The Carol Burnett Show

The Carol Burnett Show
Genre Comedy-Variety
Starring Carol Burnett
Harvey Korman
Vicki Lawrence
Lyle Waggoner
Tim Conway
Dick Van Dyke
Opening theme "Carol's Theme" by
Joe Hamilton[1]
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 11
No. of episodes 279
Executive producer(s) Bob Banner
Joe Hamilton
Location(s) CBS Television City
Hollywood, California
Camera setup Multi-camera
Running time 54 minutes
Production company(s) Burngood, Inc. (1967–72)
Punkin' Productions, Inc. (1972–76)
Whacko, Inc. (1976–78)
Original network CBS
Audio format Monaural
Original release September 11, 1967 (1967-09-11) – March 29, 1978 (1978-03-29)
Followed by Carol Burnett & Company
Mama's Family

The Carol Burnett Show (also Carol Burnett and Friends in syndication) is an American variety/sketch comedy television show starring Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner. In 1975, frequent guest star Tim Conway became a regular when Waggoner left this show due to a mutual agreement with the producer about the series not having reruns. In 1977, Dick Van Dyke replaced Korman for much of its final season. The show originally ran on CBS from September 11, 1967, to March 29, 1978, for 279 episodes, and again with nine episodes in the fall of 1991. The series originated in CBS Television City's Studio 33, and won 25 primetime Emmy Awards, was ranked number 16 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time in 2002,[2] and in 2007 was listed as one of Time magazine's 100 Best TV Shows of All Time.[3]

In 2013, TV Guide ranked The Carol Burnett Show number 17 on their list of the 60 Greatest Shows of All Time.[4]


In 1967, Carol Burnett had been a popular veteran of television for 11 years, having made her first appearances in 1956 on such programs as The Paul Winchell Show and the sitcom Stanley starring the comedian Buddy Hackett. In 1959, she became a regular supporting cast member on the CBS-TV variety series The Garry Moore Show. After leaving The Garry Moore Show in the spring of 1962 to pursue other projects, which included not only television, but also Broadway and films, Burnett signed a contract with CBS for 10 years which required her to do two guest appearances and a special a year. Within the first five years of this contract, she had the option to "push the button" and be put on the air in 30 one-hour variety shows, pay-or-play. After discussion with her husband Joe Hamilton, in the last week of that fifth year of the contract, Burnett decided to call the head of CBS Michael Dann and exercise the clause. Dann, explaining that variety is a "man's genre", offered Burnett a sitcom called Here's Agnes. Burnett had no interest in doing a sitcom, and because of the contract, CBS was obliged to give Burnett her own variety show.[5]


On the left, cast members in 1967 (clockwise from the bottom): Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner, on the right, the 1977 cast: Burnett, Tim Conway, Lawrence, and Korman

In addition to Carol Burnett, the cast consisted of:

Comedic actor Harvey Korman had done many guest shots in TV sitcoms. From 1963 to 1967, he had been a semi-regular on the CBS variety series The Danny Kaye Show. When Kaye's program ended in the spring of 1967, Korman was immediately hired for The Carol Burnett Show. Lyle Waggoner, who often played a self-absorbed Adonis and often performed skit narration, was also signed for the series.

Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, and guest star Dinah Shore in the 1976 "Went with the Wind!" sketch

Vicki Lawrence, a young singer from The Young Americans wrote a letter to Burnett when she was 17, remarking on their physical resemblance. This led to her audition and getting hired to play Burnett's kid sister in numerous "Carol and Sis" sketches.

In addition, several notable actors were used in the comedy sketches in featured roles, especially in the first season, such as William Schallert and Reta Shaw.

