The TV Series
Fans of Carol Burnett's legendary 1967-78 variety show are well aware that some of the series' most memorable bits arose whenever Carol and her fellow regulars couldn't help but break character and laugh (Siamese elephant, anyone?). The six-DVD collection The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Crack Ups offers several of those moments, each of its seventeen hilarious episodes containing at least one instance when a cast member succumbed to the giggles (usually from Tim Conway, that prankster).
Like Time-Life's other recent Carol Burnett Show sets, the episodes in Carol's Crack Ups are provided in their original hour-long format (yes!) with no edits or substitutions. For people like me who grew up seeing the antics of Carol Burnett, Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and (in the final two seasons) Dick Van Dyke in their "greatest hits" syndicated incarnation Carol Burnett and Friends, watching the show the way it was originally broadcast on CBS proves to be a fascinating experience. The shows come across as infinitely more relaxed and loose this way, which underscores the fact that Burnett and her producer husband Joe Hamilton had assembled one of the tightest, most family-like working arrangements on TV. Including the opening segments of Carol fielding questions from the audience, kitschy musical numbers, opportunities for various guest stars to stroke their egos (Andy Griffith singing a spiritual! Charo strumming her guitar!), and lesser-known skits alongside the stuff we all know and love serves as concrete proof that this was, first and foremost, a variety show. Sure, it wasn't all that hep (and, to be honest, several segments drag on too long), but it's refreshing to see something that sought to engage grannies, parents, teens and kiddies with warmth and whacked out humor.
At its peak, The Carol Burnett Show represented an ironic, Mad magazine mentality transposed to mainstream TV. Not particularly cutting-edge or politically motivated, the show's humor gently poked fun at the sort of things its suburban, family-oriented audience could relate to: celebrities, soap operas, mainstream pop culture (lots of Broadway send-ups, for example), feminism, consumerism and television commercials. The uncut episodes on Crack Ups offer a window on flashy '70s entertainment, Bob Mackie costumes and all. The episodes also showcase the incredible chemistry Carol had with her cast and guest stars, especially on the recurring skits: those "Late Late Show" classic movie parodies, Carol & Sis, The Old Folks, As The Stomach Turns, The Family with Mama and Eunice (no Mr. Tudball & Mrs. Wiggins, however). Personally, the most fascinating parts were the introductory question-and-answer sessions with the audience. Not only did they demonstrate the host's special bond with her fans, they also offered a cool fashion contrast between the audience's '70s-casual attire and Carol's glitzy, flattering Mackie ensembles. How's that for variety?
The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Crack Ups provides hours of entertainment for fans and newbies alike (My personal favorite on the set? The Gloria Swanson-guested one from 1973.). Those who are seeking a representative sampling of Carol's show across the years might be disappointed, however. Crack Ups mostly concentrates on seasons 6 and 7 (when the writing was sharpest) and seasons 10 and 11 (including the final year when Korman and Conway overlapped as regular cast members). As much as we'd love to see complete season sets, the sheer amount of footage in each season would deem it a cost-prohibitive venture, plus the ample use of music would make it a rights-acquiring nightmare. Besides, Carol herself is apparently not too fond of the show's first three years, when it was still finding its groove (still, it would be nice to see at least one 1967-70 era episode - pretty please, Carol?).
StarVista's The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Crack Ups consists of the following episodes and supplements, spread over six discs:
#0605 ____ 27/Sep/72 ____ Andy Griffith; Helen Reddy
"Turn Your Radio On" musical number with Andy Griffith; "The Movie Fan" sketch; "I Am Woman" Helen Reddy performance; "The Prison Visit" sketch; "The Strine Lesson" comedy song with Carol and Helen Reddy; "Rebecky" movie parody; "The Chain Of Life" musical number with Andy Griffith, Helen Reddy and cast.
#1107 ____ 22/Oct/77 ____ Family Show
"The Peeping Tom" sketch; "No-Frills Gas" sketch; "Lights Out" sketch; "Love on a Trapeze" sketch; "Magazine" musical number.
#0615 ____ 06/Jan/73 ____ Tim Conway; Jack Cassidy
"World's Oldest Orphan" sketch with Harvey, Carol and Tim Conway; "Gesticulate" musical number with Jack Cassidy; "The New Angel" sketch with Harvey and Tim Conway; "The Story of a Star" movie parody with cast and Jack Cassidy.
Bonus Sketch - "As the Stomach Turns" with Valerie Harper and Tim Conway (from show #620).
Bonus Featurettes - Almost Live; Breaking Up Is Hard… Not to Do.
