Carol Burnett was the first woman to host her own variety show on network television. And although the show wasn’t a runaway success, Burnett truly attracted a who’s who slate of guest stars.
At the end of each episode, Burnett asked her guests to sign a red autograph book. It was all done on camera. And it was all part of her charming authenticity. Burnett acknowledged her guests were special. She wanted to remember them. Think of it as a 1960s-70s version of a selfie moment that commemorated a special happening.
The Carol Burnett show ran from 1967-78. During its run, it appeared on every night of the week but a Tuesday or Thursday. During 1969-70, the variety series ranked 13th in the country in the ratings. For eight of its 11 years, the show made it into the top 30.
First Big Get For Carol Burnett Was Lucille Ball
The ultimate guest star helped launch the Carol Burnett Show. That was Lucille Ball.
CBS executives approached Burnett about doing a variety special. But there was a catch. Book a big guest. So Burnett called Ball, who she was in 1959. Burnett’s first special was called “Carol + 2.” And that special evolved into a weekly series. Lucille Ball appeared on the Carol Burnett Show four times in the first four seasons.
Tim Conway, the comedian who was a vital part of the Carol Burnett cast, initially came on the show as a guest star in the first season. The original cast included Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, who was then only 18, and Lyle Waggoner.
So who were the big Carol Burnett gets? In the first season, stars like Sonny and Cher appeared. So did Richard Chamberlain, Peter Lawford, Ella Fitzgerald, Mike Douglas, Barbara Eden, Mickey Rooney and Sid Caesar. In season two, Bob Hope made an appearance. Perry Como came on to croon a song.
Season three featured Bing Crosby and a former actor. That was Ronald Reagan, who then was governor of California and more than a decade from winning the presidential election.
However, Carol Burnett couldn’t land one big star. She wanted legendary actress Bette Davis to appear. It wasn’t Burnett’s fault that Davis didn’t come on the show. Rather, David wanted more money for the appearance than CBS was willing to pay. Joe Hamilton, Burnett’s husband and the show’s director, said it would be a bad precedent if Davis was paid more than the others.