“I’m getting a little tired of everything having to do with sex and bathroom humor,” Burnett says flatly. “It’s almost like you have teenagers in a locker room writing a sitcom. They’re cheap laughs. It’s not clever writing.”
She does, however, reserve praise for “Parks and Recreation” and “Modern Family.” She loved “30 Rock” and “Frasier” when they were on.
As for whether she could see a variety show like hers working on television today, she’s uncertain.
“I could see it working, but the networks don’t trust variety,” she says. “It would take someone to do it and make it a big hit. Kristin Chenoweth could do it. She’s got great comedy chops. But they couldn’t do it the way we did. We had a 28-piece live orchestra. We had 12 dancers and two major guest stars a week. Bob Mackie made 60 to 70 costumes each week. If they did it, it would have to be a lot less elaborate.”
Looking back, fondly
After “The Carol Burnett Show,” there were television specials, spinoffs, “Annie” and Broadway plays, but she is still heralded for the laughs she generated on Saturday nights. Burnett has spent the past decade popping up in guest spots on shows such as “Glee” and “Desperate Housewives.” Earlier this year, she appeared with her pal Betty White on “Hot in Cleveland.” She filmed a spot for “Hawaii Five-0” this month.
Her focus has also evolved from television to stage and most recently, writing. She’s telling stories of the golden years and opening up about her family’s trials. In “This Time Together,” which was published in 2010, she recalls her rise to fame alongside personal tragedy, including the death of her daughter Carrie Hamilton from cancer in 2002. She recalls her divorces from college sweetheart Don Saroyan and from Joe Hamilton, the “Carol Burnett Show” executive producer with whom she had her three daughters.
Her latest book, “Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story,” which came out in April, describes her relationship with herdaughter, noting thatCarrie asked Burnett to complete a screenplay she had worked on before she died.
“Her request had been living with me for 10 years,” Burnett recalls. “I couldn’t finish the story. But I wanted people to know what kind of person she was,” she says of why she penned the memoir of her daughter. “I put her unfinished story in the book. I liked it better this way,” she says.
After finishing her memoirs, she hopes to continue doing sporadic spots. She spends a fair amount of time touring the country, doing her signature question-and-answer sessions.
“I love them because I never know what anyone’s going to ask,” she says. “I have to be in the here and now. And I say, it keeps the old grey matter ticking.”
At home in California, she counts Pilates and crossword puzzles as the key to her vigor and health, favoring the New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords. But despite her sprightly spirit, she’s reluctant to attempt a full-blown television resurgence. She’s content to look back and smile.
“I don’t want to do regular television anymore,” she says without any hint of longing. “It could never top that kind of fun we had on our show. It was 11 years of laughs.”
The Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
The televised award ceremony, at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Kennedy Center, will air on PBS on Nov. 24.