‘I Love Lucy’: How Lucille Ball Helped Carol Burnett Land Breakthrough Comedy Special

by Joe Rutland
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In a TV world dominated by men, Lucille Ball fought to join the mix. Her influence helped a young Carol Burnett get a comedy special on CBS.

Burnett would become a Saturday night staple on CBS’ power-packed lineup with “The Carol Burnett Show.” Before that, though, she was a character player on shows like “The Garry Moore Show” and “The Entertainers.”

She also gained a lot of recognition from being a part of the Broadway show “Once Upon A Mattress.” While Burnett worked on honing her craft, she was an unabashed fan of Lucille Ball and her work.

One night, Burnett happened to be looking out into the audience and saw a bright red-haired woman. It happened to be Ball herself, taking in a performance of Burnett’s play. Burnett admitted that having someone she admired so much in the audience was a bit daunting. Yet she went ahead with her performance.

Lucille Ball Meets Up With Carol Burnett At Her Play

Good thing she did because after the show, Lucille Ball went backstage to see Burnett. Reportedly, they chatted a little bit and Ball began to leave when she looked at Burnett and said, “Kid, if you ever need me for anything, give me a call.” Well, Carol Burnett never forgot about that offer.

After her run in “Once Upon A Mattress” was over and she continued her TV work, CBS reached out and offered Burnett a one-hour special. The network executives were familiar with her work as “The Garry Moore Show” was on CBS. Moore’s cast was an instrumental part of that show’s success.

With the CBS offer, Burnett had it in her hand with one caveat. The network said Burnett had to get a big-name star to be a co-star on the show. Well, Carol Burnett pulled out the favor card that Lucy handed her a few years earlier. She reached out to Ball, who simply said, “I’ll be there. When do you want me there?”  

Burnett Turns CBS Special Into Her Own Variety Show

The 1966 special is called “Carol+2.” It also features actor Zero Mostel, who made a name for himself on stage in Broadway’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and in the movies with “The Producers.”

It was such a hit that CBS executives reached out and offered Burnett what ultimately became “The Carol Burnett Show.”

How incredible that at a time when male celebrities dominated CBS’ airwaves that Lucille Ball used her pull to help Burnett in a pinch. Lucy brought in millions of dollars to CBS’ coffers through “I Love Lucy,” “The Lucy Show,” and “Here’s Lucy” over a quarter-century relationship.

Burnett took a risk and it paid off. Nowadays, female comedians look at Carol Burnett in the same light she looked up to Ball.

H/T: Cheatsheet

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