Time Life has been churning out DVD releases for The Carol Burnett Show over the past few years, and last year, they commemorated its 50th Anniversary with a variety of sets. The 6-DVD set contained 16 episodes, with at least one from each season, including the debut, which aired September 11, 1967, and the series finale, called “A Special Evening with Carol Burnett”.
Featuring one of the television's funniest ensembles, Burnett was joined by cast mates Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner (who left in 1974), Harvey Korman (who left in 1977), and Tim Conway (a frequent guest star who joined the cast in 1975). While the series continued to find new fans in syndication, the hour-long shows were cut down into half hours with the musical numbers excised, making the show seem like it was just a comedic sketch show. Seeing these episodes in their entirety, it's clear Burnett was also a talented singer as was Lawrence, who had a #1 hit with “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” which she performs on show #618.
The show had the same framework throughout its run. Burnett would open with a Q&A where she would field audience questions and Tarzan-yell requests. There would then be comedy sketches and musical numbers, both of which would incorporate that evening's guests. Those that appear in this collection are Jim Nabors (Burnett's dear friend and good luck charm who would guest on the first episode of every season), Imogene Coca, Mel Tormé, Bobbie Gentry, George Gobel, Sid Caesar, Ella Fitzgerald, Nancy Wilson, Bernadette Peters, The Burgundy Street Singers, Rita Hayworth, Jim Bailey, Pat Carroll, Karen Wyman, Ken Berry, Cass Elliot, Roddy McDowall, The Jackson 5, and Steve Lawrence. The nights without guests was called a “Family Show”.
During the sketches, they did a lot of movie parodies and had a number of recurring characters, such as “Carol & Sis” with Burnett and Lawrence, “The Family” with Burnett and Korman as squabbling spouses and Lawrence playing the combative mother, Burnett playing ditzy blonde secretary Mrs. Wiggins to Conway's exasperated Mr. Tudball, and the soap opera spoof “As the Stomach Turns”. Burnett would close out the night with her trademark song, “I'm So Glad We Had This Time Together,” and then get autographs from her guests.
Airing March 29, 1978, “A Special Evening with Carol Burnett” is a two-hour special with old clips and sketches with favorite characters. There were two heartfelt moments from Burnett that really stand out. The show surprised her with an appearance by her favorite actor Jimmy Stewart, who sang “Ragtime Cowboy Joe,” and played piano. Dressed as the Charwoman, Burnett spoke directly to the audience about why she felt it was time to end the show and thanking all those involved in making it.
There are a few extras scattered about. On Disc #1, “11 Years of Laughter on The Carol Burnett Show” (27 min) is the story of show told through interviews with Burnett, Conway, Waggoner, Vicki Lawrence, Steve Lawrence and Bernadette Peters. On Disc #3, “Bonus Blooper: The Brown Derby” (1 min), “Bonus Blooper: Dog's Life” (4 min), and an interview with female impersonator Jim Bailey (10 min). On Disc #4, “Bonus Blooper: Bifocals” (1 min). On Disc #6, “The End of 11 Years: Saying So Long” (11 min) finds cast members, guest stars, and famous fans talking about the show and the final episode. “Interview: Carol Burnett” (16 min) presents an overview of the show, some which was used in other bonus material above.
The Best of The Carol Burnett Show: 50th Anniversary Edition is a must-own for fans of sketch comedy and variety shows. Definitely the more discs, the better, so I'd recommend getting a set with as many discs/episodes as your budget can handle.