Carol Burnett nearly quit The Carol Burnett Show halfway through its run

We might have never seen Mama's Family, Mrs. Wiggins and the curtain dress.

Image: The Everett Collection

In 1980, Carol Burnett sat down for an interview with Panorama Magazine for a look back at her successful career. The Carol Burnett Show had wrapped up its groundbreaking 11-season run of side-splitting sketches not too long before the chat. The comedy superstar made a startling revelation.

"The only time I'd embraced the idea of stopping [The Carol Burnett Show] was during our fifth season," Burnett confessed. "Our writers weren't coming up with sketches that Harvey Korman and I found challenging to do, and we both felt we were starting to outgrow the show's material… We went through a lot of writers that fifth year, but we never got the combination that we wanted. So I really thought about quitting."

Out of ideas? A lack of quality writing? In 1972? That's shocking when you consider the genius work pumped out by the show in season six and beyond.

"Went with the Wind!" — the skit that skewered Gone with the Wind with a Bob Mackie gown made of green curtains — first aired in 1976. Mrs. Wiggins first wiggled her way across Mr. Tudball's office that same year, in season nine. "The Family," the recurring skit centering around Thelma Harper and her kin, which led to the long-running sitcom spin-off Mama's Family, debuted in season seven.

In fact, most of what you see in reruns would not have existed. Seasons 6–11, now bundled as Carol Burnett and Friends, make up the bulk of syndication.

What changed Carol's mind? What saved the show? In short, she took more risks and challenged herself. That included axing beloved characters.

"The following season we got several new writers, and we developed new characters and new ways of doing things," Burnett explained. "I stopped doing some of the tried-and-true characters I felt safe with. For instance, I dropped Zelda, the nagging housewife, who by then was giving me a headache. I think we got more daring."

The icon even pushed herself to change her physical performance.

"I got more adult about my comedy. I didn't really plan it, but I just became less dependent on mugging or crossing my eyes to get a laugh," the then 47-year-old said. "I started searching for the truth in a sketch, and there is always a truth in every sketch, even if it's one in which you get hit with a pie in the face."

Isn't that what truly sets apart the greats? Those who dare to shake things up? We're glad she did — and gave her show a second chance. She was, too, obviously.

"I got a second wind and changed my mind — and I'm glad I did," she said. "Because I think we all would have really missed not doing the show." You and us, Carol. You and us.

Watch Carol Burnett and Friends on MeTV!

Weeknights at 11 PM

*available in most MeTV markets
 
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

5 Comments

Post a comment
Sjb 1 day ago
I love this show and Carol Burnett. I just hate that METV has it on at 11:30 pm., Sam
MrsPhilHarris 1 day ago
I loved that show but I haven't seen it in years.
t 2 days ago
Too bad, this show wasn't funny then and it did not age well at all. Watching it in reruns is torture... I catch the last few minutes while waiting for Perry Mason to come on.
Gary t 1 day ago
Great.
Pacificsun 3 days ago
I think it was very honest of Carol to admit the limitations of the Show, and how they overcame them. Particularly for taking personal responsibility for having hit a brick wall. Not too many performers would do that, because it's so easy to blame it on writer's.

Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball were good friends. I'd be curious to know if Carol sought LB's advice. Because it's a sensitive thing to admit a performer's personal comedic limitations. LB (of course) played a single character. And yet it must've been challenging to find fresh ways to showcase her talent. I wonder if LB ever felt they'd run out of ideas. And how she (obviously) solved the problem.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?