Carol Burnett Pitched CBS Her 90th Birthday Celebration, but They Declined — Giving NBC a Monster Hit

You’d think CBS would have jumped at the chance to snag Carol Burnett’s “90 Years of Laughter + Love” birthday special. Not only did the comedy legend’s variety show run on the network for 11 seasons, but so did its 50th anniversary special in 2017.

“We first went to CBS, but they passed,” Burnett told me at an FYC event for the birthday special. “I did my show with them and all my specials, so naturally we went to them.”

Fortunately, NBC bought the special, and it went on to score an impressive 7.6 million viewers. It’s now favored to pick up an Emmy nomination. “NBC couldn’t have been greater,” she said. “They’ve been so supportive right from the get-go.”

A rep for CBS declined to comment.

The guest list for the special, which premiered April 26, included Julie Andrews, Cher, Katy Perry, Kristin Chenoweth, Billy Porter, Jane Lynch, Bernadette Peters, Bill Hader, Amy Poehler, Lily Tomlin, Laura Dern, Steve Carell, Tracee Ellis Ross and Taraji P. Henson.

Burnett also talked about how she and her variety show co-stars would famously break during their skits. “It was never on purpose. It was never planned – and it was usually Tim Conway’s fault,” she said. “He would go off script and poor Harvey Korman, he didn’t have a chance and Harvey always prided himself on being serious about his comedy. He hated himself when Tim got him. But people think that’s all we did, but it wasn’t. It was very little, when you think of 11 years and 200 and some odd shows. It was a very small percentage of the time that that happened. It’s just people remember it because it was so delicious.”

I asked Burnett if there was a role she regretted not getting over her decades-long career. Without missing a beat, she cracked, “Cleopatra.”

She added, “If I had stayed in New York and doing Broadway, I would have loved to have done ‘Annie Get Your Gun.’ I would have loved to have done ‘Mame’ and ‘Gypsy’ because the scores and the books are so brilliant.”

As for what Burnett is watching these days? She’s a big “The White Lotus” fan. Like many, she was shocked by the fate of Tanya (Jennifer Coolidge) at the end of Season 2: “I was like, ‘No, they’re not going to kill her?!’”

What does Burnett have planned for her 100th birthday? She laughed, “I think I’m just going to be grateful.”

“Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love” is available to stream on Peacock.

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