Carol Burnett Reflects on Uphill Battle Getting ‘The Carol Burnett Show’

by Joe Rutland
(Photo Courtesy Getty Images)

Carol Burnett is an icon in the world of TV but even she would have to go through battles to get her variety show on the air. Burnett happened to provide CBS with a number of seasons of great programming with The Carol Burnett Show. In a recent appearance on the Dear Multi-Hyphenate podcast, Burnett, 89, remembers pitching the show to a CBS vice president at the time.

Burnett had become quite a star at the time from being on The Garry Moore Show. She had gotten enough popularity “to do other things,” Burnett said in talking with podcast host Michael Kushner. PEOPLE reported she also said 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.”

Carol Burnett Recalled Special Clause In Her CBS Contract

While she would say that, at the time, she had “a great agent,” Burnett talked about her contract that had a stipulation. It stated that “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.”

That time for Burnett came in the final week of her fifth year on that deal. Burnett said that she called that CBS vice president in New York. She told him that she wanted to “push that button.” But the executive apparently could 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 said. “He called me back the next day and said, ‘Comedy variety is a man’s game…it’s not for you, girl.'”

The network vice president listed some men who have done variety shows, people like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, Jackie Gleason, and Dean Martin. He would pitch her a different proposal, though, saying, “And we got this great little sitcom we would love you to do called Here’s Agnes.” Looking back at that moment, Burnett said, “Oh, my, God. Could you imagine?” She told that 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.”