Carol Burnett Recalls Fighting for The Carol Burnett Show and Being Told Variety Was ‘a Man’s Game’

Carol Burnett

Jon Kopaloff/Getty Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett is reminiscing about the uphill battle she endured to start herown comedy variety show.

On the latest episode of the Dear Multi-Hyphenate podcast, Burnett, 89,recalled the moment she first pitched what would go on to be her legendarycomedy variety show, The Carol Burnett Show to a CBS vice president at thetime.

After deciding to leave The Garry Moore Show where she gained enoughpopularity “to do other things,” Burnett told the podcast host Michael Kushnerthat “CBS offered me a contract to stay with them for 10 years where I wouldbe obligated to do one special a year — an hour-long special a year and twoguest appearances on some of their sitcoms.”

Adding that she had “a great agent” at the time, she explained the contractalso included a stipulation, stating “within the first five years if I, Carol,wanted to do a comedy variety show, CBS would have to put it on the air for 30shows, fair play, that if I ‘push that button’ they would have to put it onwhether they wanted to or not.”


Carol Burnett

NBCU Photo Bank

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When the right time finally came, which was the last week of her fifth year onthe agreement, she said she called the CBS vice president in New York and toldhim she wanted to “push that button” — but the executive did not remember theclause.

“And he said, ‘what button?’ and I said, ‘You know where I get to do 30 comedyvariety shows.’ He said, ‘Well, let me get back to you,'” she continued. “Hecalled me back the next day and said, ‘Comedy variety is a man’s game…it’s notfor you, girl.'”

Burnett noted that the network vice president listed the names of the men whohad done comedy variety shows, such as Sid Cesar, Milton Burle, JackieGleeson, and Dean Martin, before pitching her a different proposal, saying,”And we got this great little sitcom we would love you to do called Here ‘sAgnes.”

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Reflecting on the moment, the Golden Globe winner said, “Oh, my, God. Couldyou imagine?”

In response, Burnett told the executive, “I don’t want to be Agnes every week,I want to have an hourlong show… I want to guest stars, I want music, I wantdancers, I want singers, I want sketch comedy on and on and on,’ And Michaelthey had to put us on the air.”

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Noting that “they did not have faith in this,” she added, “…I remember justbefore the first taping we got all together in a “Kumbaya” moment, and I justsaid, ‘You know what, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we know wehave 30 shows so let’s just go out there and have fun!’ Well, 276 shows later,that’s exactly what we did.”

Scoring 25 Primetime Emmy Awards, the show ran from 1967 to 1978. In 2013, theseries was ranked number 17 on TV Guide ‘s 60 Greatest Shows of All Time andfeatured on the list of time Magazine’s 100 Best TV Shows of All Time in2007.

During the chat, Burnett also shared a never-been-told story about her latedaughter Carrie Hamilton, who died in 2002 of lung cancer, experiencing herpresence when she opened their play Hollywood Arms.

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Carrie died from pneumonia, a complication of lung cancer that spread to herbrain. Burnett previously spoke about her daughter in a 2018 interview withPEOPLE, saying, “I think of her every day.”

“She never leaves me,” the comedian said at the time. “I just feel her.”