“The Family” was one of “The Carol Burnett Show’s” most popular sketches of all time. However, it was originally created to be a one-off skit. The very first “Family” sketch was called “The Reunion.” It aired in March 1974 and featured way grouchier versions of the characters.
Viewers found the dark humor of “The Family” relatable to their family dysfunctions, making the sketch an immediate hit. The squabbling of Eunice, Mama, and Ed struck the perfect balance of satire and relatability. Writers Dick Clair and Jenna McMahon went on to write thirty more “Family” sketches over the course of the show.
The Pigeon Lady
Tim Conway was notorious for going off-script. One of his most well-known ad-lib moments was the utterly outrageous elephant story from the recurring sketch “The Family.” Tim goes off on this long-winded, hilarious tangent about an elephant, and the audience and cast members totally lose it.
Carol hated breaking character, especially during the “Family” skits. So, she decided to get her revenge on Tim for making her laugh so hard. Later that season, Carol ad-libbed as The Pigeon Lady in a scene where Tim’s character had very few lines and couldn’t escape. The audience and Tim knew he was at Carol’s mercy, making the scene hilarious.
Old Mrs. Wiggins?
The famous Mr. Tudball and Mrs. Wiggins sketches almost looked much different than the characters we know and love today. Tim Conway created the concept for these characters. He originally envisioned Mrs. Wiggins as an elderly, forgetful assistant to Mr. Tudball. But the show’s costume designer had other ideas.
Costume designer Bob Mackie thought Carol Burnett already had too many “old lady” characters on her show. He wanted to dress her in something different. So, he created a more slinky, youthful look for Mrs. Wiggins. Of course, it's safe to say that Carol Burnett fully embraced the change and made the character her own.
A Golden Girl’s Origin Story
Today, Betty White is most famously remembered for playing Rose Nylund in “The Golden Girls.” However, many fans of the beloved star forget or don’t know that she starred in several TV shows before the hit sitcom. “The Carol Burnett Show” was one of them.
Betty played Ellen Harper, a recurring guest character on “The Family.” Ellen Harper is the oldest daughter of Mama, played by Vicki Lawrence. She’s a stuck-up, kind of snobby character who loves to gloat in front of her sister Eunice, played by Carol Burnett. Betty went on to play Ellen in the sketch’s spin-off sitcom, “Mama’s Family.”
Dick Van Dyke’s Short-Lived Stint
When Carol Burnett’s co-star Harvey Korman left “The Carol Burnett Show,” they quickly had to find a replacement. Carol approached Dick Van Dyke, who enthusiastically agreed to join the cast for the show’s eleventh season. Everyone quickly realized that it wouldn’t work out.
Unfortunately, Dick Van Dyke asked to leave the show after only a few episodes. The writers of “The Carol Burnett Show” hadn’t adapted to writing for Dick’s comedic strengths, and he felt like he wasn’t a good fit. Thankfully, there were no hard feelings. Carol and Dick parted ways professionally but still remained friends throughout their careers.