Comedy legend gets a rare tribute as NBC airs annual ceremony
Relatively few people in the entertainment business have awards named for them.
This weekend, a long-beloved comedy icon joins that rarefied list.
On Sunday (Jan. 6), the Carol Burnett Award will be made a permanent part of the Golden Globe Awards as NBC airs the 76th edition of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s annual honors for movies and television. Marking the first time the organization has named an award for one person, the accolade will salute each year’s recipient’s work in (and lasting effect on) the TV industry, whether in front of the cameras or behind them.
It’s little wonder a new tribute had to be created for Burnett, since her own career is so legendary, it encompasses virtually every major honor a talent in her field can receive. Among them: multiple Golden Globe and Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, the Screen Actors Guild Lifetime Achievement Award, the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor, the Women in Film Crystal Award, membership in the Television Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and – of course – a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
“The Carol Burnett Show” established its star as a trailblazer, and she compared notes with another one in her rise to stardom.
“Lucy was a mentor,” Burnett has told us about Lucille Ball, “and she was such a good friend, and so encouraging. She wanted to sign me up to do a sitcom, but I refused, because I didn’t want to do one character every week. She understood, and when I got the chance to do my show, I talked to CBS about doing a variety show. They said, ‘That’s a man’s game,’ but I had a clause in my contract that if I wanted to do a one-hour variety show, they had to put it on.”
Burnett appreciates having made her claim to TV fame at the time she did: “People like Carl Reiner with ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ and Norman Lear with ‘All in the Family,’ they knew what they were doing. And (the network) left us alone, too. I remember there always used to be a CBS person around, and our head writer once said, ‘His main job is to warn us when there’s an iceberg coming down (Los Angeles’) Fairfax Avenue.’ He never said a word.”
These days, Burnett isn’t resting on her laurels … with last year having encompassed her Netflix series “A Little Help With Carol Burnett,” a guest appearance on TBS’ “Angie Tribeca” and a role in the Hallmark Channel movie “Signed, Sealed, Delivered: To the Altar.” She also continues to tour with her one-woman stage show, commenting on clips from her classic comedy-variety series and holding to tradition by taking questions from the audience.
“I objected,” Burnett admits of her initial reaction to the ultimately famous Q&A segment. “I didn’t think anybody was going to believe we weren’t planting people in the audience to ask the questions. (Veteran TV producer Bob Banner) said, ‘Well, try it a couple of times.’ I did, and I realized people at home would know it was truthful … because I don’t think we ever could have written some of those questions.”
While she continues to look ahead, Burnett also is wistful about times that the Golden Globes’ new Carol Burnett Award commemorates.
“Maybe there were people who had as much fun as we did, but I’d be hard-pressed to think they might have had more,” she reflects. “You could tell the camaraderie on shows like Mary Tyler Moore’s and Dick Van Dyke’s. You could see the love and the joy they had in creating those programs. It’s hard to find that anymore.”