Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Reconstructing the Carol Burnett Show, Part 6

Reconstructing the missing episodes of The Carol Burnett Shows has been difficult of late. MeTV has advanced to the old Carol Burnett and Friends segments from seasons six through 11 which first aired in syndication during the last year of Carol's show. A YouTube user has been posting some of the lost segments from those first five years but some were taken down, probably because of copyright infringement issues. Amazon Prime has posted only ten segments from the Lost Episodes DVD collections. (Apparently they will be posting more but not until Jan. 22, 2020.) But thanks to a marvelous Christmas present from my husband Jerry--The Lost Episodes Ultimate Collection--I am able to continue my all-important quest of putting together as much of Carol's classic series as possible. There are several different DVD packages which Time Life puts out, so it's kinda confusing as to which one to get so you will have the most episodes. I don't understand why they don't just release them season by season. That way you'd know exactly what segments you are getting and in what order, but they probably make more money this way.

With my Christmas present
This Ultimate Collection contains 22 DVDs with 45 episodes as well as over 20 hours of bonus material including the Carol Plus 2 special with Lucille Ball and Zero Mostel as well as the entire Once Upon a Mattress special from 1972 with Carol, Ken Berry, Jack Gilford, Bernadette Peters, Jane White recreating her role as the evil Queen, and Lyle as Sir Studley (be still my heart). The collection comes in a big box containing five DVD collections--The Lost Episodes, Treasures from the Vault, Classic Carol, and two Exclusive Bonus Features sets. Each set has a accompanying booklet detailing each episode. All of the booklets have an introduction explaining why the lost episodes were lost with a funny story about Tim Conway secreting the tapes in question and Carol and Vickie force-feeding him DVDs of his failed series Rango. Several of the individual discs contain feature bonus material. I will go through the episodes not already covered in previous blogs.

Season Three
Jan. 19, 1970: Flip Wilson, Vikki Carr, the cast of Mission: Impossible (Peter Graves, Leonard Nimoy, Greg Morris, Peter Lupus)

Lyle as Peter Groovy, Flip Wilson as Barney/Geraldine,
Carol as Barbara Bain/Oregano, and Harvey as Rollin-Over
in Mission: Improbable
Disc Six of The Lost Episodes: This is one of the better episodes, balancing music and comedy. However, the material is pretty dated and one wonders if it would fly in today's PC world. The most antiquated aspect of the show is comedian Flip Wilson who was extremely popular at the time and had his own variety series on NBC. After the show was cancelled in 1974, his career faded. His comedy monologue makes references to the Vietnam War and is not really funny anymore. The really strange thing about watching this now is the way the war is treated and reacted to, as if it's just an ordinary occurrence in everyone's lives, not a national tragedy. While watching Ken Burns' Country Music documentary series on PBS, it was telling to see how country-music stars and fans documented Vietnam and Nixon. They accepted both without qualm. The senseless deaths of their sons were seen as necessary. The government was not to be defied or even questioned.

Flip Wilson shot to fame largely because of his drag creation, Geraldine, a "sassy" black woman who enjoyed her sexuality. While drag is extremely popular today, Wilson's take on cross-dressing was largely dependent on the joke of a man in a dress. Today's drag stars like RuPaul openly deal with transgender and gay issues. They mock stereotypes while Wilson reveled in the cliche of a promiscuous African-American woman.

Peter Lupus, Peter Graves,
Carol, Leonard Nimoy and Greg Morris
The highlight of the show is a spoof of the popular CBS action series Mission: Impossible. In Mission: Improbable, the exploding tape recorder, the jump-cut-edited opening sequence, the absurd plots, all were satirized. Lyle gets to shine in a lead role as Peter Groovy (instead of Peter Graves) while Carol pokes fun at cool, aloof Barbara Bain as Oregano (Bain's character was named Cinnamon, get it?) Harvey is Martin Landau's Rollin Hand and Wilson naturally plays the only African-American character, electronics expert Barney (Greg Morris). Bain won three consecutive Emmy Awards for M:I while her scenery-chewing husband Landau was overlooked every time. The award situation was satirized in the sketch with Carol getting an Emmy every time she opens her mouth. After the couple left the show, their fortunes waned. They starred on a horrible British sci-fi series called Space: 1999. Landau later had a resurgence with Oscar nominated work in Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors and then winning an Oscar for his decrepit Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.

In the sketch, Barney must pose as a "Negro maid" (of course) and emerges as Geraldine accusing guest star vocalist Vikki Carr of murdering her husband, a Latin American dictator (Harvey in disguise). The capper comes at the end of the sketch when the real Mission: Impossible cast enters. Ironically, both Barbara Bain and Martin Landau had left the series at that point. Bain was replaced by a series of female guest stars such as Lee Merriweather and Lesley Ann Warren while Leonard Nimoy took over Landau's master-of-disguise role after the demise of Star Trek. (Nimoy had made an earlier cameo on Carol's show as Mr. Spock, which is on another DVD collection: Carol's Lost Christmas).

Wilson's Geraldine (right) attempts to get it on
with Greg Morris who cracks up along with Leonard Nimoy.
Things got really weird when Wilson as Geraldine re-emerges and flirts with Greg Morris. The entire cast cracks up. This sequence plays on so many stereotypes of the age. Naturally, Geraldine can only be attracted to the only other black male. Also, the idea that one man, even in a dress, could ever want to be with another man was so absurd, it produces gales of laughter.

Vicki Lawrence gets a solo number dressed in tramp-clown duds and strumming a ukulele while lip-syncing "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head" (a huge hit at the time).

The finale is a bizarre, colorful parade with everyone dressed up like Philadelphia Mummers with huge headdresses and strumming banjos (probably not really). One chorus guy is flipping and backspringing all over the place.

Vikki Carr, then a popular vocalist, also appears, singing her big hit "Go." The disc includes a bonus-material interview with Carr waxing nostalgic over the 1960s and '70s as a "kinder, gentler time"--even with the Vietnam War. I guess she didn't notice the race riots, pollution, discrimination, gay bashing, etc.

More episodes from the DVD Lost Episodes in future blogs.


  1. Hi. Who is the actor waiting to use the phone booth at the beginning of Mission Improbable? Thank You.