Carol Burnett Shows

by Billy Ingram

Carol Burnett Show

No question, the most successful variety show of all-time was The Carol Burnett Show (CBS 1967-1978). But one variety show failure almost derailed Carol Burnett's amazing career before it really got going.

Carol Burnett got her start in off-Broadway theatre, first achieved national attention with a novelty tune entitled "I Made A Fool Of Myself Over John Foster Dulles" (Eisenhower's prim Secretary of State - don't ask), then made her way to television via appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Burnett's first regular series role was on a sitcom called 'Stanley' (Sept. 1956 - March 1957) - one of those early TV shows with a high-quality pedigree that failed to catch on.

Carol Burnett ShowIn 'Stanley', Buddy Hackett starred as the lackadaisical manager of a hotel lobby newstand/ticket agency in New York City, and Carol Burnett played his loopy girlfriend Celia. Writers and producers from Sid Caesar's 'Your Show of Shows' were behind the production - produced and directed by Max Liebman, with playwrite Neil Simon on the writing staff. This NBC sitcom (broadcast live) barely lasted one season.

Carol Burnett ShowDuring the run of 'Stanley', Burnett did a guest shot on the 'Garry Moore Show' (1950-1958), a popular daytime variety program on CBS. This led to Burnett's next big break - as a regular player on the prime-time Gary Moore Show (1958-1964), one of the most easy-going variety shows of the early-sixties.

Carol Burnett ShowThe producer of the show was Joe Hamilton (with Bob Banner) - Hamilton and Burnett eventually married and had three children (which caused a minor scandal and almost cost wholesome Burnett her career since Hamilton was already married with children when they began going out).

With a pliable face and a circus contortionist's body (TV Guide called her "the girl in the rubber mask"), Carol Burnett won the hearts of TV viewers playing the nervous klutz in dozens of hilarious skits on the Moore show. She was an instant hit with the home audience, one of the emerging medium's first bright stars.

Carol Burnett ShowEach week, hapless Carol would find herself in the most outrageous predicaments. No matter how sketchy the script, the comedienne turned each piece into a farcical romp with her spasmatic interpretations. She quickly became the de-facto star of the program.

In 1962, Burnett left the 'Gary Moore Show' to tour and in 1964 turned up as one of three rotating hosts on 'The Entertainers' (a variety series that featured Bob Newhart and Caterina Valente as the other two hosts).

The series was a huge, unanticipated flop, lasting less than a year. Almost nothing has been written about 'The Entertainers', everyone involved seems to have blotted the series from their resumes.

Despite this blunder, CBS gave Carol Burnett a ten-year, million-dollar contract to make one special a season and do two guest shots on the network. She refused to do another traditional sitcom, reasoning "They would probably name me Gertrude or Agnes, and that's all I'd be forever".

Over the next three years, Burnett hosted some of the finest variety specials ever broadcast (including her Emmy Award winning special 'Julie and Carol at Lincoln Center') until CBS finally talked her into hosting a weekly variety series of her own.


NEXT: The Carol Burnett Show And Beyond

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Carol Burnett Show

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Carol Burnett's
Worst Special?

Carol Burnett's last special in 1967 before starting her long-running variety series was the closest thing she had done to a straight-ahead variety show format since leaving the 'Gary Moore Show'.

The result was Carol + 2 - an unsatisfying mix of luke-warm skits and flat performances, very unusual for a Burnett special (which were all highly acclaimed).

Guests on the show were Lucille Ball and Zero Mostel. The opening theme music was some of the most bizarre ever written for a comedy special ('Night Gallery', maybe) and the set is decorated with gigantic, grotesque caricatures of the three stars.

Burnett must have learned something from this experience - 'The Carol Burnett Show' began production just a few weeks later with much better results.



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