The Carol Burnett Show is considered to be one of the greatest television programs of all time, yet according to its host, CBS didn’t want to do it for sexist reasons.
Burnett told NBC Tonight Show host Jay Leno Tuesday that CBS executives in the '60s informed her, “Variety is a man’s game” (video follows with transcript and commentary).
Early in their interview, Leno asked, “Your variety show almost didn’t happen, right?”
“That’s right,” Burnett answered. “I had a contract when I was on The Garry Moore Show, and I was leaving Garry’s show, and so I signed a ten-year contract.”
"There was a weird clause,” Burnett continued, “that within the first five years, if I decided to push the button, they would have to put on 30 one-hour variety shows for me.’
"It came towards the end of the fifth year,” Burnett said, “and my husband and I looked at each other and said, ‘Maybe we should push that button.'"
"So I called, we were in California here, and I called CBS in New York, and got one of the guys on the phone, one of the vice presidents, and I said, ‘I want to push the button.’”
“He said, 'What button?'” Burnett continued. “They’d totally forgotten. And I said, 'You know, where I can do an hour-long variety show, 30 shows, you would put it on the air.’ He said. 'Let me get back to you.'”
“So he called the next day, and I'm sure they got a bunch of lawyers out from Christmas parties,” Burnett joked. “And he said, ‘Yeah, Carol, you know, it's really, variety is a man's game…It's Gleason, Milton Berle, it's Dean Martin, it’s Sid Caesar. You know, women. We've got this great sitcom we’d love you to do called Here's Agnes.'”
“Can’t you just see it?” mocked Burnett. “Heeeeere’s Agnes!”
“I said, 'I don't want to be Agnes every week,’” she continued. “'I want to have music, I want to have guest stars, I want to have a rep company, and dancers and singers and the whole megillah.' And they had to put it on the air.”
"So they didn't want to?" asked Leno.
"No," Burnett said.
And despite CBS's desires, millions of Americans are so glad we had this time together.
Thanks for all the marvelous memories, Carol. Saturday night hasn't been the same without you.