The popular variety show not only established Burnett as a television superstar, but it also made her regular supporting cast household names, with such sketches as "As the Stomach Turns", (a parody of As the World Turns) and "Went with the Wind!" (a spoof of Gone with the Wind), "Carol & Sis", "Mrs. Wiggins", and "The Family" (which led to a made-for-TV movie titled Eunice, as well as a spin-off television series titled Mama's Family), "Nora Desmond" (Burnett's send-up of Gloria Swanson's character Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard), and "Stella Toddler". A frequent repeated segment was "Kitchen Commercials", in which cast members parodied TV commercials that drove a woman (Burnett) crazy. The long-running show was frequently nominated for Emmys for best variety series and won three times.

A favorite feature consisted of an unrehearsed question-and-answer segment with the audience in CBS Studio 33 (now Bob Barker Studio) lasting about three to four minutes at the start of most shows. Burnett stated that she borrowed the concept from Garry Moore, who did the same on his variety show, but never taped it.[6] Burnett asked for the lights to be turned up ("let's bump up the lights") and then randomly picked audience members who raised their hands. Burnett often ad-libbed funny answers, but occasionally ended up as the straight (wo)man. For example:

Young woman: "Have you ever taken acting lessons?"
Carol: "Yes, I have."
Young woman: "Do you think it did any good?"

The show was rehearsed each day until its two Friday tapings. Differently colored cue cards (black, blue, green, and red) were used for each major performer ("Carol Burnett: Bump-Up The Lights"). The second taping was fairly routine until Tim Conway came aboard as a guest star. As a recurring guest star from the show's launch and later a regular cast member, Conway provided unrehearsed bits to sketches that became known to the staff as "Conway's Capers". Conway would play the first taping straight, but ad-lib bizarre scenarios during the second. Some notable clips included Conway as a Nazi interrogator berating an American captive (Lyle Waggoner). Using a Hitler puppet and a pencil as a "club", Conway sang three verses of "I've Been Working on the Railroad" as Waggoner tried in vain to ignore him. Some, like the Hitler puppet, made it into the final broadcast; others, like a notably convoluted story about Siamese elephants joined at the trunk (ad-libbed during a 1977 "Mama's Family" sketch), were edited, the uncensored version only appearing years later on CBS specials. Conway's favorite victim was Harvey Korman, who often broke character reacting to Conway's zaniness, such as when Conway played a dentist misusing Novocain or the recurring role of "The Oldest Man" – an elderly, shuffling, senile man who slowly rolled down stairways and fell prey to various mechanical mishaps (including an electric wheelchair and an automated dry-cleaning rack).

The show also became known for its closing theme song, written by Burnett's husband, with these lyrics:[7]

I'm so glad we had this time together
Just to have a laugh or sing a song
Seems we just get started and before you know it
Comes the time we have to say, "So long."

At the close of each episode, Burnett tugged her ear. This silent message was meant for her grandmother, who raised her, and meant she was thinking of her at that moment. After her grandmother's death, Burnett continued the tradition.

When The Carol Burnett Show made its network debut on CBS-TV in September 1967, it was scheduled on Monday nights at 10:00 pm opposite NBC’s I Spy and ABC’s The Big Valley. At the end of its first season and through the spring of 1971, it consistently ranked among the top-30 programs. (For the 1969–70 season, it posted its highest rating ever, ranking at number 13.) For season five, CBS moved the show to Wednesday nights at 8:00 pm, where its chief competition was NBC’s Adam-12 and the ABC sitcoms Bewitched and The Courtship of Eddie's Father. Despite the schedule change, the show continued to do well until the fall of 1972, when the ratings slipped. In December 1972, CBS again moved The Carol Burnett Show to Saturday nights at 10:00 pm (EST) where, for the next four years, it not only received solid ratings, but was also part of a powerhouse Saturday-night lineup of primetime shows that included All in the Family, M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and The Bob Newhart Show.

