Carol Burnett's Twilight Zone episode was meant to launch a whole new series

She brought a funny element from her real-life experience as a movie theater usher to the role.

Carol Burnett wasn’t always the queen of classic TV comedy. Before her movie career and hit variety show, she was a struggling student, attending classes at UCLA while working at a movie theater on Hollywood boulevard. After a stranger gave her $1,000 to get started in show business, she left for New York City and soon was performing on Broadway.

Her musical theater chops led to appearances on late-night programs. Her first regular gig on TV was The Garry Moore Show, where she was a cast member for years in the early Sixties. One target of the sketch series’ good-natured ribbing was The Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling appreciated the parodies and wrote a part for Burnett in a pilot he was writing for CBS. The new show was about a guardian angel who comes down to earth to help forsaken humans live the lives they’ve always wanted.

It was a reworked concept from an earlier pilot he had pitched. That first guardian angel show was rejected by the network, so Serling turned it into The Twilight Zone episode “Mr. Bevis.” He was under contract for another pilot script and thus wrote another episode about heaven and earth for a new show called The Side of the Angels. The main difference between both pitches being that in the “Mr. Bevis” script, the angel and human characters would be regulars appearing in every episode whereas in the second try, the show would focus on a guardian angel helping a different person each week.

CBS ultimately passed on Serling’s second script as well, so he also adapted it for his famous anthology show, creating the episode “Cavender is Coming.” It’s a polarizing installment to say the least. Many consider it a rare Serling miss, while others enjoy the laughs and lighter moments. The episode originally aired with a laugh track, but thankfully it has been taken off in the years since.

Even if it’s not the most riveting Twilight Zone plot, it’s interesting to see Carol Burnett in such an early role. She also contributed to the story around her character. While working at that theater in Hollywood, Burnett had a manager that refused to talk to employees, instead implementing hand signals to communicate across the lobby. As she told the Archive of American Television, “We had a crazy manager who wouldn’t talk to us, but just did signals. I was called the spot girl because I was the tallest and had the loudest voice.”

She was also fired from her college theater job for refusing to let a couple into a movie. But for good reason! They were about to walk into Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train right before the end. Carol knew it would be better to wait for the next showing and watch it from the beginning. Her manager didn’t see it that way.

Carol got the last laugh, however. When she got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she decided to put it right outside that theater.

Watch The Twilight Zone on MeTV!

Weeknights at 12:30 AM
Sundays at 12:30 AM

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

31 Comments

Post a comment
MichaelPowers 2 months ago
I have to go along with author Marc Scott Zicree's review of this episode even though I am a fan of Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone, and Carol Burnett.
From The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree: "Unfortunately, the humor in 'Cavender Is Coming' is so terminally unfunny that it would be better titled 'Cadaver Is Coming.' As the guardian angel, Jesse White tries his best, but the material is just too leaden. Throughout, Burnett seems utterly lost, making broad expressions in an effort to be funny, but never succeeding. Again, the fault lies with the writing.

But although it got so far as to be considered a pilot, 'Cavender Is Coming,' like 'Mr. Bevis,' did not sell. . . a blessing as far as the American viewing public was concerned."
Amen to that, Mr. Zicree.
bagandwallyfan52 4 months ago
I like this episode of The Twilight Zone with Carol Burnett) and her
Guardian Angel played by veteran
Character actor Jesse White.
F5Twitster 4 months ago
"Carol got the last laugh, however. When she got her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she decided to put it right outside that theater."

