The writers for The Carol Burnett Show hated ''The Family'' sketch at first

They didn't think Vicki Lawrence should play Carol Burnett's mother.

The Everett Collection

Over its 11 seasons, The Carol Burnett Show created some of the most memorable comedic moments in television history. The series of sketches known as "The Family" provided many of those moments. Of course, the scenes proved so popular that an entirely separate sitcom featuring characters from the original sketch, Mama’s Family, debuted in the 1980s.

Though one of the iconic sketch show’s most famous pieces, "The Family" didn’t appear on Carol Burnett until season seven. Writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair originally conceived of the sketch as just another scene about a dysfunctional family. They thought, naturally, that Burnett would play the irritable and hilarious mother character and that someone else would play her daughter, Eunice.

Burnett liked the sketch but had something a little different in mind. She wanted to play Eunice and she credits costume designer Bob Mackie with the suggestion that Vicki Lawrence, 16 years Burnett’s junior, play Thelma, a.k.a. Mama. Burnett also thought the characters should be Southern and thus everyone in the family should have an accent.

Vicki Lawrence explained the writers' reactions to these changes in an interview with the Archive of American Television. "When they saw the sketch the way we had done it, they were so angry that they threw down their pads and pencils and stormed out of the rehearsal hall," Lawrence recalled.

In addition to disagreeing with the casting of each role, "They hated that she wanted to do it Southern," Lawrence told the Archive. "They said, 'This is going to offend the entire southern half of the country.'"

Ultimately, Burnett knew what was best for the sketch. "That's the way it went on the air because that's the way Carol wanted to do it," Lawrence said. "As we all know, they got such a great reaction from the fans that they ended up having to write those sketches over and over again."

Burnett loved the concept as much as the audience. Lawrence said that "Carol couldn't wait" to do more sketches about "The Family."

Burnett's changes to the material were one of her many strokes of genius because they made the sketch what it is. After recurring dozens of times on The Carol Burnett Show, it spawned the 1982 TV movie Eunice and then Mama's Family.



Are you sure you want to delete this comment?
Close

47 Comments

RedSamRackham 14 months ago
* Every "The Family" sketch was too predictable leading into a Mama vs Eunice quarrel with poor Ed being bashed as well. Sketch done too often. More annoying than funny.
Moody 18 months ago
Well, it was Carol's show after all. I thought it was a hilarious sketch but as a regular show it fell way short. I didn't think the show was at all funny. The sketch had Carol Burnett & Harvey Korman after all whereas the show didn't.
Runeshaper 18 months ago
Sometimes, you just need to stick to your guns!
Andybandit 18 months ago
I liked the Family sketch on TCBS. I didn't realize it was going to be MF in the 1980's.
RobertM 18 months ago
This sketch succeeded in turning the age difference between Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence on its' head--casting the older Carol as the daughter, and making up the younger Vicki to look the mother's part.
Snickers 31 months ago
God how I hated Mama's Family!
37 months ago
Funny, tragic "Eunice," not the Chaplinesque "charwoman," was Carol Burnett's best, most interesting, complex character. It's the one she'll be remembered for.
Pacificsun 18 months ago
𝐻𝒶𝓇𝒹𝓁𝓎
jacko3 47 months ago
... yeah, it was funny ... and cleaver ..it pokes fun at all of us ... really classic television, though ... rather talented and entertaining actors...
Pacificsun jacko3 18 months ago
I've never figured out if the Viewers who thought it was funny, never lived around that kind of bickering, which in some cases was kind of cruel. Or if they DID live with it, and assumed everybody else did too.
Like Reply Delete
Sooner 47 months ago
Typical, dumb it down by making them have a Southern accent. Hollywood's usual insult.
JHP Sooner 47 months ago
dumbing it down wasnt too hard for hollywood to do
JHP Sooner 18 months ago
yeah - if there was no Hollywood,,,would there be a

