They don’t make ‘em like that anymore. Now there’s an overused phrase when it comes to movies and television. It’s a lament usually spoken by someone one or two generations removed from the current pop culture. Yet it rings true when the conversation is about The Carol Burnett Show, the critically acclaimed hit series that debuted on CBS in 1967 and ran for eleven seasons. The Carol Burnett Show was the last of a dying breed of TV- the prime time variety show. By the late 70’s, Saturday Night Live’s edgier and more dangerous brand of comedy became the new model for sketch variety shows and they were relegated to late night.
For many of us, The Carol Burnett Show was background noise that our parents laughed at while we played with our dolls or read comic books. Perhaps if the show had become a syndicated staple, like I Love Lucy or The Jeffersons, it would retain the type of revered status that those and other TV classics do. I never saw The Carol Burnett Show in reruns during the 80’s, did you? This makes Time/Life’s venture into the TV vaults all the more exciting. Finally, several generations can see the genius of Burnett and her wonderful co-stars, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway.
Time/Life has released four different configurations of the best of The Carol Burnett Show. The DVD releases all feature original, uncut masters of the episodes personally chosen by Burnett. The masters are very clean and don’t seem to have aged much over time. Although hi-def TV’s may show a little more graininess, the image quality is still excellent. Some episodes have been available before through subscription, these releases mark the first time that episodes from the variety show are available in stores. By all indications, this will be an ongoing series of releases, as Time/Life has been promoting these as “initial” releases. Let’s hope so, because everything I saw was hilarious, especially the late Korman, who couldn’t keep a straight face if his life depended on it. I swear, I laughed just as hard watching him try to keep it together as I did the actual skits.
For the curious, noncommittal TV viewer, you have the choice of a single The Best of The Carol Burnett Show DVD. This disc doesn’t have as much, but does include the famous “Went with the Wind” sketch that parodies Gone with the Wind. Better than the single DVD is the 2-disc “Best of” compilation that contains seven episodes. Both of these choices come with bonus features, including a roundtable discussion between Burnett, Conway, Lawrence and Waggoner, a tribute to the late Korman, and featurettes on the history of the show.
Longtime fans who don’t want to shell out the big bucks (yet) should prefer a 6 DVD set entitled Carols Favorites. This collection boasts seventeen episodes, some of which include guest appearances by Steve Martin, George Carlin, Shirley MacLaine and the Jackson 5. For the truly diehard fans who’ve been waiting thirty years to watch some of their favorite episodes, The Carol Burnett Show Ultimate Collection is a 22 DVD monster that contains 50 episodes, 20 hours of bonus features, including three episodes of The Garry Moore Show (where Burnett made her breakthrough) and rare interviews with the cast, including one between Conway and Korman. The set comes housed in a box that features a replica of the curtain from the show’s opening.
All around, any of these releases are a nice addition to an avid TV fan’s collection. If I were to choose, I would go with the 6 DVD set. It gives you an ample selection of great material chosen from the eleven years the show was on the air, and it’s not nearly as expensive as the Ultimate Collection. That said, if you do have the funds, that massive set is beautifully put together and one nice gift for the upcoming holiday season. For any of you who have never seen (or even heard of) The Carol Burnett Show, it’s time to check it out, because they really don’t make ‘em like this anymore.