CBS Didn’t Want Carol Burnett’s Birthday Special, Just Like They Didn’t Want Her Show in the First Place
In how many different decades must a woman make smash-hit television for CBS to take her seriously? More than seven, apparently.
Back in April, Carol Burnett’s televised birthday celebration/variety hour, Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love, attracted appearances from A-listers like Steve Carell, Bill Hader and Bob Odenkirk as well as a whopping 7.6 million eyeballs for NBC, which was higher than the viewership of any game in last year’s NBA Finals. The show was a massive hit as the queen of the broadcast comedy hour proved that she’s still got it — even if CBS doesn’t believe it.
According to Variety, Burnett first pitched the birthday special to CBS, as the station previously hosted all 11 seasons of The Carol Burnett Show and a number of her specials since the finale. However, Burnett’s former home didn’t think that the 90-year-old deserved 90 minutes on a Wednesday night, so she took her talents across the street to their rivals. That may seem like a questionable call for the suits at CBS, but it makes slightly more sense knowing that they never wanted her show in the first place.
“We first went to CBS, but they passed,” Burnett told Variety. “I did my show with them and all my specials, so naturally we went to them.” When CBS balked at the opportunity to print more money off of Burnett’s name, NBC jumped at the chance. Said the legend, “NBC couldn’t have been greater. They’ve been so supportive right from the get-go.”
Leading up to the birthday show, Burnett went on a media tour wherein she discussed the difficulties she faced in getting her historic series off the ground. Burnett had a contract with CBS to put out 30 one-hour variety shows in a year when she felt she was ready, but when she decided to punch her ticket, an unnamed executive told her, “Comedy variety is a man’s game. It’s Sid Caesar, it’s Milton Berle, it’s Jackie Gleason, it’s Dean Martin. It’s really not for you gals.” Burnett ignored the anonymous asshole’s advice and spent the next decade carving her name into CBS history.
Then, on April 26th, while Burnett was celebrating her birthday with a televised attendance larger than the population of Arizona, CBS decided that the 644th episode of Survivor and a rerun of FBI was more worth their while. Burnett shouldn’t even give CBS a call when she inevitably plans her centennial show — looking at the direction of broadcast TV, she may very well have outlived them by then.