled by NBC in 1984, resurfaced for re-runs in the summer of 1985, then returned in a long syndicated run with all-new episodes in 1986. The syndicated version had a slightly different cast, inferior scripts, and no more Burnett or Korman (Betty White appeared on only one episode of the syndicated series, a slight reworking of a funny 'Carol Burnett Show' skit).
NBC replaced 'Mama's Family' with 'The Golden Girls' - starring 'Mama's Family' regulars Betty White and Rue McClanahan - and got the hit they were looking for.
Throughout the rest of the Eighties, Carol Burnett could be seen sporadically in specials (like Julie and Carol: Together Again in 1989), but there was no regular series for the comedienne until March 31, 1990, when Carol and Company debuted on NBC. This half-hour series was part variety show, part movie of the week.
Carol once again greeted the audience at the opening of each episode just as before but without taking questions. The rest of the half-hour had her playing a different character in an unusual but relatively realistic situation each week (like attending a high school reunion). There would be no reprising old characters from her long-running variety series of the Seventies, instead these new mini-plays would be less broad, with more down-to-earth portrayals.
Carol and Company was highly acclaimed, but ratings were mild. That a bold show like this lasted two seasons qualifies it as a success.
It must have impressed CBS, because they launched a brand new 'Carol Burnett Show' in 1991, just weeks after the NBC series left the air. Back in the familiar one-hour variety show format, Burnett was in her element once again, with a brand new cast of regulars.
But the production seemed dated and America wasn't ready for the return of variety shows, even hosted by the first lady of the genre. The series lasted only seven weeks.
Today Carol Burnett can be seen occasionally as a sitcom guest-star, on the stage in New York and on retrospectives of her former CBS series that turn up every few years.
The Carol Burnett Show - A Reunion in 1993 landed big ratings; The Carol Burnett Show - Showstoppers in November, 2001, garnered nearly thirty million viewers to deliver the best performance in its time period (non-sports programming) that CBS had seen in over a decade.
A May, 2004 reunion special, The Carol Burnett Show: Let's Bump Up The Lights, also scored blockbuster numbers and is now on DVD.
Almost fifty years after beginning her television journey, Carol Burnett has hopefully found a home on our television screens forever.
you for bring back a piece of 'America' to the electronic age. I
would like to write Carol Burnett and have her over for dinner.
I am a mother of 8 and this is THE kind of video that I allow our
children to view. Where can we purchase the reruns? And where do
I mail her a Thank you note? We love you, Carol!"
"I just loved your Carol Burnett page! I have been a fan of Carol Burnett's since before I can remember. I recently took the bus from Toronto, Canada to New York just to see her in "Putting it Together". She was absolutely wonderful and after the show I got to meet her! It was honestly the greatest moment in my life. She was very warm and kind despite the fact that I could barely speak I was so overcome by emotion."
- Thank you, Shannon M
"If Carol Burnett has an email address, I would really appreciate having it. Ms. Burnett reigns as my favorite female entertainer/role model. It was a blessing to see someone bring so much joy in other folks' lives when I know she had struggles of her own. She always projected her own style, versus a carbon copy of someone else and at the same time promoted others versus competing against them.
"I appreciate the way she was tasteful and respectable with the content and quality of her shows, and in just plain English, the star is simply "good people!" Every time I ever saw a comment about her made by one of her fans, she's always mentioned as down to earth, but with a touch of class. I'd really like to relay that to her if possible. Thanks!"
- PaTella Berkley
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