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Carol Burnett Show - The Ultimate Collection, The

Other // Unrated // August 6, 2012
List Price: $199.95 [Buy now and save at Timelife]

Review by John Sinnott | posted September 7, 2012 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
When I was in my early teens, I laughed more while watching the Carol Burnett Show than at any other time.  It was a must-see every week.  One of my fondest memories is having two of my best friends spending the night one Saturday evening when, for reasons that escape me, everyone else was out of the house.  One of my pals brought their cassette recorder and he wanted to tape the audio from the show by holding the microphone up to our television's speaker.  He adamantly insisted that no one laugh during the entire broadcast.  Since laughing was verboten, we punched each other in the arm when someone giggled, bit out knuckles, and generally acted foolish during Carol's introduction when she answered questions from the audience.  As soon as the first skit started we all lost it and, between recriminations of who started to laugh first, spent the rest of the show trying not to laugh even though it no longer mattered.  When we played the tape back later that evening, all one could hear were three 13-year-olds cackling like madmen and occasional snippets of the show when we were catching our breath.

Now I realize that nothing will be able to compare with that 35 year old memory, but I was still very excited when it was announced that Time-Life would be releasing The Carol Burnett Show - The Ultimate Collection on DVD.  This massive 22-disc set includes 50 complete shows (skip down to read more about that), four exclusive DVDs filled with bonus material, and a nice 20-page book with photos from the shows, quotes from the guests and co-stars and spotlights on some of the reoccurring sketches.  All this comes in a very nice box that is modeled after a stage, including a 'curtain' that is lifted to gain access to the discs.  Like the other Time-Life releases that I've had the seen, this is a top-notch effort and a real treat for fans of the show.
As many of you probably know, The Carol Burnett Show ran for an impressive 11 season on CBS from 1967-1978.  During that time the show became a staple of American life, broadcasting 278 episodes, winning 25 Emmy Awards, and consistently ranking in the top 25 shows based on ratings for most of its run.  It's been listed as one of the best TV shows of all time by both TV Guide and Time Magazine too.  In other words, it's a classic.  Not only that, it was the last of a dying breed.  The Carol Burnett Show was the last of the big variety shows, a genre that has its origins in vaudeville, transitioned to movies, and was a staple of television since the beginning of the medium.  When the show went off the air at the end of their eleventh season (and it was Carol's decision, the network had renewed the show for season twelve) it marked the end of an era.

Now fans can relive those carefree days once again with this enormous set.  It's not a complete collection of the episodes, nor is it a chronological survey of the show.  Instead it's a collection of some of the best installments of the program, presented in their entirety.  The completist in me baulks at the fact that this is basically a large 'best of' collection, but it makes sense to release it this way, as much as I hate to admit it.  The brutal fact is that there isn't a lot of demand for this sort of show today.  Most variety shows that I have fond memories of (The Mac Davis Show, The Flip Wilson Show, etc. etc.) are still locked away in studio vaults and the ones that have been released have sputtered and failed.  The Smother's Brothers Show only released two seasons of edited shows, Laugh-In has a couple of discs (now out of print if memory serves) out with only a few shows covered, and even that perennial favorite Saturday Night Live, which did things the right way by releasing complete season sets has stopped putting out sets... and it wasn't because sales were too high.  Truth to tell, I'm a bit surprised that the show is getting a release at all, and this massive collection is much more than fans has a reason to hope for.
Note:  I noticed one show did have a skit edited out.  Show #901, from September 20, 1975 with guest star Sammy Davis Jr. has the final segment, a big dance number from the looks of it, cut.  I've e-mailed PR person at Time-Life who is passing the comment up the chain.  When I hear something back about it, I'll update this review. Also, alter reader Ralph E. compared this set with his copies of the Gunthy-Renker discs that were released several years ago and reports that the exact same shows are included in this collection. The extras are new, but the episodes are not.

So what do you get?  Hours of great comedy with some dud sketches thrown into the mix for good measure.  All of the famous characters and notable skits are included at least once in the set, and many have multiple installments.  My favorite reoccurring characters are Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins.  The former is a blond, very dim secretary (Burnett) while the latter, played by Tim Conway, is her eternally exasperated boss with a heavy accent who is only trying to get some work done, something that Mrs. Wiggins seems incapable of doing.  No matter how simple the task that Tudball assigns to her, Wiggins makes a mess of it all while trying to do her nails.  Conway made a catch phrase out of Tudball's wearied calls to his employee, "Missus-sa-ha-Wiggins" and it still cracks me up every time he says it.  Conway does a great slow burn over the course of the skit that always gets me too.

