The Carol Burnett Show Never Ranked Top 10
While the show lives on in American pop culture, at the time it aired, it was never a ratings success. It did well enough to stay on for several seasons, but it never made it into the top 10. A critical success, to be sure, it peaked at the number 13 spot, which happened during the show’s 1969-1970 season.
For the first nine seasons, it ranked consistently in the top 20s but never made it to the top 10. The show won 25 Primetime Emmy Awards. Since its final episode aired, it has been named among the greatest television shows of all time – by both TV Guide and Time magazine.
A Spat Caused Carol Burnett to Make a Huge Change
Harvey Korman was one of the show’s first cast members to join the show, since the producers were already looking for a “Harvey Korman-type” to join. They ended up getting the real thing after Burnett begged him to join the cast of her show. At the time, Korman was a regular on The Danny Kaye Show.
However, ultimately, things didn’t work out as Korman became difficult man to work with. He was often rude to guests like Tim Conway and Petula Clark, and had an overall disgruntled attitude. After asking if he was all right, her told her to mind her own business, which she took offense to given that it was her show they were talking about.
She later called Korman’s agent firing him, and then threatened Korman in person that if he didn’t change his attitude, he wouldn’t be working on the show. His brief firing scared him straight.
Vicki Lawrence Was Only 18 Years Old
Vicki Lawrence was only 18 years old when she joined the cast of The Carol Burnett Show, having played Mama on the show. Lawrence met Burnett after sending a fan letter to her, at the behest of her nagging mother, attached with photos of herself and an article that mentioned her appearance at the Miss Fireball Contest.
Burnett ended up showing at the contest and cheering her on. She joined as a cast member in 1967 and stayed with the show until 1978. Burnett became one of her biggest supporters and even nudged the writers to give Vicki Lawrence funnier lines, which really helped her career.
Burnett’s Mother Didn’t Support Her Career Path
Carol Burnett’s mother was not supportive of her career choices. She never wanted her daughter to become an actress and had originally pushed for her to become a writer. Her mother believed that her career would diminish as she aged and she could not remain successful.
Burnett recalled her mother saying, “You can always write, no matter what you look like.” She painfully recalled her mother’s words of discouragement noting that whenever she expressed interest in theater, her mother would remind her that writing was a safer choice than acting.
The Show was Originally Very Dark
Many people never knew or have since forgotten that The Carol Burnett Show has some darker origins from the feel-good comedy show it became. As a spin-off of the Mama’s Family series, the characters in that series were based on a much darker sketch called “The Reunion” in which “The Family” first appeared - in 1974.
In the sketch, Roddy McDowall played Phillip Harper, the younger brother of Eunice, who returned home after winning the Pulitzer Prize. The characters in that sketch were a lot meaner, albeit a little more realistic too. They were not like the lovable characters found in Mama’s Family.
Each Episode was Taped Twice
Each and every episode was filmed twice, but not necessarily for the normal reasons something is filmed more than once. It was all over the tendency of Tim Conway to go off-script. So for the first taping, everyone would follow the script, which would be deemed the professional version.
Then for the second taping, Conway would be allowed his improvisations. Given that the cast had no idea what he would say during this taping, there needed to be a professional take just in case Conway made them laugh uncontrollably and they couldn’t finish a scene.
One Cast Member Was in Playgirl Magazine
The unquestionably handsome Lyle Waggoner was the only cast member to appear in Playgirl Magazine. He appeared in the magazine in the issue’s centerfold. He was semi-nude and bore almost everything in the revealing issue. Notably, it was the magazine’s premiere issue in 1973.
Shortly after his appearance in the issue, he left The Carol Burnett Show in 1974. Hoping to advance his career as a lead actor, he went on to pursue other roles, however, most of them ended up being television roles. Most notably, he played Steve Trevor in the Wonder Woman series starring Lynda Carter.
Burnett’s Famous Ear Tug was Special
If you know anything about the Carol Burnett show, then you are well familiar with her iconic gesture, the ear tug. While not everyone really knew what that was all about, true fans noticed that in every episode Carol Burnett would tug on her ear, and the reason for this was a little-known secret.
Many people believed it was some kind of stage cue, but that was incorrect. In reality, it was a special message to Burnett’s grandmother, who would watch the show – a simple greeting to show her love. Even after her grandmother passed, however, she continued to perform the gesture.
Burnett’s Husband Had a Lot of Influence
Carol Burnett’s husband, Joe Hamilton, was largely responsible for some of the show’s very important creative decisions. Most notably, as producer, Joe Hamilton picked the commentator for the show. Looking for a “Rock Hudson-type” to fulfill the role, he ultimately chose Lyle Waggoner.
Lyle Waggoner was a former encyclopedia salesman who was chosen for his dashing good looks, charisma and sense of humor. His self-deprecating humor and fearlessness made him the best choice for the role and we are certainly glad he was chosen as he is easily one of the show’s most memorable elements.
Dick Van Dyke Was a Cast Member
The legendary Dick Van Dyke appeared as a cast member after Harvey Korman left at the end of season 10 to be on his very own show - a show that ended up getting canceled after five episodes. While at the time he seemed like a perfect replacement for Korman, given his popularity and comedic chops, it ended up not working out. He appeared in only 10 episodes.
Ultimately, Dick Van Dyke was just too popular to make any of the skit’s work. His star power took audiences out of the skit. As Carol Burnett herself put it, “When Harvey put on a wig and a dress, he became a woman; when Dick Van Dyke did it, he was Dick Van Dyke in a wig and a dress.”