Carol Burnett shrugged off bad ratings on The Carol Burnett Show

When life gets you down, simply just shrug it all off. It worked for Burnett.

Image credit: The Everett Collection

When The Carol Burnett Show premiered in 1967, the main competition for the series included I Spy (1965) and The Big Valley (1965). After year one, The Carol Burnett Show proved it was a comedy force to be reckoned with.

But after 12 long and successful years on-air, the series celebrated the final curtain call while both I Spy and The Big Valley lapsed into syndication long before.

The Carol Burnett Show had something special. Between Burnett, Conway and the variety of dancers, singers and comedians who stopped by, the series outlasted and outperformed almost all of the other shows it started on television with. 

Despite all of her fans and accolades, Burnett and her variety program didn't always have it so easy. In the beginning, the show fell victim to critics and scathing reviews in articles across the country.

Of course, no comedy variety program at the time had ever lasted as long as The Carol Burnett Show. Part of the reason for her success was because Burnett would simply shrug it off and keep going. She didn't let the critics or ratings get her down — and it showed.

According to a 1978 interview with The Toronto Star, more trouble with The Carol Burnett Show began in 1978. The series sank to an all-time low in the ratings and landed 58th among other network shows in the 1977-1978 season.

CBS had shifted the show to Sunday night from Saturday where it joined the comedy block of All in the Family and Alice — two incredibly funny and difficult series to compete with — especially with a variety show.

Despite the time shift, Burnett said she was pleased with how the network treated her and her castmates, but the low ratings were another story. 

"Am I disappointed in this season's ratings?" Burnett began. "Disappointment implies high expectations, and that I didn't have. When I heard about The Love Boat, I said 'This will be a hit.' I've heard that before the season started they ran tests on Love Boat against detective shows and other kinds of programs. The Love Boat always scored first."

Burnett said Laverne & Shirley and Happy Days worked in the same way. Each series captured the attention of young viewers who helped keep the shows ranked among the top. Although Burnett had quite a few young fans, nothing could float on top with The Love Boat.

With questionable ratings during season 10, the question remained: How long could The Carol Burnett Show keep going?

"The only thing I would miss is working with the people here at CBS," Burnett said. "Over the years we've seen marriages, births, divorces and deaths; it had been really a family. But I won't fight it when the time comes to go. Throughout my career I've found that when decisions are forced on me, they're always right."

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5 Comments

Beta6 1 month ago
I loved that show...all the actors... and I was sorry when it ended. Carol Burnett is a standout, an icon, and she deserves every bit of praise that she has gotten. To me, and here everyone will likely throw rotten tomatoes at me, but she was funnier than Lucille Ball. Why? Burnett's range was wider and more diverse. Each show had to have been a challenge to her ingenuity. And she won.
Pacificsun Beta6 1 month ago
Absolutely!
Not everything needs to be "defined" or categorized. But IMO CB demonstrated more improvisation. It's not a bad thing, just a method, but LB rehearsed her "bits" extensively. And because she was such a perfectionist. But I think Gleason and CB had it right, in that genuine comedy comes naturally. CB allowed her ensemble to shine unto itself. While LB's focus (and training) made her central to every scene.
Beta6 Pacificsun 23 days ago
well said, Pacific sun!
Runeshaper 2 months ago
Sounds like Burnett had a pretty solid mindset about the show's duration.
cperrynaples 2 months ago
Technically, TCBS was only 11 seasons! The book I have counts an ABC summer run and a 1991 reboot! So to split hairs, she really had 13 seasons!
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