8 things you never knew about 'The Carol Burnett Show'

One of America's funniest shows had a few secrets to its success.

Image: The Everett Collection

For eleven years, Carol Burnett made people around the country laugh out loud with The Carol Burnett Show. Well, it wasn't just a laugh, was it? It was more like a sidesplitting cackle that made you double over. That's how funny Burnett was, along with costars Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner, and Tim Conway.

Sit back, smile, and enjoy these eight facts about the incredibly groundbreaking show. 


1. Vicki Lawrence was only 18 when the show started.

Despite not having very much experience, Lawrence got a part on the show because she wrote Burnett a fan letter while in high school about their physical resemblance. In the letter, Lawrence also mentioned she was competing in the "Miss Fireball" contest in Inglewood, California. Burnett showed up to support the pageant queen, and even urged her to audition for a role on the show. 

Image: Wikipedia

2. Each episode was taped twice.

Despite having the feel of a live TV program, each episode was taped twice in front of different studio audiences. That meant that if an actor flubbed a line in both takes, it was still included in the final edited episode. 

3. Burnett's famous ear tug had a special meaning.

Every week, viewers watched Burnett tug at her ear lobe at the end of the show. The gesture wasn't a stage cue, but rather a message for her grandmother saying "Hello, I love you." Even though Burnett's grandmother passed away while the show was still on air, the star continued to tug her ear.

4. One famous designer had a lot of influence...

Bob Mackie is best known for designing dramatic and elegant gowns for celebrities like Cher and Liza Minnelli, but he also had a major part in some of the show's funniest moments. Mackie was behind the idea of Burnett wearing the curtain rod dress with the drapes, making the moment infinitely more hilarious. In fact, some consider the curtain rod dress his most famous creation. Mackie also found the dress for Eunice on "The Family" at a thrift store. 

5. ... and so did Burnett's husband.

Burnett's husband, Joe Hamilton, also influenced the program in a couple of ways. He wrote the show's ending theme song, and also created the Q&A session to warm up the audience at the beginning of the program. Hamilton also served as an executive producer. 

Image: Wikia

6. Dick Van Dyke was a cast member.

Although Burnett was the star of the show, she was supported by an incredibly talented cast that included Lawrence, Korman, Waggoner, and Conway. When Korman left after the tenth season, Dick Van Dyke replaced him. The lack of chemistry among the cast members and Van Dyke proved to be a disaster, which is why he left after three months. 

Image: Wikipedia

7. Conway's famous dentist sketch was based on a true story.

The sketch where Conway accidentally numbs his arm with Novocain was based on an experience he had in real life. While getting work done on his teeth, Conway's dentist accidentally injected his thumb with the drug. In 2013, Conway told Conan O'Brien that the sketch made Korman wet himself from laughing so hard. 

8. Mr. Tudball could have been a spin-off.

The Carol Burnett Show's famous recurring sketch called "The Family" inspired the popular spin-off Mama's Family. Another character that could have been the lead in a spin-off series was Mr. Tudball. Executives approached Conway about the idea, but he turned them down because he didn't see the potential for a storyline and Burnett wouldn't be there to play Ms. Wiggins. 

9. The show never ranked in the top 10.

The Carol Burnett Show is consistently ranked on critics' lists as one of the best television programs of all time. However, the series was not a ratings juggernaut when it aired from 1967 to 1978. Although the show peaked at No. 13 in the Nielsen ratings during the 1969-1970 season, it consistently ranked in the 20s for the first nine seasons.

 
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SignOTimes 6 months ago
It did not get any better than Carol Burnett and Dick Van Dyke back then. It seems like it should have been a match made in comedy heaven. Thank God will still have then both with us.
They are some of the last icons that are connected to the times when American pop culture had some class and values.
F5Twitster 6 months ago
“[Costume designer Bob] Mackie was behind the idea of Burnett wearing the curtain rod dress with the drapes, making the moment infinitely more hilarious. In fact, some consider the curtain rod dress his most famous creation.”

This neglects to mention that the dress was made for a sketch parodying the scene in “Gone with the Wind” in which Scarlett O’Hara has a dress made for her from drapery material in order to impress Rhett Butler.
carrman F5Twitster 6 months ago
It's one of the most famous scenes of the show's run. Everyone knows the skit.
sistervic 6 months ago
Love the show, it can be watched by everyone.
Drew 18 months ago
Has anyone under 40 or 45 actually seen The Carol Burnett Show in its true form? As opposed to this 30 minute folly that's been in syndication for the last thirty years... Were the originals (60 minute version) lost? Copyright issue? C'mon, MeTV, what's up with that? Inquiring minds want to know...
SuprChickn Drew 16 months ago
The dvds have full episode but although they have all 11 seasons streaming on the Shout TV app, they are the shortened versions. Free and on-demand with very few commercials though.
MzBruner Drew 8 months ago
PlutoTV has a whole channel dedicated to Carol Burnett. You should download it’s free. Full 45 minute episodes run 24hrs
pdbronco Drew 6 months ago
The issue is usually broadcast rights to the musical numbers. This has plagued a number of variety shows of the 60s and 70s, not to mention music-dependent comedy shows like WKRP.
gerardarcade Drew 6 months ago
I doubt it's a broadcast rights problem, especially seeing that many DVD compilations contain the full, 60-min episodes. And even in the syndicated version airing on Shout Factory, the one-hour episodes have been split into two segments; you'll notice the disparity if you watch long enough to see that sometimes, the guests Carol announces don't appear in any of the segments, save for the closing credits. As someone who has viewed those select full episodes on DVD, I think it's merely a truncated-for-syndication decision. The majority of musical numbers that were not tied to any movie parodies have not aged well - for instance, I recently saw a musical 'tribute' to Smokey the Bear that was positively awful. And I wont even get into the musical segments featuring Vicki Lawrence, whose sole objective was to further her 'career' as a pop recording artist.
RedSamRackham 18 months ago
* Mr. Tudball was previously named Mr. Voopeedoo on Tim Conway's own show * During Q&A session an audience member asked if they were going to see a live show or a rerun. ☺
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