When people whine about reality shows dominating TV and debasing the culture. They don’t realize how lucky they are. They have completely blocked out the time in the ’60s and ’70s when variety shows dominated the TV dial. Every star that had a minor hit records or spent a weekend on Broadway had their name stuck on a variety show. The semi-washed up stars would stumble through stale comedy sketches and schmaltz musical numbers. Even Howard Cosell had his own variety show. There were a few gems in the genre and the most dazzling diamond was The Carol Burnett Show. Carol Burnett had became a favorite performer on The Gary Moore Show and a hit on Broadway. This led to her snagging her own network series that lasted for 11 seasons.
The show started with a cast of Vicki Lawrence (Mama’s Family), Harvey Korman (Blazing Saddles) and Lyle Waggoner (Wonder Woman) as the supporting cast. Vicki would have pop stardom with “The Nights the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” But at the time she was cast since she looked like a younger Carol. Lyle was the handsome straight man. Harvey was a great wild card. Lyle left after the seventh season. Instead of bringing on another hunk, Carol choose Tim Conway (McHale’s Navy) to join the foursome. Fans of the show didn’t have a shock since Tim was a constant guest star on the series. The final season was a bit of casting mess with Harvey Korman quitting to develop his own sitcom. Carol snagged Dick Van Dyke to fill the slot, but he walked after half a season. This led to Ken Berry (F Troop) and crooner Steve Lawrence supporting in the final episodes. While Carol was offered a 12th season, she decided it was time to bring the curtain down. The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites is the first six DVDs of The Carol Burnett Show: The Ultimate Collection. The 16 selected episodes cover 1972 to 1977 when the show was at its creative prime.
“Show #1007” (1976) has Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) predict the rise reality TV shows in “Medical Documentary.” Roddy arrives in an operating room to cover Tim’s surgery for a reality hospital drama. He swears he’ll be a fly on the wall, but starts call the shots for the surgeon to make things more dramatic. He stands on Tim to get the right angle of incision. He even changes the operation to something more daring. Roddy ought to be the patron saint of Discovery Health. “Show #1002” (1976) tees off with Dinah Shore singing “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.” This episode is best know for having the legendary “Went With the Wind!” The sketch was timely in that Gone With the Wind had finally played broadcast television that year. While the sketch is hilarious, the biggest laugh comes from Bob Mackie’s dress made for Scarlet O’Hara. In the movie she made it from the drapes. Bob goes the extra step to clue Rhett into the nature of the material. “Show #1121” (1978) is another entry of the time when Steve Martin was really funny on TV. He even gets a little help from Betty White. Who could imagine that 33 years later, Betty White is the one that excites viewers with edgy routines while Steve makes Pink Panther phlops. He breaks out his new act of comedy aimed at dogs.
“Show #722” (1974) has a strange mixing of Roddy McDowall and The Jackson 5 yet it makes sense in retrospect. There’s a short film of Roddy getting into his chimp face for A Planet of the Apes. Years later Michael Jackson would take off his face thanks to plastic surgery. The Jackson 5 lay down the funk on “Dancing Machine.” They attempt to mix bright orange with plaid in the fashion daring ’70s. The brothers return for a music class sketch that includes “ABC.” “Show #811” (1974) guest stars Maggie Smith a few years before she became Professor Minerva McGonagall.
“Show #903” (1975) puts Carol and Shirley MacLaine in the stands as Little League moms. They get nasty during the game. “Show #812” (1974) unleashes “Disaster ’75. Ken Berry and Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show) spoof Earthquake and Towering Inferno. Can Hollywood destroy everything in one film? “Show #921” (1976) invites Joanne Woodward into Eunice’s house. You might know some of the characters from Mama’s Family sitcom that ran for six seasons. Vicki played that annoying mother in the sketches and the sitcom. “Show #716” (1974) brings back Carl Reiner to joke about people who can’t help getting in accidents.
“Show #814” (1975) scares the audience with Joan Rivers and Vincent Price. Joan does her routine. She can talk. Vincent takes part in a “Ham Actor” sketch. “Show #611” (1972) duets Carol with Pearl Bailey for a finale musical based on “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” “Show #1022” (1977) lets Ken Berry sing and dance to “I Got Rhythm.” “Show #817” (1975) allows Rock Hudson and Nancy Walker to cut it up. They were co-stars on McMillian & Wife. “Show #1012” (1976) put Carol and Betty White in cheerleader outfits as two pom pom girls at their 50th reunion. They sing about what it takes to get ready at their age. Betty glams up to be a showgirl in the finale. “Show #803” (1974) lets Jim Nabors sing away. “Show #823” (1975) gives us a dose of Edith Bunker and Sgt. Bilko. Jean Stapleton and Phil Silvers spoof commercials and give us “Bilko’s New Army.”
A lot of the variety shows from this era are mostly worth watching for kitsch value. The Carol Burnett Show episodes on this set are still funny and entertaining. The sketches aren’t completely based in current events. The musical numbers are worked out well without gimmicks like roller disco or synchronized swimming. The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites are the favorites of more than the star.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame. The show was shot on video so the transfers reflect the source. Nothing is too painful. The resolution improves with the episodes toward the end of the run. The audio is Dolby Digital mono. The sound is good for a live show. Nobody seems to go off microphone that much.
Let’s Bump Up the Lights (35:31) reunites Carol, Vicki, Tim and Lyle. Lyle is still a handsome man. The foursome exchange Tarzan yells.
I Want to Push That Button (19:26) is a history of the series and Carol’s career. She had a contract with CBS that paid her for guest appearances and a clause to host her own variety show when she was ready. Bob Mackie talks about how he got hired for the show to create the wardrobe. They expose the Lyle Waggoner and Carl Reiner connection.
“The Dentist” (9:36) is a bonus sketch with Tim and Harvey from 1969.
The Garry Moore Show (33:58) features Carol’s first Tarzan yell from back in 1962. The show predicts who won’t be replacing Jack Paar on The Tonight Show. Alan King doesn’t guess Johnny Carson.
Ahhhh, Mrs. Wiggins (13:50) details the Tudball and Wiggins sketches. Tim didn’t believe it would become a long running sketch.
Interview with Carol Burnett (15:37) explains her contract clause with more details. She discusses the strangest question from an audience member.
Leading Lady – Carol Burnett as Television Pioneer (11:49) lets Jerry Lewis praise her comedic skills.
Harvey Korman and Tim Conway Together Again (46:19) has the duo chatting back in 2004. The two guys give each other the business.
Interviews with Betty White (7:24) and Carl Reiner (20:45) is more of their interviews used in the earlier featurettes.
The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites is perfect for those who miss the goodness that could be found in a variety show. Carol did a great job selecting the 16 best of 278 episodes. These are the ones that people have spoken about in the decades since it went off the air. The bonus features do a fine job creating context and the importance of Carol in TV history. If you can’t spring for The Ultimate Edition, Carol’s Favorite is the way to go.
Time-Life presents The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites. Starring: Carol Burnett, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and Harvey Korman. Boxset Contents: 16 episodes on 6 DVDs. Released: September 25, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.
Tags: Blazing Saddles, Carol Burnett, McHale's Navy, Wonder Woman