‘The Carol Burnett Show’: Why Dick Van Dyke Only Lasted 10 Episodes on CBS Program

by Joe Rutland
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It would seem like a match made in TV heaven with Dick Van Dyke joining “The Carol Burnett Show” cast. But it did not work out.

What happened? Well, let’s break it down. Van Dyke was an established star through movies like “Mary Poppins” and his own award-winning sitcom, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.”

He and Carol Burnett crossed paths a lot throughout their careers, including a period of time when they both shared time on stage in the 1970s for the play “Same Time Next Year.”

Burnett had developed quite a cast on her CBS variety show that started in 1967. The initial lineup included Burnett, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner. Waggoner left the show in 1974. Burnett was able to replace him with Tim Conway, another well-established comedian who had a list of show credits including “McHale’s Navy” to his name.

The chemistry between Korman and Conway, all these years later, remains legendary. They played key roles in “The Family” skits, which eventually were spun off into the sitcom “Mama’s Family.”

Dick Van Dyke Fills Spot Left By Harvey Korman Leaving

Korman, though, received an offer for his own comedy show on ABC. He’d been a steady comedic force on Burnett’s show while also playing in movies like “Blazing Saddles.”

This was a chance that Korman felt he wanted to take, so Burnett let him go.

A spot needed to be filled on her show. She thought Van Dyke would fit in quite well.

“Going into our 11th season, we came up with the idea of asking Dick to be my co-star,” Burnett wrote in her memoir, “In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox.” “I was thrilled when he accepted.”

Van Dyke, ever the trooper, signed up and was ready to go. He’d been a guest star before on the Burnett show and Burnett had done a guest-starring turn on “Van Dyke & Company,” Dick Van Dyke’s variety show.

Burnett Writers Are Unable To Write For Dick Van Dyke

But there happened to be a hitch in the creative area for the Burnett show.

Writers have a tendency to get really focused on putting together jokes and scripts for regular cast members. They knew how to make their words fit nicely into Korman’s abilities.

Both Van Dyke and Korman could kick up a laugh with the best of them. Burnett’s writers, though, found themselves unable to provide scripts that fit into Van Dyke’s strengths.

“Unfortunately, a lot of the sketches that were written didn’t highlight Dick’s unique talents,” Burnett said. “The writers were still writing for Harvey, not Dick.

“After a few weeks, he was unhappy with the situation and asked to leave the show,” she said. “I didn’t blame him in the least, and his last show with us was around Thanksgiving.”

Burnett Wishes Things Had Worked Out For Van Dyke

Obviously, it’s quite a blow to see someone as talented as Dick Van Dyke not be a part of such a popular CBS show. “The Carol Burnett Show” was a Saturday night staple on CBS with strong lead-ins from “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “The Bob Newhart Show.”

Yet the show was losing its sparkle and eventually aired its final episode on CBS in March 1978.

It’s tough to even believe that Van Dyke and Burnett could not make it work on her highly-rated variety show. But it didn’t work, so they went their separate ways.

Even today, when she thinks about it Burnett appears to have a bit of remorse about the situation.

“Dick and I are still friends, and it’s always a joy to see him at various functions around town,” Burnett wrote. “He’s as nice as he is talented, but I still feel bad that we let him down when he came on board that last season.”

Fans of “The Carol Burnett Show” will wonder what might have been as these two CBS titans couldn’t make it work on the variety show.

H/T: Cheatsheet

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