A column chronicling conversations and events on the Emmy season awards circuit.
The Television Academy sends out daily reminders to the 22,000, maybe more, eligible voters to get their act together and vote before online polls close on at 10 PM PT
Monday night. I got one today that said just “three days left to vote.” I got through my ballot on Wednesday, but I can see why many leave it to the last possible minute. There is simply too much content to even fathom, much less attempt to get through in order to be a responsible voter. I can’t say I am exactly one of those, but I do my best. Still, in perusing the ballot I did offer up a vote in the Television Movie category to Sharknado 5: Global Swarming, if nothing else than for the sheer audacity of even bothering to enter the thing. If it somehow gets nominated on July 12, you know who to thank.
Overall I did vote for more legitimate candidates, but I can’t say I would mind terribly if Sharknado somehow pulled through. It certainly would make for some fun headlines. Of course, don’t sit on pins and needles waiting for it to happen. I don’t even recall getting a screener among my piles of hundreds that have been sent out this season. It’s always interesting to see names and shows on the ballot that you know probably don’t have a chance in hell of
getting nominated, but you have to admire the old college try. One of my favorite invites this season was to last week’s luncheon at Little Dom’s and Emmy billboard unveiling for MTV’s Jersey Shore: Family Vacation, which had the whole cast in tow to celebrate the “first ever” Emmy FYC billboard in the storied history of the MTV reality series. Alas, I couldn’t make it, but I wish The Situation, Pauly D and all the others the best of luck. In fact, as we near crunch time in this never-ending season, I hope for the best for everyone still playing their Emmy speech out in their head just in case.
DOES ‘ROSEANNE’ STILL HAVE AN EMMY SHOT?
Initially I had been predicting a few Emmy nominations for the enormously popular reboot of Roseanne, especially for the well-liked and frequently nominated John Goodman and three-time Roseanne Emmy winner Laurie Metcalf, but after the star’s Twitter meltdown and abrupt cancellation of the series by ABC, I deep-sixed those thoughts, with the idea that no one is going to want to touch that show with their vote in these circumstances. But with ABC’s widely publicized announcement that the show will go on after all, now known as The Conners and starring everyone except Roseanne Barr herself, I now am hedging those bets. ABC’s release came with four full days of voting still to go, and that is an eternity in a competition where more than enough members are waiting until the final hours to finally turn in their ballot. Could the fact that Goodman and Metcalf are coming back in September give their own Emmy chances this season a boost? I won’t place money on it, but I think there is still enough time for a possible turnaround in their case.
As for the idea of going ahead with the series without its namesake star, it will be interesting to see what the writers and producers come up with. All along in this process I thought calling it The Conners was the way to go. Earlier rumors it was going to be built around, and named, after Sara Gilbert’s Darlene character made me cringe. This is a comedy and Darlene was probably the least funny character in the cast, at least the way it has been written so far (with no offense to Gilbert, who is fine in the role and was the actual mover and shaker in getting the series revived in the first place). There is plenty of precedent here, particularly in the case of the NBC sitcom Valerie starring Valerie Harper, which had to be renamed The Hogan Family after Harper, like Roseanne, got fired from her own series after its first season in 1986. The series went on to have a healthy life with remaining cast members like Jason Bateman and with the prime addition of Sandy Duncan to take up the slack from Harper’s abrupt exit. It ran for 110 episodes, and Bateman told me recently that before Arrested Development came along it was his favorite TV experience, and he only had kind words for both co-stars Duncan and Harper.
If you ask me the newly named The Conners should follow that example and consider bringing in a new star, a funny new star, to replace the hole left by Barr’s exit. In fact they wouldn’t have to look much farther than the writing staff and a stand-up comedy star by the name of Wanda Sykes. Just sayin’.
CAROL BURNETT WAS SO GLAD WE HAD THIS TIME TOGETHER
Turmoil on other shows aside, it was so nice to get on the phone this week with the legendary Carol Burnett to talk about CBS’ Emmy-contending 50th Anniversary special of her landmark variety series, The Carol Burnett Show, which ran for 279 episodes from 1967-78. Watching it over again in terrifically chosen clips — and great conversation about it from the star herself as well as a bevy of admirers from Jim Carrey to Martin Short to Amy Poehler and many more — you realize how this kind of show is so missed today. Burnett’s 11-season run was perfection, and the sketches she, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway did weekly are still just as brilliant today as they were then.
As I said to her, it reminded me of what Lucille Ball did with I Love Lucy. It was never dated, so it still works as well today as it did when it originally aired. “Well, funny is funny, and you know because those are real flat-out belly laughs and you don’t really see that much anymore,” she said. “It was fun. We did this special on the same stage where we did the show for 11 years, but we had some younger cameramen doing the 50th and when we were rehearsing, and showing some of the clips, they were laughing hysterically, and I said, ‘Well, some of those sketches are 40 years old,’ but funny is funny. Some of those kids working the cameras had never seen these clips before.”