The Family (which would later earn a show of its own (sans Carol Burnett), Mama's Family) came in a close second for favorite skit.  Revolving around an incredibly dysfunctional family including the high strung shrieking Eunice (Burnett), her not-so-bright husband Ed (Korman) and Eunice's passive-aggressive mother Mama (Lawrence), the skits would show the group in an innocuous situation that always devolved into a family squabble at break-neck speed.  Doubtlessly influenced by the radio show The Bickersons, the humor comes from the fact that all of the characters are thoroughly unlikable.  If drama is the conflict between right and wrong, then comedy, in this case at least, is the conflict between wrong and wrong.  No one is in the right, and none of the characters are smart enough to realize it.  It's classic stuff.
The set includes a lot of really excellent stand alone bits too.  There's a hilarious skit looking at the (at the time) new 'no frills' class of air travel.  Harvey Korman is a traveler who bought a regular seat and Tim Conway is bragging that he saved $40 by flying 'no frills.'  That is until he sees that no only does the carpet in the plane end just before his seat, he doesn't have a window either, just a hole in the fuselage.  The flight attendant, who is usually brusque and rude to these cheap passengers offers to take Conway's coat with a smile, only to roll it up and use it as lumbar support for a full-fare passenger.

Without a doubt, the most famous skit that ever appeared on the show was their send-up of Gone with the Wind.  The Civil War drama had aired for the first time on television only the week before and broke ratings records.  When Carol Burnett and her accomplices performed their version, Went with the Wind, it was inspired and hysterical.  Harvey Korman gives a beautiful parody of Clark Gable with his Rat Butler, and Lawrence's excitable Sissy was funny, but Carol steals the show when Starlett makes her appearance in, similar to the way Scarlet did in the original, at the top of a staircase in a dress made out of the only cloth that was available:  the curtains from the windows.  The only difference is that Starlett forgot to take out the curtain rod.  In one of the extras Carol says that scene earned one of the longest laughs in the show's history.
When Sammy Davis Jr. appeared on the show in 1975, they opened with a wonderful sketch about racism.  Davis plays a singer who goes back to his home town, in the deep south, for the first time since hitting it big.  After the show a girl he grew up with, the daughter of the family that his mother work for as a maid, (played by Carol) goes backstage to say how happy she was to see him perform.  She compliments him on his good work ethic "Daddy always said you were the best one at shining his shoes.  He used to say that you had magic spit!" but their reunion reminds the star that no matter how much things have changed, they still remain the same.  Carol's husband didn't come back stage because he was upset at how much the evening cost.  "When he got the bill he said 'A ten-dollar cover charge just to see a singing...' (pause) Well, he was upset."  It was a great skit that reminds us of how far we've come.

No review of the Carol Burnett show would be complete without a mention of Tim Conway and the way he'd crack up the others, especially Harvey Korman.  The show was filmed in front of a live audience, but they ran through the whole thing twice, filming both performances, and then they'd cobble the telecast show together from the best takes.  Tim Conway would do the first performance more or less straight, but on the second one he'd ad lib some of his lines, often going off on weird tangents that were much more bizarre than the original lines.  When Conway played The Old Man, a octogenarian who slowly shuffled wherever he went to the exacerbation of Harvey Korman, Conway would mutter bizarre non sequiturs. The funniest parts of these sketches, aside from Conways remarks, was watching poor Harvey Korman trying not to laugh.  It often didn't work, and his 'corpsing' at it's known in the business, gives the show a live, raw feel to it that makes the program so much more enjoyable.
While I did enjoy these shows immensely, I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't admit that there are many skits, a minority to be sure but still a good number, which just don't play as well today as they did back then.  Some of them are dated by referring to celebrities or public figures that are no longer well know, and others are too corny to really be funny.  The big production music numbers often feature standard songs, for example, that aren't so standard any more.  There's still fun to watch, but more for the outrageous costumes that were designed than for the songs themselves.

