The Carol Burnett Show stands as one of the greatest comedic TV shows of all time — and it’s all thanks to Carol Burnett. The show ran for 11 seasons from 1967 to 1978, and it contained infamous sketches fans will certainly never forget.
“The Family” sketch is one of the most memorable from the show. But it turns out writers didn’t like it when Burnett introduced her ideas. Here’s what happened.
‘The Family’ sketches on ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ were a hit
The Carol Burnett Show contained plenty of hilarious comedic sketches, and “The Family” was certainly one of them. Madly Odd reminds us the sketch had Burnett play Eunice, Harvey Korman play her husband, Ed, and Vicki Lawrence play Mama. Ed and Eunice are hilarious and completely relatable, while Mama lives with them and really brings the comedy to life.
Lawrence reflected on her time as Mama during the sketch. Television Academy Foundation notes Lawrence said the physical look of Mama changed greatly from the beginning, as her character initially wore large fake eyelashes that were later removed. And when it came to creating the character, Mama got “much deeper” the more Lawrence played her.
“Mama matured and got much deeper and more wonderful as a character as I found her and embraced her,” Lawrence added. “I think she’s gotten much better with age.”
Writers hated the sketches Carol Burnett came up with at first
Audiences loved “The Family,” but the sketch was very controversial with the writing team at the time. Television Academy Foundation notes Lawrence said the writers hated the direction Burnett wanted to take the show. They didn’t approve of the fictional family’s fake southern accents or of Lawrence playing Mama.
“They hated that she wanted to do it Southern,” Lawrence explained. “They said this is going to offend the entire southern half of the country. And Carol said, ‘No, this is where I feel it belongs.’ They hated that I was Mama and that [Burnett] was Eunice. They pretty much hated everything we did with it.”
Lawrence then explained that once the writers saw the sketch as Burnett wanted it, they were so upset “they threw down their pads and pencils and stormed out of the rehearsal hall.” The writers then told Burnett she “ruined” the sketch and the characters — but such was not actually the case.
Fans adored ‘The Family’ sketches
While the writers were concerned “The Family” would offend their Southern viewers, it seems they had nothing to worry about. Lawrence noted the sketch got positive reactions from fans, and the writers had to keep writing “The Family” sketches to keep up with demand.
“It would take them six weeks to write one of those sketches,” she added. “And Carol couldn’t wait. She was like, ‘When are we going to do another ‘Family.’”
As far as how the remainder of the cast felt, Korman wasn’t a fan of the sketch. But he did tell Lawrence she got her characterization of Mama exactly right. “She is a real, real character,” Lawrence recalled Korman told her.
After the success of “The Family,” Mama’s Family, a separate sitcom based on the same characters was born in the ’80s. And it’s all thanks to Burnett’s persistence.
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