Jon Kopaloff/Getty Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett is reminiscing about the uphill battle she endured to start her own 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 legendary comedy variety show, The Carol Burnett Show to a CBS vice president at the time.
After deciding to leave The Garry Moore Show where she gained enough popularity “to do other things,” Burnett told the podcast host Michael Kushner that “CBS offered me a contract to stay with them for 10 years where I would be obligated to do one special a year — an hour-long special a year and two guest appearances on some of their sitcoms.”
Adding that she had “a great agent” at the time, she explained the contract also 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 30 shows, fair play, that if I ‘push that button’ they would have to put it on whether they wanted to or not.”
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When the right time finally came, which was the last week of her fifth year on the agreement, she said she called the CBS vice president in New York and told him she wanted to “push that button” — but the executive did not remember the clause.
“And he said, ‘what button?’ and I said, ‘You know where I get to do 30 comedy variety shows.’ He said, ‘Well, let me get back to you,'” she continued. “He called me back the next day and said, ‘Comedy variety is a man’s game…it’s not for you, girl.'”
Burnett noted that the network vice president listed the names of the men who had done comedy variety shows, such as Sid Cesar, Milton Burle, Jackie Gleeson, 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’s Agnes.”
Reflecting on the moment, the Golden Globe winner said, “Oh, my, God. Could you 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 want dancers, I want singers, I want sketch comedy on and on and on,’ And Michael they had to put us on the air.”
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Noting that “they did not have faith in this,” she added, “…I remember just before the first taping we got all together in a “Kumbaya” moment, and I just said, ‘You know what, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we know we have 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, the series was ranked number 17 on TV Guide‘s 60 Greatest Shows of All Time and featured on the list of time Magazine’s 100 Best TV Shows of All Time in 2007.
During the chat, Burnett also shared a never-been-told story about her late daughter Carrie Hamilton, who died in 2002 of lung cancer, experiencing her presence when she opened their play Hollywood Arms.
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Carrie died from pneumonia, a complication of lung cancer that spread to her brain. Burnett previously spoke about her daughter in a 2018 interview with PEOPLE, saying, “I think of her every day.”
“She never leaves me,” the comedian said at the time. “I just feel her.”