Comic Vision Is Burnett’s Secret : Television: The Emmy Award-winning star’s new show appears to be on the way to a full-time slot in the fall.


What’s the secret of Carol Burnett’s television success?

Call it a broad comic vision.

“There’s a visceral gut fun--like a kid throwing mud pies or snowballs--to getting a pie in the face, taking a pratfall, that just takes me back to being 2 or 3 years old,” the star of NBC’s “Carol & Company” says.

A television star for more than 30 years, the Emmy Award-winning Burnett returned this spring to her first prime-time series in 11 years (Saturday nights), and she appears to be on her way to a full-time berth in the fall.


Warm, accessible, unpretentious, an across-the-board crowd-pleaser, Burnett is playing a programming long shot and appears to be winning.

“Carol & Company,” which premiered in March and has a 12-episode run, is a comedy anthology--with Burnett at center stage, a cast of five series regulars and occasional guests. Anthologies have a number of disadvantages from a programming perspective, the most significant of which is the absence of a built-in hook, a returning character in whom audiences can invest.

Burnett says that she and executive producer Matt Williams (creator and former executive producer of ABC’s “Roseanne”) had the same idea independently about five years ago.

“I’d been getting offers to do half-hour situation comedies where I would play the same character every week,” Burnett recalls. But the idea didn’t appeal to her, though she says she knows it’s what any network executive would probably prefer.

“That’s just not my background or my training,” Burnett says. “I love to stick wigs on and be different people. Basically, I guess if I wanted to describe what I enjoy the most, it’s being a musical-comedy performer. That’s what I did on ‘The Gary Moore Show’ (from 1959 to 1962) and on my show (‘The Carol Burnett Show’) for 11 years (from 1967), and that to me is just the most fun.”

What Burnett wanted, and seems to be getting from “Carol & Company,” is “that same feeling of being a little kid getting all dressed up and pretending to be somebody else.”

In the weeks since the show’s debut, for example, Burnett has played a transsexual who attends a reunion at the high school where she had been quarterback; a washed-up soap-opera star doing her final scene, and a woman who takes her grown-up kids to court as a way of getting them out of her house and her hair.

The audience reaction, she says, has been about what she expected.


“The opinions just vary from one week to the next, and they’re all mixed, which I think will be the nature of this show,” she says.