The Carol Burnett Show is an American TV variety/sketch comedy show that ran for eleven seasons from 1967 to 1978, then for nine episodes in 1991. Starring Carol Burnett, Vicky Lawrence, Harvey Korman, Lyle Wagoner, and Tim Conway, the series was a huge hit that made America laugh out loud for eleven years. It bagged 25 Emmy Awards, was ranked on TV Guide’s list of “60 Greatest Shows of All Time”, and was listed as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All Time.”
Here are some of the interesting facts about The Carol Burnett Show you may want to know:
1. Carol Burnett’s signature ear tug was a message for her grandmother.
During the end of every episode, Carol Burnett tugged her ear lobe as a way of telling her grandmother “Hello, I love you.” Burnett’s grandmother passed away while the show was running, but the star continued to tug her ear as a tribute to her.
2. A total stranger helped Carol Burnett start her acting career.
When Burnett was nearing graduation from UCLA as a drama student, she and her fellow students attended a send-off party for a professor. She performed a scene from the musical “Annie Get Your Gun,” then an unknown man approached her and commended her performance. The stranger, after learning Burnett wanted to be on Broadway but didn’t have the means, offered her $1,000 to help her get started, but on three conditions: she must repay him in five years without interest, that she must never reveal his identity, and that she should do the same gesture for someone once she became successful. She thought about it over the weekend and decided to take the chance, despite her grandmother and mother’s advice not to heed the man.
3. Vicki Lawrence met Carol Burnett through writing her a fan letter.
When Vicki Lawrence was in high school, she wrote a fan letter to Carol Burnett and mentioned their physical resemblance, with a photo and a news clip that featuring her upcoming appearance in the “Miss Fireball” contest in Inglewood, California. Burnett showed up and urged Lawrence to audition for a role on the show. When the show started, Lawrence was just 18 years old.
4. Each episode was filmed twice in front of two audiences.
The series always felt like a live TV show, but every episode was taped twice in front of two different studio audiences. So each time an actor messed up a line, that means they did it twice.
5. Tim Conway’s iconic dentist skit was inspired by a true story.
The sketch where Tim Conway numbs his arm with Novocain was based on his true-to-life experience with a dentist while he was in the army. Conway exaggerated it in the skit which made Harvey Korman wet himself from laughing so hard.
6. Harvey Korman was a producers’ choice from the start.
When the producers began casting for the show, they wanted someone like Harvey Korman to co-star with Carol Burnett. But because Korman was a regular at The Danny Kaye show, they didn’t bother to actually ask him. Burnett herself begged Korman to join her show when she saw him in the CBS parking lot, and fortunately, Kaye’s show was about to get cancelled at that time. Korman accepted the offer shortly after that meeting.
7. Scripts are often of no use for Tim Conway.
Tim Conway was famous for not following the script and for ad-libbing during long sketches, which amused his co-stars especially Korman and annoyed Lawrence. Conway became a frequent guest star when Lyle Waggoner left the show in 1974, and was hired to replace him the next year.
8. Dick van Dyke’s stint was too short because he did not blend well with the cast.
When Harvey Korman left after the 10th season, Dick van Dyke was hired as a replacement. But he had no chemistry with the rest of the cast and the audience did not like him on the show, so he left after three months. Burnett said, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.”
9. “Mr. Tudball” was almost a spin-off.
Tim Conway was offered the chance to be the lead in a spin-off series entitled “Mr. Tudball.” However, he declined the offer because he never saw enough potential for a storyline and because Carol Burnett wasn’t able to be there to play Ms. Wiggins.
10. Carol Burnett wanted to guest Bette Davis but she never did.
Over the eleven seasons, The Carol Burnett show featured the biggest personalities of the entertainment industry at the time. However, Bette Davis was the only guest Burnett wanted so much to have on the show but never did, because she demanded a bigger talent fee than the amount the show had budgeted. Joe Hamilton, Burnett’s then-husband and the show’s executive producer, chose not to give in to the actress’ demand.