It certainly was a different time, and a different definition of comedy. Burnett doesn’t mince words in talking about what she sees these days. “Not everything, but I think some of the sitcoms today, I won’t name them, but there are some that are just appealing to the lowest common denominator because they get laughs off talking about bodily functions,” she said. “You think of the writing that went into All in the Family, Mary Tyler Moore, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart — it was classy, and I don’t see that much class anymore.”
Burnett says the first five seasons of her series has been sold to CBS, and clips are being seen on You Tube constantly. There’s also a Time-Life DVD set, so she says she finds herself getting fan mail from 10-year-olds just discovering what she and that amazing cast did 40-odd years ago. She might also be getting those letters because she is back on TV, on Netflix, in A Little Help from Carol Burnett, a 12-episode series that finds her talking to kids ages 5-9. The questions aren’t planned and Burnett gets to wing a lot of it, but their answers are priceless and she doesn’t have to spend a lot of time taping it. She likes working with Netflix, where they leave the creators largely alone. She recently had an experience on an ABC sitcom pilot being produced by and starring Poehler. It was called Household Name and would have marked her return to network weekly television, but it wasn’t to be and she said that was because the network simply got too involved with their own ideas.
“It was a very, very funny pilot I have to say, and the audience went crazy,” she said. “Again, I said, ‘I’m not going to be here taping this thing for three hours when it’s 22 minutes worth of show, so we’re going to really do it as quickly like you would a Broadway show.’ So the audience just loved it, and I did, and I thought that’s going to be fun. Then ABC wanted to recast the married couple that we had, for some reason wanted to change that up. These were really good actors, and I liked them a whole lot, and then they wanted [creator Michael Saltzman] to rewrite some, put in some extra scenes that they thought would be important and stuff. And Michael did it, and then I read it, and I said, ‘Michael this isn’t as funny as what we already did,’ and he said, ‘I know.’ And so I said, ‘should we go, you know, pitch it?’ But then I said, ‘You know what? I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be subjected to all these extra cooks coming in and saying things and having an opinion on something that they don’t really know about.’ When we did my show, Mr. [William S.] Paley said, ‘Go do it. You’re the artist. I’m the business person. If you get good ratings, we’ll keep going.’ Now it’s like everyone — we must have had 25 people giving us notes.”
If you ask me you probably don’t need executives giving notes to the likes of Carol Burnett or Amy Poehler. Burnett recently received the first-ever Life Achievement Peabody Award, a perfect bookend to the other Peabody she got in 1962 when she was a regular on another CBS variety show, The Garry Moore Show. These days Burnett lives in Montecito and doesn’t want to work a full week. The ABC show would have only required three days a week, which suits her fine. She also tours the country with a one-woman show in which she takes questions from the audience and shows clips of her career. She loves that. She’s still open to other TV ideas but says it would have to be where the creators have freedom. “They should be in charge and not have all these suits come in and tell you what to do,” she said.
Of course I couldn’t hang up without asking her about perhaps the most famous of all Carol Burnett Show sketches, and that would be the takeoff on Gone with the Wind in which as Scarlett O’Hara she wears an outrageous dress made of curtains, with the rod included. She says that outfit (now housed in the Smithsonian) was designed by Bob Mackie, who came up with 17,000 costumes in the 11 years the show was on the air. None of them topped this one. “We were rehearsing, and the sketch was brilliant, really brilliantly written. Then they said, ‘Carol comes down with the draperies just hanging on her.’ Right? Bob said, ‘You know, that’s not that funny.’ The whole sketch was very funny, but he came up with the idea of the curtain rod, and I went into the costume fitting on Wednesday. I looked at that, I said, ‘This is going to be one of the funniest sight gags in the history of television,’ and it is.”
Burnett did so many great takeoffs on classic movies, but I said today networks probably would say the movies being spoofed are too old. She thinks it doesn’t matter if you know the movie or not. The sketches were just funny in themselves and worked on a double level if you actually knew the movie. In fact she has an idea where she’d like to combine the actual films with the sketches. “This would never happen, but I would just love to host a channel where would show Double Indemnity and show ‘Double Calamity’ that Steve Lawrence and I did, or show Mildred Pierce and then show ‘Mildred Fierce.’ We did African Queen, Postman Always Rings Twice, Laura, From Here to Eternity — oh my God, so many,” she said.
It may never happen, but here’s hoping Carol Burnett gets the chance. Some things and some stars are timeless.