Fifty Years of the Carol Burnett Show

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By Nick Thomas

A couple of years ago, visitors to Carol Burnett’s home might have observed the comedy legend glued to the TV set, binge-watching every episode of her old variety show. But it wasn’t a case of extreme celebrity vanity sweeping through the Burnett household.

2. Cover of Burnett's book - In Such Good Company Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox. Publicity photo.“I’d been getting calls from writers wanting to interview me about the show,” said Ms. Burnett from Los Angeles. “So I thought, maybe I should write a definitive history of the 11 years I worked on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ because, after all, I was there!”

Her timing was perfect. “In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox” was published late last year as a prelude to this year’s 50th anniversary of the show, first broadcast in September, 1967.

“I watched all the episodes – over 270 of them – in a period of several weeks. I fast-forwarded through the sketches that I remembered, but really wanted to jog my memory about the ones I’d forgotten. Watching also helped me remember behind-the-scenes stories and the great variety of guests that appeared each week.”

As she progressed through the viewing marathon, Burnett says it was fascinating to observe the cast evolve.

“We all improved over the first 3 or 4 years. Harvey (Korman) was brilliant from the beginning, but even he honed his craft. Vicki (Lawrence) was 18 and right out of high school at the start, so Harvey took her under his wing teaching her accents and giving her acting tips. She absorbed everything like a sponge and millions of viewers watched her evolve into a brilliant comedienne.”

In addition to its impressive guest list, the show is legendary for the cast ‘breaking up’ during filming.

“People remember those sketches and think we did it all the time but we really didn’t,” she laughed. “Nor did we ever do it on purpose and it was mostly when Tim (Conway) was on. We’d tape two shows on Fridays with different audiences. Tim would do it the way we rehearsed for the first taping, then go crazy for the second without telling anyone what he would be doing.”

For all her television work, Burnett amassed an incredible collection of honors, including 3 personal Emmy’s just for “The Carol Burnett Show.”

“Of course, I’m proud of the awards and they’re sitting on a shelf – but I don’t go and polish them every day!” she laughed.

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