- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Burnett’s vault

The last episode of “Friends” drew 51 million viewers, hardly an unexpected number given the avalanche of hype.

On the other hand, a 2001 reunion of “The Carol Burnett Show” crew — an exercise in nostalgia steeped in dusty clips — attracted 30 million viewers.

CBS knows a good thing when it sees one, so tonight, the network whips up a fresh batch of “Burnett Show” clips for the May sweeps. “The Carol Burnett Show: Let’s Bump Up the Lights” airs at 10 p.m. on CBS.

Miss Burnett and her comedy troupe — Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence and Lyle Waggoner — reunite for the special, which focuses on some classic exchanges between the cast and its audience.

“The special winds up the trilogy of what we’ve done over the past 10 years,” Miss Burnett said in a recent phone press conference.

Past programs featured sketches and the show’s often elaborate productions. This one focuses on the impromptu question-and answer sessions before each show.

“I never knew what anybody [was] gonna ask. We had some funny, wonderful moments with the audience,” Miss Burnett says, assuring us of the bits’ spontaneity.

“Everybody was ad-libbing all over the place.”

Too many of today’s comedy shows featuring audience interaction seem staged or, at the least, manipulated for maximum gag potential. The Burnett show Q-and-A segments grew from the producers’ reluctance to hire a stand-up comic to warm up the crowd.

“We were afraid he’d be funnier than some of the sketches,” Miss Burnett explains.

She isn’t surprised that her show’s reunions draw heavy crowds. Today’s audiences are fed up with cynical comedy, she contends. All they want are some belly laughs — and her show, at its peak, gave them just that.

It also helps that America warmly embraced Miss Burnett when she debuted her variety show in 1967 and feels no reason to let go.

“Some writers said I remind them of their relative, their aunt or their cousin,” she says.

Her fans feel the same way.

“One lady came up to me in a restaurant and said, ‘I just love you because you’re just common,’” Miss Burnett says, laughing.

Hello, John Boy

Family-friendly television doesn’t have to be pandering, bland or poorly written. Just consider “The Waltons” as Exhibit A of what wholesome programming can look like.

DVD owners can see for themselves this week as the show’s first season arrives in a five-disc set, with a suggested retail price of $49.98.

The series, which debuted Sept. 14, 1972, followed a family in the Blue Ridge Mountains as they struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression.

“The Waltons: The Complete First Season” includes 24 episodes of the Emmy-winning show, which ran for nine seasons on CBS. The show also sparked a series of reunion telepictures.

Tanner in ‘04

The Democrats have a new candidate to rally around this November: the fictional Jack Tanner, from the minds of Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau.

The noted film director and the Pulitzer Prize-winning creator of “Doonesbury” will develop a sequel to “Tanner ‘88,” their television series satirizing the presidential campaign, Reuters News Agency reports. The limited series will air before the November election on the Sundance Channel.

The series will reunite original cast members Michael Murphy, Pamela Reed, Cynthia Nixon and Matt Malloy, the cable channel says.

Shot in a satirical faux-documentary style, “Tanner ‘88” followed fictional Democratic presidential candidate Jack Tanner, played by Mr. Murphy, against the backdrop of the actual 1988 presidential race. The show played up the seedy side of politics and the media, touching on such scandals as damaging sexual dalliances, political back-stabbing and back-room deal-making.

The new series will center on Mr. Tanner’s daughter Alex (Miss Nixon of “Sex and the City” fame), a documentary filmmaker seeking funding for a film about running for the White House and the toll it takes on those who lose.

It promises to blur the line between the factual and the dramatic and will feature Mr. Tanner interacting with real candidates from the present day, the cable network says.

But will the new show resist the temptation to play partisan politics? Mr. Trudeau’s liberal views are no secret, and Mr. Altman reportedly vowed to leave the country if then-candidate George W. Bush won the White House in 2000.

The first “Tanner” proved somewhat balanced, but given the new show’s proximity to election night, the temptation may be too strong for the duo to resist.

Like the first series, the new shows will be written by Mr. Trudeau, who won the 1975 Pulitzer for his satiric comic strip, and will be helmed by Mr. Altman, a five-time Oscar nominee for best director.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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