In the 1973–74 season, the "Family" sketches (with Burnett as Eunice, Korman as her husband Ed, and Lawrence as Eunice's mother) were introduced and the "Carol and Sis" segments were phased out. At the end of that season (the series' seventh), after having been with The Carol Burnett Show from the beginning, Lyle Waggoner left the series to pursue other acting opportunities. The following season, Waggoner's spot as a supporting regular remained vacant. Don Crichton, the lead male dancer on the show, began to inherit some of Waggoner's duties. Then in season nine, because of his many popular guest appearances on the series, Tim Conway was signed as a full-time regular, joining Korman and Lawrence.

From left to right: Conway, Burnett, and Dick Van Dyke in the final season

In November, 1976, the series' tenth year, The Carol Burnett Show presented its ultimate classic sketch - "Went with the Wind!", a take-off on the 1939 film Gone with the Wind which had aired for the first time that month on NBC the week before. After the 1976-77 season ended, Harvey Korman decided to leave the series. After a decade of working with Burnett and winning several Emmy Awards, Korman had been offered a contract by ABC to headline his own series. Also, the ratings had begun to decline. Nevertheless, CBS renewed Burnett's show for an 11th season.

Dick Van Dyke, fresh from headlining his own short-lived Emmy-winning variety series, Van Dyke & Company, was brought in to replace Korman. However, his presence did not help stem the sagging ratings, as the show faced new competition in ABC's The Love Boat. After three months, Van Dyke departed the show, and CBS, in a desperate attempt to save the series, moved The Carol Burnett Show from Saturday nights at 10:00 pm to Sunday nights at the same hour, beginning in December 1977. Regular guest stars Steve Lawrence and Ken Berry were brought in to fill the void left by Korman and Van Dyke. The ratings improved considerably.

CBS wanted to renew the show for another year, but by this time, Burnett had grown tired of the weekly grind and wanted to explore acting roles outside of the comedy genre, despite her success in it. With the changes in cast along with the mediocre ratings, she felt that television was undergoing a transition and that the variety series format was on its way out. Therefore, Burnett decided to end the series on her own rather than be canceled later. Thus, on March 29, 1978, in a special two-hour finale entitled "A Special Evening with Carol Burnett", The Carol Burnett Show left primetime television after 11 years, finishing its last season in 66th place. Reruns were aired during the summer of 1978.

Notable characters/sketches

Burnett as the Charwoman
Burnett as Eunice with Madeline Kahn in "The Family" sketch

Movie parodies

The curtain dress worn by Burnett in the "Went with the Wind" sketch

A notable sketch was the 1976 parody "Went with the Wind!", in which Scarlett O'Hara must fashion a gown from curtains; Burnett, as Starlett, descends a long staircase wearing a green curtain complete with hanging rod. When Starlett is complimented on her "gown", she replies, "Thank you. I saw it in a window and I just couldn't resist it." The outfit, designed by Bob Mackie, is now on display at the Smithsonian Institution.[11]

In addition to Gone with the Wind, The Carol Burnett Show featured many movie parodies. These included take-offs of, for example, Airport, Babes in Arms, Beach Blanket Bingo, Born to Be Bad, Caged, Double Indemnity, The Enchanted Cottage, From Here to Eternity, The Heiress, Jaws, The Little Foxes, Love Story, Mildred Pierce, National Velvet, The Petrified Forest, Pillow Talk, Random Harvest, Rebecca, Rose Marie, San Francisco, Show Boat, The Scarlet Pimpernel, A Stolen Life, Sunset Boulevard, Torch Song, and When My Baby Smiles at Me.

After the series

Continuations and revivals

In the fall of 1977, while the series was still running in prime time, the comedy sketches of the show were re-edited into freestanding programs; the resulting show enjoyed success for many years in syndicated reruns (as Carol Burnett and Friends, a half-hour edition of selected 1972–77 material).

