Carol Burnett loved a good spoof on The Carol Burnett Show

Carol Burnett was the queen at spoofing, but not everyone wanted to be part of the joke.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

Everything was starting to change for television in the 1970s. It was the time of the Archie Bunker character to rise up from the ashes and enter our lives. Sitcoms, variety shows, anti-heroes, fantasy and more diversity within cast and crew ignited a change.

To adapt to the changing landscape of TV, many television shows had to adjust the way they did things. The Carol Burnett Show was one of them.

"We're changing," Burnett said in a 1972 interview with Lancaster New Era. "We're cutting down on the double entendre lines. Our philosophy on the show has always been, well, it's nice if we throw in lines and situations that go over kids' heads and the parents get it. But if it's right on the head — no, we're getting away from that and I thought it's for the better."

A part of the change came during The Carol Burnett Show's sixth season. The show used to have a 10 p.m. airtime, which Burnett said she preferred, but with the change in TV, the timeslot for the show was moved to 8 p.m.

The 8 p.m. timeslot gave the show more exposure which led to higher ratings from both kids and their parents. According to the interview, Burnett said she loved satiric lampoons of movies, old and new. And she was really good at doing them too.

However, not everyone loved Burnett's spoofs. In fact, there were a few actors who really despised being the brunt of Burnett's jokes. Burnett's spoof of Love Story, a 1970 romantic drama, left a couple people questioning her humor.

"I did hear from Ali MacGraw and she said she enjoyed what we did, but Ryan O'Neal was sore about it," Burnett said. "That role meant so much to him. He cornered me afterward at a party and expressed a lot of outrage that we would do such a thing in the way we did. I let him talk, and then I said to him 'Ryan, come on now, we've even spoofed Doris Day!'"

And she did. In fact, she spoofed over hundreds of TV shows and films onstage during The Carol Burnett Show. Some of these spoofs included: Esther Williams, Joan Crawford, Gone with the Wind, Cleopatra, Tarzan, Dragnet and more.

At the time of this interview, Burnett hadn't had the chance to meet either Doris Day or Joan Crawford.

"Actually, I'd be upset if I knew they were upset, but I just can't believe they were," Burnett said. "Sure, when I did my Doris Day thing, I over-bubbled — well, you have to exaggerate in a sketch. That's what a comedy sketch is all about — funny exaggeration. I'd be willing to give equal time. I mean, if Joan Crawford wanted to do me!"

In terms of comedy material, Burnett knew exactly where she wanted the show to go and how to progress it. Not only was she ready for change, in many ways, she was excited about it.

"I have no desire to do any chi-chi stuff, and I don't want to do serious social satire," Burnett said. "The best thing we do is takeoffs on things people are familiar with — movies, soap operas. I like our soap opera spoofs, even though some soap fans write in to protest. But all we're doing is satirizing what's actually on the air in the afternoons. All we do is try to make the sketches a little dippy, and you know, nutty."

Watch The Carol Burnett Show on MeTV!

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16 Comments

DeborahRoberts 8 months ago
No doubt I've seen it, but don't remember Burnett's "Love Story" spoof. O'Neal is attention-seeking, and that was his big break. If she'd infringed on the copyright, she would have heard from the studio, not him. But her take on Crawford's "Mildred Pierce" was a scream. It's one of my favorite films, and Carol did a great takeoff on it. I'm sure Joan was flattered to be included in Carol's repertoire. It is a sincere form of flattery.
2Stepper 8 months ago
I’m new here and still feeling my way around! I will get better with age, I’m 81 now so I better hurry 😎
BenSobeleone 8 months ago
In that black and white photo, it looks like Ricardo wants to wrap up Carol with rich Corinthian leather!
cheduff 8 months ago
Ryan O’Neal reminds me of the black and white of Jack Webb. Both were sardonic and grasped the opportunity to give a lecture.
tootsieg 8 months ago
Who wouldn’t want to be spoofed? The spoofs were the best part of the show.
MrsPhilHarris 8 months ago
Ryan O’Neal has always been full of self-importance so it does not surprise me he would be bent out of shape.
MrsPhilHarris 8 months ago
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MrsPhilHarris daDoctah 8 months ago
Lol he is awful. From what I remember he told that story himself so it’s not an urban legend.
Coreysan 8 months ago
I have always loved carol Burnett's shows. Fabulous. I can't imagine anyone taking humor seriously, like Ryan O'Neal.

It's necessary to laugh at ourselves, because, as "Firesign Theatre" pointed out, "We're all bozos on this bus."

I hope Carol is doing well, and I miss Tim now more than ever.
CoreyC 8 months ago
The Carol Burnett Show was the best in spoofing movies and soap operas. As the Stomach Turns was fantastic.
Deleted 8 months ago
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LoveMETV22 8 months ago
Guess even the queen of spoofing has her moments (old news) like when Family Guy did a parody of her Charwoman character, and she went after 20th Century Fox for copyright infringement. Although nothing came of it it showed everyone (Even Carol) has their moments.
MrsPhilHarris 8 months ago
How interesting. 🤔
8 months ago
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LoveMETV22 8 months ago
Yes, the issue was copyright infringement of the character she developed and using/parodying it in a skit. Fox (Family Guy is known for that),they do that in a lot of skits. Carol had every right to do so, even though it went no where. Although don't see networks Fox (for one), SNL, and surely there are others seeking approval from actors/individuals every time a spoof/parody is featured in one of their shows. Weird Al skits are a little different as they run a little longer than say a 10 second spot.
However on a different spin and probably a bit of a double-standard, wonder if networks/production companies/etc....approach Disney if they plan on parodying one of their characters (South Park as one example), as Disney is known to aggressively protect their properties. Guess nothing is perfect.
DeborahRoberts 8 months ago
It all depends on how the character is used. You can parody a film character, but you can't portray the character without permission from the creators. Burnett's parodies were, for example, Miss Starlett, not Miss Scarlett, in her spoof of "Gone With the Wind." If she'd come out as Miss Scarlett, you can bet the Mitchell estate would have sued because they were very aggressive in protecting the GWTW copyright. Disney sued the Academy Awards because the Oscars used a character modeled on Disney's cartoon of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in a (really bizarre) sketch without permission. You can use fairy tales, but they'd better not resemble Disney's copyrighted and trademarked products.
LoveMETV22 8 months ago
Carol was always respectful when she parodied a character and did so in that manner. It's unfortunate that other production companies/networks/etc.... don't follow that path as well. Although she didn't get anywhere on her copyright infringement claim at least she got some coverage on it anyway.

It's not really a with/without permission from the creator scenario, as certain animated series creators do so on their own. Sort of a "buy now pay later plan."

Not to discredit Disney as they have created wonderful productions over the years, however they are sometimes to big for their britches, ( they know it too, as well as other companies within the entertainment industry). Their practice of merging/acquiring /buying other companies is probably one reason South Park creators spoof the company and its characters in their animated series.

So in all it doesn't look like the practice of parodying copyrighted characters ( in w/e form) is going away anytime soon.
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