Until now only the last six seasons of the series have been in syndication or available on DVD. The recently released set (available in configurations of up to 22 discs) shines the spotlight on episodes from the first five seasons of the show, which also featured the superlative comedic supporting cast of Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman and Lyle Waggoner.
Among the guest stars appearing in these installments are Jim Nabors, Tim Conway (who would later become a regular), Bing Crosby, Paul Lynde, Eddie Albert, Lucille Ball, Bob Newhart, Mel Torme and Flip Wilson. The skits are funny and lively as ever – and a reminder of why Burnett remains an inspiration for new generations of female comedians.
The collection also features hours of bonus programming, including a backstage tour of CBS Studio 33 (where the show was taped), bloopers, outtakes and bonus sketches.
The gracious Burnett, 82, recently chatted by phone about the series and the new DVD set.
Q. Did you personally select the episodes?
A. I went through a lot of stuff and recommended certain ones to Time Life. They had to look at them. There were some they couldn’t clear because of the rights to the music I think. Depending on how everything goes, we will be releasing more.
Q. It was fun to see how costumes and hairstyles evolved over those first five seasons.
A: And the hair color! What is really fascinating is to see the growth in everybody over the years. To see Vicki who was 18 (when the show started) and how at first we just used her in the “Carol and Sis” sketches where she set up the premise. Then we started using her as other characters.
Harvey took Vicki under his wing, and she was like a little sponge. She totally observed everything, and you see what she turns into – a brilliant comedic actress. Even Harvey changed. He was great to begin with, and then he developed and so did I. It was kind of fun how raw we were in a sense and to see that growth over the five-year period.
Q. Speaking of growth, Waggoner transformed into the uber-handsome announcer you would go crazy over to a first-rate comic actor.
A. It was Carl Reiner’s suggestion that we get a hunk of an announcer so I could have fun with that. Carl had seen me to do the same kind of thing on “The Garry Moore Show” when Robert Goulet was on, or Peter Lawford where I was this goofy, zany girl. We took his advice. We started auditioning all of these good-looking guys. Lyle walked in, and it was practically no contest.
He was funny and didn’t take himself seriously. He was hired on the spot, and we started using him in sketches. Then after a while, I said, “I have two children and am married. To go gaga over Lyle all the time … it was enough already.” As the years went by, we stopped doing that bit.
Q. I always loved it that everyone would break up during the sketches, especially when Korman and Conway would get together. And in the “Lost Episodes” there is that wonderful moment where you can’t stop laughing when you see Korman in drag as the rather plump Mother Marcus.
A. He was doing the character in rehearsal but he was not in all of that drag. When I saw him … and the audience went crazy. It was spontaneous.
When we started the show, I wanted to do it as if we were a live show. Unless the scenery falls down and knocks us out, we are going to keep going because of the danger of it, the excitement of it.
Q. I would assume there were various legal issues that kept these episodes out of syndication and release on DVD?
A. Yes. I was never in on all of that. That was the era when I was just the little woman who would go on and do the show. So when we stopped doing the show, we were already in syndication for the last six years. So we said we’ll put the six through 11 years in reruns and forget about the (first) five years. It worked out that we could do it now, which I think is kind of even better. It’s kind of a hoot to have those.
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