The writers for The Carol Burnett Show hated ''The Family'' sketch at first

They didn't think Vicki Lawrence should play Carol Burnett's mother.

Image: The Everett Collection

Over its 11 seasons, The Carol Burnett Show created some of the most memorable comedic moments in television history. The series of sketches known as "The Family" provided many of those moments. Of course, the scenes proved so popular that an entirely separate sitcom featuring characters from the original sketch, Mama’s Family, debuted in the 1980s.

Though one of the iconic sketch show’s most famous pieces, "The Family" didn’t appear on Carol Burnett until season seven. Writers Jenna McMahon and Dick Clair originally conceived of the sketch as just another scene about a dysfunctional family. They thought, naturally, that Burnett would play the irritable and hilarious mother character and that someone else would play her daughter, Eunice.

Burnett liked the sketch but had something a little different in mind. She wanted to play Eunice and she credits costume designer Bob Mackie with the suggestion that Vicki Lawrence, 16 years Burnett’s junior, play Thelma, a.k.a. Mama. Burnett also thought the characters should be Southern and thus everyone in the family should have an accent.

Vicki Lawrence explained the writers' reactions to these changes in an interview with the Archive of American Television. "When they saw the sketch the way we had done it, they were so angry that they threw down their pads and pencils and stormed out of the rehearsal hall," Lawrence recalled.

In addition to disagreeing with the casting of each role, "They hated that she wanted to do it Southern," Lawrence told the Archive. "They said, 'This is going to offend the entire southern half of the country.'"

Ultimately, Burnett knew what was best for the sketch. "That's the way it went on the air because that's the way Carol wanted to do it," Lawrence said. "As we all know, they got such a great reaction from the fans that they ended up having to write those sketches over and over again."

Burnett loved the concept as much as the audience. Lawrence said that "Carol couldn't wait" to do more sketches about "The Family."

Burnett's changes to the material were one of her many strokes of genius because they made the sketch what it is. After recurring dozens of times on The Carol Burnett Show, it spawned the 1982 TV movie Eunice and then Mama's Family.



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jacko3 4 days ago
... yeah, it was funny ... and cleaver ..it pokes fun at all of us ... really classic television, though ... rather talented and entertaining actors...
Sooner 19 days ago
Typical, dumb it down by making them have a Southern accent. Hollywood's usual insult.
JHP Sooner 15 days ago
dumbing it down wasnt too hard for hollywood to do
tezak 19 days ago
One of my all-time favorites!
MrsPhilHarris 20 days ago
I never cared for the sketch. Don't think I ever watched bthe show.
LucyImHome1951 21 days ago
But EVERYONE loved Mr. Tugball and Wiggins!
JHP 21 days ago
mamas famly = hybrid between hee haw and raymond (YUK!)
Moody 21 days ago
The sketch was funny because of the actors. Carol Burnett & Harvey Korman were hilarious. The show was just plain stupid.
lkmont123 22 days ago
Loved Mamas Family. Watched it every night growing up. Thanks for showing them all again! Also Hogan’s Heroes is always good for a laugh! One of my favorites!
jacko3 lkmont123 4 days ago
yep agreed - both are really classic and classy shows!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Pilaf 22 days ago
PULEEEZE get rid of that awful "Ridin' High" song on your ME TV commercials! Nobody wants to see those old, poorly photographed 1950s cowboy shows. And you can get rid of Hogan's Heroes, starring a sexual pervert, featuring "funny Nazis."
I'll agree with you about the song, I don't like it either. But as for nobody wanting to watch "those old, poorly photographed 1950's cowboy shows:" You're wrong about that. I do believe that I read someplace Westerns are the #1 type of shows folks DO want to see. You must be a newbie to this site. If you weren't, I don't think you'd be saying this. {I think I am recalling correctly,} Fans would ask why doesn't METV air/bring back such 'n' such Western? On Sat/Sun the bulk of retro stations morning schedules, {I think FETV-one of them, too lazy to check. is the one who has an M-F Western block as well as S/S,} are Westerns. If there wasn't an audience for them, retro stations wouldn't show them like they do. They are in the market for pleasing the retro tv audience. If you don't like what the majority {apparently,} like, no one is forcing you to watch. Fine, complain, bellyache all you want. This works. It may take a while and may not happen immediately if not sooner like you'd hoped. The stations do listen to their viewers and eventually changes in scheduling do occur. Example: folks have been begging METV to remove ALF & Gilligan's Island. As the saying goes: "Ask and ye shall receive." They are both gone.
Sounds like a snow flake
Moody Pilaf 21 days ago
Many of us like the old westerns. If you don't like them then don't watch, it's that simple. The same goes for Hogan's Heroes. That show has plenty of fans. There are some programs I don't like that air on MeTV but I don't watch them. There must something that MeTV has that you like. Focus on those & enjoy!
Asking has nothing to do with it. Long-running shows are often given rests and return, as Gilligan's Island undoubtedly will. As long as the series give a profit for MeTV they will stay no matter who complains about them.
Drujon Pilaf 19 days ago
FYI it’s not mandatory that you watch The station. You are free to change the channel and watch anything your little heart desires.
the issue is and I agree with you - they are running too many westerns - "watch something else " they say "turn the channel to something else" Yeah right
look at sundance and FETV - whaddya think they are showing? (never realized The Lone Ranger had so many eps - and The Lone Ranger is ok - but not 7 eps a day!)
Pacificsun Wiseguy 18 days ago
Or, to say it a different way, the Network is selling time to advertisers according to the most popular shows that generate revenue. That's why the MeTV schedule doesn't vary very much, except for summer promos, and novel shows like The Flintstones and The Three Stooges.
bewest169 22 days ago
Tim Conway made all the family sketchs he had all the actors and Carol Burnett burst out laughing in middle of the scenes
Whenever you see the cast laughing because of Tim, chances are it occurred on Thursday/Friday whichever was their taping day. From what I remember Carol saying, Tim was a good boy until then. He did what he was told, he knew his lines, all the tomfoolery he unleashed he reserved for taping day.
I remember watching a special about the show where Carol Burnett said that's what he did. I think that's what made the show so funny & seem so spontaneous.
Well then you have to see this. I LOVE Tim Conway.
Moody LucyImHome1951 21 days ago
One of the funniest sketches they did! I still ROFL when I see it. Thanks for sharing!
If schedule permits, sometimes shows will tape on 2 days (Thur/Fri) then the best of both will be spliced together. Occasionally the writers/cast will be surprised if a joke doesn't work as expected with the live audience. The 2nd taping gives them a chance to tweak it for a better reaction. In the day, we saw the Carol Burnett show in person; the intensity of the color palette was nearly fluorescent, but typical for the trend in 70's set design. I think Tim Conway's unpredictability added a lot of fun to the show, and made a great connection with the audience, because it's like they too were in on the joke! 😉
JHP Moody 21 days ago
the funniest sketch ever made was the dentist one with Korman and Conway
What else can we see but that which was taped on taping day?
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