If you’re up to your elbows in post-holiday clean-up and could use some laughs, check out the rebroadcast of The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor salute to Carol Burnett, airing on PBS tonight, Friday, January 3, from 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET, check local listings). The beloved comedienne received the 16th Mark Twain Prize this past Fall and was feted in the D.C. performing arts center by a bevy of talented performers whose anecdotes were followed by classic segments from her long-running TV show, as well as vintage clips from her early work on Broadway, “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Gary Moore Show.”
The Carol Burnett Show was named by Time Magazine as one of the “100 Best Television Shows of All Time.” It ran for 11 years, averaged 30 million viewers per week and received 25 Emmy Awards. It is currently a hit on the DVD circuit. Burnett added the Twain prize to an Awards shelf already jam-packed with six Emmys, 12 People’s Choice Awards, eight Golden Globes, the Horatio Alger Award, Peabody and Ace Awards, a Kennedy Center honor, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It’s clear from the clips included in this tribute that Burnett’s comic and collaborative genius made shows like “Saturday Night Live” possible. In fact, several SNL alums honor Burnett here. But, with the exception of Amy Poehler, who practically steals the show in a riotous comic bit, all are major disappointments. Tina Fey opens the proceedings with inappropriate dated political humor that falls flat (don’t let this stop you from watching the rest of the show!), Martin Short seems pretty much glued to the teleprompter, and Maya Rudolph has nothing new to add.
Stand-out tributes come from Burnett pals and colleagues Lucie Arnaz, Julie Andrews, Carl Reiner, Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway, and protegé Rosemary Watson. Lucie Arnaz’s comical revelations about her mom, Lucille Ball’s relationship with Burnett are followed by a treasured clip of Lucy and Carol as a pair of ambitious cleaning women at the William Morris Agency. Tony Bennett serenades Burnett with a lovely rendition of “The Way You Look Tonight.” And, of course, her longtime collaborators, Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway, provide hilarious anecdotes and are featured in many of the memorable clips shown during the program.
I was also touched by mention of Carol’s ongoing kindness to fans and support for talented young performers (Rosemary Watson tells her story) and the attention paid to costume designer Bob Mackie, who was a vital creative collaborator on The Carol Burnett Show. Starlet O’Hara, Nora Desmond, Mama, Eunice, Mrs. Wiggins and the rest of Carol, Vicki, Tim and Harvey Korman’s beloved characters found their footing (or lack of it) in Mackie’s brilliant costumes, some of which are now housed at The Smithsonian.
Carol Burnett: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize airs again tonight, January 3, on PBS from 9:00 – 11:00 p.m. (ET, check local listings). Enjoy! –Judith Trojan