#0603 ____ 29/Nov/72 ____ Carl Reiner; Melba Moore
"Let's Make a Bargain" sketch with Carol and Carl Reiner; "You've Got A Friend" musical number with Melba Moore; "Terminal Hospital" sketch with Carl Reiner, Melba Moore and cast; "The Writer #1" sketch with Carl Reiner, Carol and Harvey; "Have A Little Talk With Myself" musical number with Melba Moore and Carol; "The Plot To Hurt Hitler" sketch with Carl Reiner and cast; "Rip-Off" musical number with cast, Melba Moore and Carl Reiner.
#0705 ____ 29/Sep/73 ____ Gloria Swanson
"Carol and Sis: Dinner Invitation" sketch; "I've Been Around/New Fangled Tango" musical number with Gloria Swanson; "The Old Folks: The Golf Tournament" sketch; "Tonight at Eight/If Mama Was Married" musical number; "The Guilty Man" sketch; "Charwoman: Silents Is Golden" sketch with Gloria Swanson and cast.
#0701 ____ 22/Sep/73 ____ Tim Conway; Charo
"Unisex Salon" sketch with Tim Conway, Carol and Vicki; "Midnight Guitar" musical number with Charo; "Boring Speech" sketch with Tim Conway, Vicki and Lyle; "Interview with Chiquita" sketch with Charo, Tim Conway and Carol; "A Day in the Life of an American Housewife" sketch with Tim Conway, Carol and Lyle; "Scorpio" musical number with The Campbellock Dancers (The Lockers); "As Long As He Needs Me" sketch; "Luck Be a Lady" musical number with Charo and cast.
Bonus Sketches - "Open Wider Please" sketch with Carol and George Carlin (from show #1122); "Two Man Sub" sketch (from show #719); "The Interrogator" sketch (from show #720).
Bonus Featurettes - Tim Conway: Cracker Upper In Chief; Tim Conway Interview.
#0712 ____ 15/Dec/73 ____ Ruth Buzzi; Richard Crenna
"Adam and Eve 12" sketch with Richard Crenna and Carol; "Just Squeeze Me/Oh, You Beautiful Doll" musical number with Ruth Buzzi; "Celebrities and Peasants" sketch with Ruth Buzzi, Carol and Lyle; "Salute to Bad Girls" parodies with Ruth Buzzi, Richard Crenna and cast; "Raised to Be Rotten" parody with Ruth Buzzi, Richard Crenna, Carol and Harvey; "Mimeo" musical number wiht Ruth Buzzi and cast.
#0711 ____ 01/Dec/73 ____ Family Show
"TV Commericals" parodies; "The Models" sketch; "The Shape of Things" musical number with Carol; "Carol and Sis" sketch; "Ships In The Night" musical number with Vicki; "Back Alley" sketch; "Those Were The Days" musical number with cast.
#0815 ____ 11/Jan/75 ____ Tim Conway
"Beniha-ha" sketch with Tim Conway, Dick Van Dyke and Harvey; "The Old Folks: X-Rated Movie" sketch; "All Of Me" musical number with Carol; "The Boxerette" sketch with Tim Conway, Carol, Harvey and Vicki; "Wild Party" musical number with The Ernie Flatt Dancers; "The Witness" sketch with Dick Van Dyke and cast; "The Other Secretary" sketch; "Mack The Black" musical number with Tim Conway, Vicki, Carol and Harvey.
Bonus Sketches - "The Oldest Man: Fireman" with Tim and Harvey (from show #620); "Group Therapy" with cast, James Garner and Ken Berry (from show #1122).
Bonus Featurettes - We Love You, Harvey; Tim on the Street.
#0617 ____ 27/Jan/73 ____ Tim Conway; Kaye Ballard
"Service Station Attendant" sketch with Tim Conway and Harvey; "Go in the Best of Health" musical number with Kaye Ballard and Carol; "The Luncheon" sketch with Kaye Ballard, Carol and Vicki; "The Dater's Game" parody with Tim Conway, Kaye Ballard and cast; "Salute to the Palace" musical number with Kay Ballard, Tim Conway and cast.
#1115 ____ 08/Jan/78 ____ Roddy McDowall; Ken Berry
"Tacky Lady" sketch; "The Family: Honorary Degree" sketch with Roddy McDowall, Carol and Vicki; "Pool Fools" sketch with Ken Berry and Tim; "A Romantic Moment" sketch with Roddy McDowall and Carol; "High Hat" musical number with Ken Berry, Roddy McDowall and cast.
#1014 ____ 18/Dec/76 ____ Dick Van Dyke
"The Interrogator" sketch; "My Coloring Book" musical number with Dick Van Dyke and Carol; "Two Lonely People" sketch with Dick Van Dyke and Carol; "Little Miss Showbiz" musical parody with Dick Van Dyke and cast.
