Harvey Korman considered himself a variety show survivor

Harvey Korman was one of the many talented actors to be affected by both the rise and decline of variety shows.

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Variety shows are an American staple. Where else could you see talents like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Sid Caesar on one stage in the same week?

A variety show is known for having a bunch of unique acts including singers, actors, dancers, comedians, and more. The variety show era gave us TV classics such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Carol Burnett ShowThe Danny Kaye Show and more.

The Carol Burnett Show is considered an elite variety show, with over 70 Emmy Award nominations and 25 wins. The show parodied all things pop culture and included an all-star cast featuring: Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett, and Harvey Korman.

Harvey Korman was one of the many talented actors to be affected by both the rise and decline of variety shows. The Carol Burnett Show was able to help Korman rise to fame, but the decline of them left him without a job.

By the late 1970s, nearly every variety show had halted production, partially because of audience burnout. Out of all classic variety shows, Saturday Night Live is the last to remain, making it the longest-running variety show still being broadcasted today.

Korman's decade of sketch comedy on The Carol Burnett Show was considered to be a TV milestone. Korman became the master of a dying art and needed to find something new.

Rather than waiting around for what few roles might be offered, Korman went a new direction: directing. 

Mama's Family was his saving grace. The series, which ran from 1983 to 1990, was originally based on a Burnett sketch titled "The Family." Korman co-directed over 30 episodes.

"Look, variety could be like vaudeville," Korman said in a 1983 interview with The Albuquerque Tribune. "It may never come back. I can't wait around. I have a reputation as a sketch comic. Now that's gone, where do I go? What do I do? Higgins isn't interesting enough to sustain for a half hour week after week."

According to the interview, Korman had to learn how to be a good director. Luckily, the Mama's Family cast was loaded with actors he had already worked with in the past, which made it easier to give direction.

Korman was able to use his versatility on The Carol Burnett Show and Mama's Family. He could play any character, ranging from quiet to chaotic. 

"The autonomy of directing doesn't bother me," Korman said. "I don't feel any ego loss. I don't need acknowledgment for seeing my ideas work out for another actor, and it's not any less fulfilling for me. In fact, I get a bigger kick out of getting something to work well for another performer than I do for myself."

Korman said he admired Vicki Lawrence's ability to be funny while playing the role of someone much older than she. She was only in her 30s when she played the role of Thelma Harper, who was in her 60s.

"Carol and I, along with Vicki, were the focal points of the sketches," Korman said. "Without the two of us, Mama has become more human, more dimensional, and her relationship with others is softer and more believable. I don't know if viewers really miss Carol and me. Vicki's relationships with the other characters are so interesting and different that I doubt it."

Directing may not have been Korman's first choice for a career path, but he came to love it through his time with Mama's Family. 

"I think I know comedy as well as anyone around right now," Korman said. "I believe I can get actors to do their best work. I enjoy the totality of directing."

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RedSamRackham 3 months ago
* Perhaps what ultimately killed the prime-time variety show format was overkill by ABC in 1970's giving practically anybody a variety show including Brady Bunch cast, Pink Lady & Jeff, Shields & Yarnell and many others who failed to click with viewing audiences. Sadly overkill destroyed the format.
tootsieg 11 months ago
The variety shows were all over TV. I miss them. Good article.
Runeshaper 11 months ago
It’s awesome that Korman was able to direct and it sounds like he really enjoyed it!
RedSamRackham Runeshaper 3 months ago
* Harvey Korman also great in a few Mel Brooks movies!
Runeshaper RedSamRackham 3 months ago
Yes, yes he was!
Andybandit 11 months ago
Too bad Harvey Korman and Tim Conway didn't have a variety show where they did their skits together they were so funny together. I love watching TCBS when Tim Conway came on, he was so funny with Harvey.
RedSamRackham Andybandit 3 months ago
* Tim & Harvey tried a show but it failed.
Pacificsun 11 months ago
Another enjoyable article! Seems to be some bright, new additions to the Writing Staff! Welcome aboard; new material always welcomed. Thank you for the time it takes to write a thoughtful, interesting point of view!
texasluva Pacificsun 11 months ago

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justjeff 11 months ago
Interesting article, but tell me... WHERE could you see Elvis Presley, The Beatles, and Sid Caesar on ONE stage in the same week????
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Pacificsun justjeff 11 months ago


Yes, we've sparred on other occasions but always with very polite civility and rational restraint!

The MeTV Staff Writers have important goals (or roles to play), here. To attract our attention quickly, keeping us interested, returning frequently, referencing trivia, and adding historical perspective. And if they’re only interns, that’s a big responsibility to fulfill among many competing tasks.

To that purpose (or allowance) they’re permitted “poetic license" which they’ve assumed for themselves by cobbling together an overstatement, in nearly the first sentence. We can agree on the reputation of the performers. Is the accuracy (or not) of simultaneous timing and placement, critical to their point? Or perhaps the intention was to communicate the massive impact of unique contributions made through many different Variety Hours, which could’ve been stated in the first place.