In the spring of 1979, a year after The Carol Burnett Show left the air, Burnett and her husband Joe Hamilton were dining in a restaurant with friends which included Tim Conway. At that gathering, Burnett got wistful and started reminiscing about the show and making suggestions to Conway of future sketches that she wished they could create if the show were still running. Hamilton suggested to Burnett that she do a summer series. Taking that idea, Burnett and Hamilton approached CBS about doing a four-week program in the summer of 1979. CBS already had their schedule filled for the summer months and rejected the idea. However, ABC was interested and as a result, four postscript episodes of The Carol Burnett Show were produced. Under the title Carol Burnett & Company, the show premiered on Saturday, August 18, 1979, and included many favorite sketches such as "Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins", "The Family", "As The Stomach Turns", and Burnett doing her impersonation of Queen Elizabeth II. Its format was very much similar to Burnett's series with two exceptions. Due to the unavailability of Harvey Korman (who, ironically, had been under contract to ABC since he had left Burnett's show in 1977), comic actors Kenneth Mars and Craig Richard Nelson were added to the supporting cast, thereby joining Lawrence and Conway. Ernie Flatt, who had been the choreographer on Burnett's show for its entire 11-year run, was replaced by the show's lead dancer Don Crichton. The guest stars in that four-week period were chronologically Cheryl Ladd, Alan Arkin, Penny Marshall, and Sally Field. The reviews of the series were very favorable, with several critics heartily welcoming Burnett back to weekly television, albeit on a limited basis. The ratings also were respectable and plans were announced for the program to become a yearly summer event, but it never happened.

The "Family" sketches led to a 1982 CBS made-for-television film called Eunice starring Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Betty White, and Ken Berry. The success of this program spawned a spin-off sitcom entitled Mama's Family starring Vicki Lawrence and Ken Berry, which ran from 1983 to 1990. It occasionally featured Burnett and Harvey Korman guest-starring as Eunice and Ed Higgins, respectively. In the first year and a half of the show's run, Korman also appeared as narrator Alastair Quince introducing each episode (a parody of Alastair Cooke hosting Masterpiece Theatre) and also directed 31 episodes of the series.

NBC aired a comedy half-hour repertory series called Carol & Company that premiered in March 1990. It proved to be moderately successful in the ratings and was renewed for a second season. The regulars on the show included Peter Krause, Jeremy Piven, Terry Kiser, Meagen Fay, Anita Barone, and Richard Kind (and occasional guest stars such as Betty White and Burt Reynolds); each week's show was a different half-hour comedy play. This program lasted until July 1991.

CBS brought back The Carol Burnett Show for another run in the fall of 1991; new regulars included Meagen Fay and Richard Kind (brought over from the NBC show), and Chris Barnes, Roger Kabler, and Jessica Lundy. However, the times had changed and Burnett's humor, however hilarious and funny, seemed rather tame in the cutting-edge flavor of the 1990s. As a result, the series failed to catch on with the public and only nine episodes of this revival were aired.

In 1994, reruns of the syndicated Carol Burnett and Friends package aired on Nickelodeon. The show also aired on The Family Channel in 1996 and on TV Land as part of that network's inaugural lineup. Beginning in January 2015, the show airs on Me-TV at 11:00 EST.[12]


The cast of The Carol Burnett Show was reunited on three CBS specials:

List of guest stars

Note: only the first appearance by the guest star is listed.

Season 1 (1967–1968)

Season 2 (1968–1969)

Skit with Mel Torme, 1969

Season 3 (1969–1970)

Season 4 (1970–1971)

Season 5 (1971–1972)

Season 6 (1972–1973)

Season 7 (1973–1974)

Season 8 (1974–1975)

Season 9 (1975–1976)

Season 10 (1976–1977)

Season 11 (1977–1978)


Considering her large body of work, and due in great part to this TV show, Burnett received Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, and was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor in October 2013.[13]

In 2009, TV Guide ranked "Went with the Wind" number 53 on its list of the 100 Greatest Episodes.[14]

On September 13, 2016, Burnett released her new Carol Burnett Show memoir titled In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox. The book, full of anecdotes about the 1967–1978 variety series, covers the history of how Burnett created the show, how she cast her co-stars, the co-star she once fired (and quickly rehired), and all the show's memorable characters (Mama, Eunice, Mr. Tudball, Mrs. Wiggins, and the rest).[15]


In the early 2000s, certain full-length episodes of The Carol Burnett Show were released on VHS and DVD by Columbia House on a subscription basis (now discontinued). Guthy-Renker released another DVD collection, The Carol Burnett Show Collector's Edition.