Even with the duds, this is a really fun and funny collection that's well worth checking out.
The DVDs:
This collection arrives in a very attractive box that will look great on a shelf.  Modeled after the show's title screen, it has an animated Carol as "The Charwoman" peaking out from under a stage curtain just as the show opened with every week.  One word of warning:  To open the set you slide the curtain off of the box, and the cleaning lady doesn't move.  At first I was trying to slide the character, but she's definitely stationary.
Inside the box are several DVD cases.  This Ultimate Collection includes three six-disc sets entitled Carol's Favorites, This Time Together, and One More Time, as well as four DVDs worth of extras.  In addition there is a nice 20-page booklet with pictures from the show, quotes from the guests and co-stars and spotlights on some of the reoccurring sketches.
The shows are presented with their original mono soundtrack and they sound fine for a show from the 70's.  There are some limitations due to the technology of the time, naturally, but they haven't deteriorated as much as some shows I've seen.  There is some distortion when a loud noise suddenly occurs, and there is some background noise in some parts, but overall these sound just fine.
The full frame image looks pretty good in general.  The picture is fairly sharp and there's a good amount of detail.  There are some flaws, most of which seem to have crept in when the show was originally recorded.  There are some crushed whites, comet trails (images that are left on the screen when a video camera pans across a bright light) are not uncommon, and a bit of chroma noise can been seen if you look for it.  These aren't terrible and never distract, and as I said they were most likely seen when the show was originally broadcast.  The positives outweigh these few imperfections however and fans will be pleased with the look of these programs.
Wow.  Just wow.  Time/Life really went all-out with the extras on this collection.  There are over 20 hours worth of bonus material all together and it's enough to keep any fan happy for a long time.  I won't go over ever item (though I'll list them all at the end) and instead just hit some of the highlights.  The extras I zipped to first were the two episodes of The Garry Moore Show.  Though largely forgotten today, this is the program that first brought Carol Burnett into the homes of Americans.  She won her first Emmy in 1962 for her part on the show.  Included is this collection are the programs from April 24, 1962 and June 26, 1962.  The latter is Carol's last appearance on the show.
Another nice bonus is the virtual autograph book.  As viewers will remember, at the end of every show Carol would bring out an autograph book and have her guests sign it as the credits were rolling.  As an extra they've recreated the book from season 10 and have links to performances by the guests.
There are also many interviews with actors and comedians both young and old.  People as varied as Jane Lynch, Bernadette Peters, Jerry Lewis, Any Poehler, and Carl Reiner are interviewed.  There are also some great featurettes including a very entertaining look that the cast loosing control and laughing during the taping.  It's a very complete package. 
The extras are as follows:
Disc One:
  • The Garry Moore Show episode featuring Carol Burnett's last appearance as a member of the cast (original air date June 26, 1962)
  • Bonus Sketch: "Society Marriage" with Jerry Lewis (original air date January 11, 1971)
  • Bonus Sketch: "The Rock Sisters" with Lucille Ball (original air date November 24, 1969)
  • Featurette: Bring Up the Lights--Carol's Q&As
  • "Harvey Korman & Tim Conway--Together Again": A rare interview with Harvey and Tim (taped in Los Angeles on April 24, 2004), talking about their ten years together on The Carol Burnett Show
  • Interviews with:
    • Ken Berry
    • Lainie Kazan
    • Bernadette Peters
    • Carl Reiner
    • Gail Parent
    • Kenny Solms
    • Tim Conway
Disc Two:
  • Bonus Sketch: "Brown Derby" with Bing Crosby and cameo by Bob Hope (original air date November 10, 1969)
  • Featurette: Laugh Tracks--A Tribute to the Writers on The Carol Burnett Show
  • Featurette: Starlet, Mildred, and More--A Celebration of the Movie Parodies
  • "Harvey Korman Remembers"--Interview with Harvey Korman, reminiscing about The Carol Burnett Show and other career highlights (taped in Los Angeles, April 24, 2004)
  • Guest Book From Season 10 -- A visual tour, signed by Carol's guests
  • Interviews with:
    • Jerry Lewis
    • Amy Poehler
    • Lyle Waggoner
    • Ellen DeGeneres
    • Jane Lynch
    • Kyra Thompson
    • Bob Mackie
    • Betty White
Disc Three:
  • The Garry Moore Show episode featuring Carol Burnett in the "Cinderella" sketch--with Carol as Cinderella (original air date April 24, 1962)
  • "Harvey Korman Remembers"--Interview with Harvey Korman, reminiscing about his career (taped in Los Angeles, April 24, 2004)
  • Bonus Sketch: Lovely Story, parody of Love Story (original air date February 1, 1971)
  • Featurette: Next Stop, Broadway--About the Mini-Musicals
  • Interviews with:
    • Amy Poehler
    • Kyra Thompson
    • Gail Parent
    • Kenny Solms
    • Lyle Waggoner
    • Rita Moreno
    • Bernadette Peters
    • Tim Conway
Disc Four:
  • Bonus Sketch: Sunnyset Boulevard, parody of Sunset Boulevard, with Carol and Harvey Korman (original air date December 29, 1971)
  • Featurette: Breaking Up Is Hard...Not to Do--The Ensemble Chemistry and Famous "Break-Ups" on The Carol Burnett Show
  • Featurette: We Love You Harvey
  • Interviews with:
    • Ken Berry
    • Lainie Kazan
    • Steve Lawrence
    • Jane Lynch
    • Vicki Lawrence
    • Bob Mackie
    • Rita Moreno
Final Thoughts:
I was just a little worried when I cracked open the first disc.  Would it be as funny as I remembered it?  While there are a number of skits that are dated or just fall flat, the majority of them are hilarious.  A great collection of shows that will keep you entertained for hours and hours.  The Carol Burnett Show - The Ultimate Collection is a great buy and comes Highly Recommended.






Highly Recommended

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