#1103 ____ 01/Oct/77 ____ Steve Lawrence
"Danny Draft" sketch with Steve Lawrence, Carol and Tim; "Every Time I Sing A Love Song/I Could Never Really Sing" musical number with Steve Lawrence and Dick; "TV Holdouts" sketches with Steve Lawrence and cast; "Fran Sancisco" movie parody with Steve Lawrence and cast.
#1105 ____ 08/Oct/77 ____ Family Show
"Company Man" sketch with Carol and Dick; "They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore" musical number; "Lucky Stiff" sketch with Carol, Tim and Dick; "Goodbye at the Airport" sketch; "Till Death Do Us Part" sketch with Carol and Tim; "Once in Love with Amy" musical number with Dick.
#0619 ____ 10/Feb/73 ____ John Byner; Petula Clark
"I Can't Remember (How It Was Before)" musical number with Petula Clark; "Comedy Spot" sketch with John Byner; "The Old Folks: The Garage Sale" sketch with Carol and Harvey; "TV Commercials" parodies with Carol, Vicki, Lyle and Petula Clark; "Alice Portnoy: The Kidnappers" sketch with Carol, Harvey and John Byner; "Modern Artist" sketch with Carol and Harvey; "The Firing of Donald Duck" sketch with Harvey, Lyle and John Byner; "Turn Around/God Bless the Child" musical number with Petula Clark and Carol.
#0723 ____ 23/Mar/74 ____ John Byner; Francine Beers
"The Diner" sketch with Carol, Harvey and Lyle; "Comedy Spot" sketche with Carol and John Byner; "Carol and Sis: The Neighbor" sketch with Carol, Vicki and Francine Beers; "Mama's Gonna Make It All Better" musical number with Vicki; "Humanoids" sketch with Carol, Harvey, Vicki and John Byner; "The Annual Rural Music Awards Show" musical number with John Byner and cast.
#1011 ____ 04/Dec/76 ____ Alan King
"Sleep No More My Lady" sketch with Carol and Tim; "You Say The Nicest Things" musical number with Carol and Alan King; "The Session" sketch with Carol and Alan King; "Salute To Warner Bros." parody with Alan King and cast; "Busby Berkeley Musical" musical number with Alan King and cast.
Although StarVista put a disclaimer on each of these discs warning about the inherent audio-visual flaws in these shows, they actually come across looking pretty decent for 40 year-old videotapes. Color is faded, highlights are somewhat blown out, and the aged video has a pervasive softness. A few age-related artifacts pop up every once in a while, and a few episodes sport a softer picture, regardless of the program's age. Mostly it looks agreeable enough, however.
The original mono mixes are supplied, in unexceptional mixes that are typical of vintage '70s television. Despite the limited dynamic range and signs of age, they sound all right with no obvious flaws. No subtitles are provided.
This set includes well over two hours worth of brand new featurettes, along with a handful of sketches from various episodes (outlined above). Of the new-to-DVD stuff, the Almost Live one is the most entertaining, containing warm recollections from Carol, Tim, Vicki and Lyle, along with thoughts from frequent guests like Carl Reiner, Joel Grey, Bernadette Peters, Ken Berry, Steve Lawrence, and Betty White, behind-the-scenes folks like Bob Mackie and writers Kenny Solms and Gail Parent. Based on the affectionate contributions from these folks and current fans like Jane Lynch, Ellen DeGeneris and Amy Poehler, I'd say Carol was one of the most beloved people to ever host a TV show. Breaking Up Is Hard… Not to Do has the cast recounting some of the more hilarious unscripted moments in the show (they taped each episode twice, with most of what eventually aired coming from the looser second taping). Tim Conway fans will especially be pleased with these new-to-disc features, since he's the focus for three of them (some overlapping footage exists between them). A 16-page booklet containing each episode's airdates, sketches and descriptive write-ups is also included.
Seventeen uncut vintage 1972-78 Carol Burnett Show episodes, plus a bunch of extras - what more could you ask for? If the contents of the 6-DVDThe Carol Burnett Show: Carol's Crack-Ups seem kind of random and arbitrarily chosen (themed around the cast's unscripted bouts of the giggles, which happened nearly every episode), there's enough sheer entertainment here to keep even the grumpiest of viewers occupied. Comedy, music and kitsch - viva variety! Highly Recommended.
Matt Hinrichs is a designer, artist, film critic and jack-of-all-trades in Phoenix, Arizona. Since 2000, he has been blogging at Scrubbles.net. 4 Color Cowboy is his repository of Western-kitsch imagery, while other films he's experienced are logged at Letterboxd. He also welcomes friends on Twitter @4colorcowboy.