Recipients of stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame don't get to choose their locations, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce does, but Burnett might've told them the story and suggested that that's where hers might go if the space was available.
TlorDagama 4 months ago
"Carol knew it would be better to wait for the next showing and watch it from the beginning. Her manager didn’t see it that way" Really?... Obviously, the manager didn't read up on Hitchcock, it said on the promo you wouldn't be allowed to enter the theater the last 10 minutes of any of his movies!
AtomixGraphix02 4 months ago
The above 2nd pilot where the angel and the human were helping people in an episode every week sounds like "Touched by an Angel" today. I guess they decided to revisit the idea.
sounds more like Highway to Heaven!
Lacey AtomixGraphix02 3 months ago
Different generations and different administrative style at CBS.
Runeshaper 4 months ago
Sounds like it would have been a great show!
Mark 4 months ago
There are only three Twilight Zone comedy episodes that I thoroughly enjoy, Penny for Your Thoughts [Dick York], Mr. Garrity and the Graves [John Dehner] and the Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank [James Best, Edgar Buchanan]

The Burnett episode is a remake of an equally irritating Orson Bean Twilight Zone produced two years earlier.
Stoney 4 months ago
Hands down my least favorite Twilight Zone. One of only a half dozen or so I refuse to watch.
Lacey Stoney 3 months ago
They can't all be gems. I am not a big fan of the first "angle" story either, though I am a fan of the actors.
vinman63 4 months ago
Like Richard Deacon, it seems Jessie White is every where.
wanderer2575 4 months ago
Producer Buck Houghton, quoted in Marc Scott Zicree's book The Twilight Zone Companion: The laugh track "was CBS's idea, because they were in a pilot mood and they wanted to get a Jesse White thing going. I refused to go to the dubbing session with the canned laughter man there. I thought it was a dreadful idea."
cperrynaples wanderer2575 4 months ago
Yes, and the producer had no idea who Carol was, even though she did 4 seasons of the Garry Moore Show! Bonus question: What actress replaced her on TGMS?
Stardoc cperrynaples 4 months ago
Not sure. Was it Imogene Coco?
MacD cperrynaples 4 months ago
It was Dorothy Loudon who portrayed Miss Hannigan in the original Broadway production of "Annie". And when "Annie" was turned into an expensive Hollywood movie, Dorothy Loudon was once again replaced by Carol Burnett!
StrayCat 4 months ago
A polarizing installment and a rare Serling miss? Hardly, I consider it to be one of my favorite episodes. That said, getting rid of the original laugh track was a really good idea because I suspect that laugh track contributed to that original perception of this episode being a miss. In general, laugh tracks have no place in any Twilight Zone episode.
LoveMETV22 4 months ago
Carol Burnett mentions the kindness of the stranger and the $1,000 to get started in show business,
in an interview she did with the " Archive of American Television." However the stranger asks that his name not be mentioned, Carol obviously a woman of her word doesn't mention the name.
UTZAAKE 4 months ago
The actual term for such projects is backdoor pilot.
Pacificsun 4 months ago
Question: Before her movie career and hit variety show, she was a struggling student, attending classes at UCLA while working at a movie theater on Hollywood boulevard.

Answer: During and after her variety show, Burnett appeared in many television and film projects. Her film roles include Pete 'n' Tillie (1972), The Front Page (1974), The Four Seasons (1981), Annie (1982), Noises Off (1992) and Horton Hears a Who! (2008).

In other words, her film career came mainly after the television variety show, but a few projects during, and not before her television experience.

Before doing these types of articles, it should be mandatory to read the Wiki summary on the actor.

Catman 4 months ago
Jesse White also shines in this episode; he's always been a favorite of mine. And Donna "Elly May Clampett" Douglas also makes an appearance.
cperrynaples Catman 4 months ago
Donna is in it, but it's smaller than her cameo in Eye Of The Beholder!
KJExpress 4 months ago
In one of Carol's books she describes working in the movie theater, so when I saw this episode again (I hadn't seen it in a long time), I thought there must be a connection.

It's also interesting how MeTV used clips from this episode for one of their commercials with present-day Carol. I thought it was cool the way it was done.
Pacificsun KJExpress 4 months ago
Yes, they have very clever Art Directors! They're as entertaining as the programs themselves!
KJExpress Pacificsun 4 months ago
The one with Star Trek and TAGS was great, too.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?