TMC - Blockbuster - HULU - AMC - TCM _ etc etc or even a Svengoolie??I don't think ratings were ever great for Hee-Haw (which I love - Roy Clark was a hidden gem)
Moverfan JHP 18 months ago
The story I always loved was that the bigshots at CBS tried to talk the guys who created Hee Haw out of putting the show out there for first-run syndication (the way game shows are sold). They basically said "thank you" (nice polite Canadian boys) and took their chances. The result--two seaxons on CBS, damn near thirty in first-run syndication.
JHP Moverfan 18 months ago
you take a Pyrex bowl - mix it with C/W music and 50% laugh In and you got Hee Haw - too bad the thin skinned southerners P'd and moaned about the show

Now the real talent on that show was Roy Clark - by far
RedSamRackham JHP 14 months ago
* Hee Haw's corny country comedy is timeless while Laugh In reruns are stuck in the late 1960's.
JHP RedSamRackham 14 months ago
in a way I agree - but Laugh In was still great humor (like you said) in the 60's and it would be very refreshing to see them and DVR them. Am not a C/W music fan but Roy Clark was scary excellent

I read someplace where the people in the south hated Hee-Haw for the stereo-types (makes sense also). I loved Charley Farckison (?sp) and Grandpa Jones. And then the eye candy well...
tezak 47 months ago
One of my all-time favorites!
MrsPhilHarris 47 months ago
I never cared for the sketch. Don't think I ever watched bthe show.
LucyImHome1951 48 months ago
But EVERYONE loved Mr. Tugball and Wiggins!
Moody LucyImHome1951 48 months ago
Mr. Tudball
RedSamRackham Moody 14 months ago
* Carol Burnett (Mrs. Wiggins) put her finger in her mouth to keep from laughing at Tim Conway's (Mr. Tudball) ad-libbing!
JHP 48 months ago
mamas famly = hybrid between hee haw and raymond (YUK!)
Moody 48 months ago
The sketch was funny because of the actors. Carol Burnett & Harvey Korman were hilarious. The show was just plain stupid.
lkmont123 48 months ago
Loved Mamas Family. Watched it every night growing up. Thanks for showing them all again! Also Hogan’s Heroes is always good for a laugh! One of my favorites!
jacko3 lkmont123 47 months ago
yep agreed - both are really classic and classy shows!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
RedSamRackham lkmont123 14 months ago
* Mama's Family was tolerable brain candy in its era but I can no longer stand to watch it in reruns.
48 months ago
PULEEEZE get rid of that awful "Ridin' High" song on your ME TV commercials! Nobody wants to see those old, poorly photographed 1950s cowboy shows. And you can get rid of Hogan's Heroes, starring a sexual pervert, featuring "funny Nazis."
Load previous comments
JHP stephaniestavropoulos 47 months ago
the issue is and I agree with you - they are running too many westerns - "watch something else " they say "turn the channel to something else" Yeah right
look at sundance and FETV - whaddya think they are showing? (never realized The Lone Ranger had so many eps - and The Lone Ranger is ok - but not 7 eps a day!)
Pacificsun Wiseguy 47 months ago
Or, to say it a different way, the Network is selling time to advertisers according to the most popular shows that generate revenue. That's why the MeTV schedule doesn't vary very much, except for summer promos, and novel shows like The Flintstones and The Three Stooges.
Drujon 37 months ago
My little heart would love to see SCTV, Fernwood 2Nite, Fernwood USA...really funny shows, great characters, great writers. I guess the old adage is true. There's no underestimating the intelligence of the American viewing public.
Moverfan JHP 18 months ago
Speaking of The Lone Ranger...every episode ended with somebody asking "Who was that masked man?" and somebody else explaining who he was. After a while, don't you think people would have at least heard of the boy?
bewest169 48 months ago
Tim Conway made all the family sketchs he had all the actors and Carol Burnett burst out laughing in middle of the scenes
Load previous comments
JHP Moody 47 months ago
the funniest sketch ever made was the dentist one with Korman and Conway
What else can we see but that which was taped on taping day?
Moverfan LucyImHome1951 18 months ago
Oh, lord, I love the Siamese elephants story!
RedSamRackham JHP 14 months ago
* Tim Conway as a Nazi gestapo interrogator questioning American POW Lyle Waggoner was also hilarious.
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?