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Five Shows in the Tradition of 'The Carol Burnett Show'

by Allison Waldman, posted Apr 7th 2010 2:04PM
carol_burnett_show_logo_cbsTelevision legend Carol Burnett has been making the talk show circuit to promote her new book, a look back at her wonderful, classic variety show 'The Carol Burnett Show,' called "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection." The book sounds like a must-read, especially if you grew up on the comedy, music and characters that Carol, Harvey Korman, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway brought to TV viewers every week.

In fact, to this day, those characters are still hilarious. Last week, my sister and I recalled the Mrs. Wiggins sketch, with Tim Conway as Mr. Tudball. We both laughed at the memory.

Sadly, 'The Carol Burnett Show' today is like a relic from the past. It was in many ways the end of an era. Like Carol herself said in USA Today, the cost of those shows would be too much today. But when she was doing her show, CBS Television City was also producing 'The Sonny & Cher Show,' 'The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour' and 'The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.' That was a lot of variety, something that's non-existent today .

But we're not totally without music, comedy and dancing entertainment. If you look around the dial, some of the most popular TV shows now are this generation's variety. Here's the top five shows that approximate the way it was when Carol and company were entertaining America:

5. 'Dancing With the Stars' – Like 'The Carol Burnett Show,' 'Dancing With the Stars' is big on star power, only instead of just music and television personalities, the 'DWTS' formula brings us all kinds of celebrities. The thrill of watching a non-dancer like astronaut Buzz Aldrin try to master a classic dance is as entertaining in its own way as Jim Nabors trying to do a skit on Carol's show back in the day.

4. 'America's Got Talent' – Variety is the key on 'America's Got Talent,' so in that way it's a bit more like 'The Ed Sullivan Show' than 'Carol Burnett.' But the great thing about 'America's Got Talent' is the diversity. You may see jugglers, dancers, magicians, singers, the entire gamut of entertainment. And you never know who's going to surprise you with their talent.

3. 'American Idol' – With this show, as well as 'America's Got Talent' and 'Dancing With the Stars,' there's more to the program than entertainment. It's competition, too, and viewers getting wrapped up in the excitement of the contestants' journey. 'American Idol' does something else, however. It's a great showcase for the hottest, biggest stars in the world today. Last week, both Usher and P. Diddy were singing and dancing. And with the upcoming 'Idol Gives Back,' there will be even more stars performing on the big Fox stage in Hollywood.

2. 'Glee' – You may raise an eyebrow at this choice, but you shouldn't. 'Glee' embodies many of the same qualities that made 'The Carol Burnett Show' must-see TV, like a troupe of exciting singers and dancers doing different musical numbers each and every week. The whole show choir concept is like the musical revues that Carol would bring us, with great guests joining in. Even some of the outrageous characters remind you of the Burnett style. Couldn't you see Carol doing Sue Sylvester, with Harvey as Sandy Ryerson, Vicki as Rachel Berry, and Lyle as Finn?

1. 'Saturday Night Live'
– The cast changes year in and year out, but the roots of 'Saturday Night Live' is very much the same as 'The Carol Burnett Show,' especially in the commitment to original comedy and the creation of unique characters. 'Saturday Night Live' began in 1975, overlapping the end of Carol's show in 1978. It was in many ways the passing of a torch, from one generation's comedy style to the next.

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Stephen Colbert is the only true multi-threat on TV, but his show wouldn't qualify in the same category as Burnett's because it's a news parody show. But when he gets the chance to open up, he is kind of a jack-of-all-trades entertainer: broad comedy, smart satire, singing, even some dancing. When he's done with his current schtick (and I still think he has a LOT of time left on the Report), he would be the perfect person to bring back a variety-style show. Nothing on television today could TRULY be the same stylistically, but he's the one person I could trust to do something close (and do it well).

April 11 2010 at 6:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I don't think there's a show on TV that even comes close to The Carol Burnett Show and others like Red Skelton, Dean Martin, Flip Wilson or Jack Benny. They were talented comedians who could tell a joke, play the straight man, get into character, sing, dance and improv. The whole family could watch their shows together without embarrassment and they were funny! SNL's attempts at humor the last few years have been crass and pathetic. There's no imagination to telling jokes about bodily functions. I like DWTS, but there's no way my husband and son are going to watch it with me. AI isn't a variety show and it's not worth watching the horrible acts on AGT to catch the occasional talent. Haven't watched Glee.

April 08 2010 at 3:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The shows you mentioned are NOT even close to the Carol Burnett Show. Not even in the same hemisphere!!

I loved the Carol Burnett Show and all the other variety show. It would be nice to have that now but I honestly don't know anyone that is in the category of entertainment. We do not seem to know what real talent is anymore or who "stars" are. Pamela Anderson, a star?? What is her talent?? Kate Gosselin, a star??? Talent?? Nothing talented there. . . just some network deciding to make money.

The starts today are very different than yesterday's stars. They really have no talent and if they are good at something they are one dimensional. Yesterday's talents could sing, dance and just entertain. Today's star seem to only want fame and the mighty buck. They market themselves and then cry foul whent he paparazzi won't leave them alone.

Don't insult the Carol Burnett Show by comparing it to any show on TV today.

April 08 2010 at 1:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Since the heyday of the variety show, there has only been one in recent history that even came close to being similar in genre and only just barely in comedy.

That one show was the "Wayne Brady show". It flopped. Too bad, it could have really gone far but was missing something.

None of the shows previously mentioned can be compared with Carol Burnett's , not in genre, quality, chemical make up,or ability.

April 08 2010 at 8:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am still waiting for them to release the Carol Burnett Show on DVD! They currently only have a compilation of the best moments, I WANT ALL THE SEASONS! This show is truly a masterpiece in television history.

April 08 2010 at 3:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joyce N.

I used to love Sid Caesar's show and loved Carol's because like Sid's regulars, they had a habit of cracking each other up. Hysterical! There are no great variety shows anymore and that is a shame.

April 07 2010 at 10:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tim McCleese

What a classy lady Carol Burnett is.

She is one of those rare entertainers that can make you laugh out loud and make you appreciate life. She could laugh at herself and with others and not be condescending or insulting. Watching her show could make you feel you were a part of her family and inner circle...that is the effect her clean, witty, and hilarious humor had on a person. Great lady.

April 07 2010 at 4:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can not believe anyone would compare "The Carol Burnett Show" to any of those reality based shows mentioned in this article. And Glee and Saturday whatever, give me a break. What an insult to a truely great entertainer.

April 07 2010 at 2:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kenny's comment



April 07 2010 at 9:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Rob Stevens

Number 1 is the only one you got right. 3-5 are all competition shows with real people, not actors. 2 is an ensemble comedy show, but it's a serialized show, not sketch comedy. Shows like SNL are really the only variety programs we have left.

April 07 2010 at 2:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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