Our exchange is (perhaps) inadvertently expanded by giving the reader permission for making assumptions about the article. While recognizing that this is a casual, fun site, for entertainment purposes only. With no need for a technicality-takedown in the public square. Comments are made for two reasons. One, is to maintain credibility, even if it’s tedious. And the other is for face-saving (clarification). There’s no rule saying it can’t be done, simultaneously, or to the satisfaction of both parties. Because the graceful habit to maintain, is respecting point-of-view (period). So I gift you with tidbit of confirmation from the internet!

justjeff Pacificsun 11 months ago
LOL! ...and I will always reserve the right to poke, prod, dissect, cajole, critique, parody, poke fun of, needle, correct, educate and otherwise skewer the MeTV writing staff, for whenever they do trip up, as those trip-ups are often times whoppers.

Believe me, if they were thin-skinned I probably would have been bounced off of this blog ages ago... 😆
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 11 months ago
JMO, and not in opposition to your or jj's comments, perhaps they were using hyperbole in the opening paragraph. 🤔
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Always welcomed is your point of view and contributions, no worries!

Exactly. And so in support of that idea was clarified through this example, which any writer should recognize.

𝑽𝒂𝒓𝒊𝒆𝒕𝒚 𝒔𝒉𝒐𝒘𝒔 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒂𝒏 𝑨𝒎𝒆𝒓𝒊𝒄𝒂𝒏 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒑𝒍𝒆. 𝑾𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆 𝒆𝒍𝒔𝒆 𝒄𝒐𝒖𝒍𝒅 𝒚𝒐𝒖 𝒔𝒆𝒆 𝒕𝒂𝒍𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒔 𝒍𝒊𝒌𝒆 𝑬𝒍𝒗𝒊𝒔 𝑷𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒍𝒆𝒚, 𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑩𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒍𝒆𝒔, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝑺𝒊𝒅 𝑪𝒂𝒆𝒔𝒂𝒓 𝒐𝒏 𝒐𝒏𝒆 𝒔𝒕𝒂𝒈𝒆 𝒊𝒏 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒔𝒂𝒎𝒆 𝒘𝒆𝒆𝒌?

First of all, it's only a 𝒒𝒖𝒆𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏 for consideration, to suggest the value of Variety Shows. It wasn't written as a statement of fact that it happened, nor does it matter. Because these articles are for the purpose of entertainment and claim nothing more. They are intentionally anonymous so that the author doesn't fall into an endless debate. But more importantly so the impact of the story isn't lost to minutia. From experience, writers take a long time figuring out just what to say, and how to make it come across with flair!

The death-trap would be putting something out there which is deadly boring, and pointless.
LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Larry King had asked Carol Burnett in an interview years ago what her favorite Sketch Comedy Show was, to which she replied " Saturday Night Live."

As recently as last year on the "Today Show", ET (Canada) and Twitter there was discussion(s) of interest about Carol Burnett hosting on SNL. Of course that would be if she were up to it and also interested.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 11 months ago
IMO the moment has passed her by. Her invitation should've been during the season of Betty White and other Great Sports. Vintage guests from that era. Gentle comedy, humorous bits, surrounded by genuinely funny comics. Korman could've hosted too, at one point. Would've been so interesting to watch the chemistry and interactions.
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 11 months ago
I hear you. at this point is probably just wishful thinking. If she had either last year or currently decided to, she would've broken the record held by Betty White who hosted at 88 yrs old. Oh well.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Good of you to remember her talent and treasure. And so important to add to a living tribute. If they could arrange an episode without a Live audience, or (especially) by welcomed invitation only would be an honor!
LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 11 months ago
Yes anything Mrs. Burnett (could/would) do- "respecting her choice", would indeed be an honor.
I wonder ( at the moment) the promo's Betty White did years back, if they were before/after the time she hosted SNL?
There are a number of celebrities over the years not just " The Ambassadors" that have done promotional shorts for the network ( Dawn Wells, Jamie Farr, and a few others), that mention the network. Here is one from wayback- well 2014 anyway, and SNL related:


Got to give the network credit in that regard- I'm sure other networks have done similar, but it does give a bit of personalization to the brand, and surely enjoyed by the viewers.
Pacificsun LoveMETV22 11 months ago
Nicely said, and TY for the share. And in return .... I confess to off topic. So I'll unplug my TV set as punishment!

LoveMETV22 Pacificsun 11 months ago
LOL! Loved her sense of humor.
MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
The Danny Kaye Show?
cperrynaples MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
I'm assuming you were answering my question and you're right! That show ended just as TCBS was going to start! As it turned out, the producers were looking for a "Harvey Korman type"...LOL!
Pacificsun cperrynaples 11 months ago
A curious observation only, not in rebuttal to what you've offered. But directed to Producers too often saying "...get me a 'Harvey Korman'... type."

Not only is it insulting to the original talent, but missing the target anyway. True, there were a few (like, very) on SNL who might've reminded us of similar. But what made the early years so memorable, was for the reason of the talent being originals and unique.

We'd been discussing the crazy character of "Penelope" lately. And it's questionable if any other actor could've pulled off those sketches in quite the same way, regarding her level of annoying. So this comment is pointed in that direction, and as an example.
MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
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MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
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MrsPhilHarris 11 months ago
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cperrynaples 11 months ago
Bonus Question: Whose variety show did Korman do BEFORE TCBS?
tootsieg cperrynaples 11 months ago
Just a guess. Dean Martin?
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