In August 2012, Time–Life released The Carol Burnett Show - The Ultimate Collection on DVD in Region 1. This 22-disc set features 50 episodes from the series, selected by Burnett. It also contains bonus features, including interviews with the cast, featurettes, sketches that were never aired, and a 24-page commemorative booklet.

In August 2015, Time–Life released The Carol Burnett Show - The Lost Episodes on DVD in Region 1. This 22-disc set features 45 episodes from the series' first five years (1967–72), selected by Burnett. It also contains bonus features, including interviews with the cast, featurettes, and a 24-page commemorative booklet.[16] Previously, due to an ongoing legal battle with the production company Bob Banner Associates, the episodes from those seasons had never appeared in syndication nor been released on home media.[17]

Nielsen ratings/broadcast schedule

Season Rank [18] Rating Time slot
1 (1967–68) #27 20.1 Mondays at 10:00 pm
2 (1968–69) #24 20.8
3 (1969–70) #13 22.1
4 (1970–71) #25 19.8
5 (1971–72) #23 21.2 Wednesdays at 8:00 pm
6 (1972–73) #22 20.3
7 (1973–74) #27 20.1 Saturdays at 10:00 pm
8 (1974–75) #29 20.4
9 (1975–76) 20.5 Saturdays at 10:00 pm
10 (1976–77) #44 18.9
11 (1977–78) #66 16.4
12 (1991) Fridays at 9:00 pm


  1. "The Carol Burnett Show (sitcom)". The Media Management Group. 2008. Retrieved April 28, 2008.
  2. "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows". CBS News. February 11, 2009. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  3. Poniewozik, James (September 6, 2007). "The 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME". Time. Retrieved March 4, 2010.
  4. Fretts, Bruce; Roush, Matt. "The Greatest Shows on Earth". TV Guide Magazine. 61 (3194-3195): 16–19.
  5. Herman, Karen (29 April 2003). "Interview: Carol Burnett". Archive of American Television.
  6. "The Florence Henderson Show" RLTV, 2009
  7. Bell, Warren (November 9, 2009). "Have a Laugh and Sing a Song". Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  8. Burnett, Carol. "Featurette: Fabulous Firsts". Carol Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes Limited Edition (7 DVD Collection) (Interview). Interview with Carol Burnett Show: The Lost Episodes Limited Edition (7 DVD Collection).
  9. Lambert, Bruce (May 30, 2008). "Harvey Korman of 'Burnett Show' Dies at 81". New York Times. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
  10. King, Susan. "Tim Conway's life off script", Los Angeles Times, November 11, 2013. Accessed September 6, 2016.
  11. Rhodes, Jesse (May 14, 2009). "Carol Burnett—We Just Can't Resist Her!". Smithsonian. Retrieved August 19, 2011.
  12. MeTV Chicago Program Schedule Accessed January 1, 2015
  13. "Carol Burnett to win top U.S. humor prize in DC". CBS News. Associated Press. May 21, 2013. Retrieved 2015-03-11.
  14. "TV Guide's Top 100 Episodes". Rev/Views. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  15. Carol Burnett relives show’s comedic genius with In Such Good Company at The Washington Post
  17. "Carol Burnett Sued In Dispute Over Copyright And TV Show Revenue". November 21, 2012. Retrieved 2015-03-11.
  18. "TV Ratings". Retrieved February 17, 2013.

Further reading

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