“I Just Wanted to Work With These People”: Carol Burnett on Her New Series, ‘Palm Royale,’ and Her Legendary Career

Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett, 90, co-stars as a wealthy dowager named Norma D'ellacourt in 'Palm Royale,' streaming on Apple TV+ beginning March 20. Photo: Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP/Canadian Press

Carol Burnett used to end every episode of her legendary variety series by singing, “I’m so glad we’ve had this time together…”

Recently, TV beat journalists gathered in Pasadena, Calif., at the Television Critics Association winter press tour felt the same way after spending some time with her.

The spry, 90-year-old television legend co-stars in the new AppleTV+ series Palm Royale, executive produced by, and starring, Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids, Saturday Night Live) as a social climber desperate to fit into the upper crust of South Florida society in the late 1960s.

The hour-long dramedy series, which is based on Juliet McDaniel’s novel Mr. & Mrs. American Pie and premieres March 20, offers a mix of “silliness and pathos” according to creator/showrunner/director Abe Sylvia. The series also co-stars Laura Dern, 57, and singer-turned-actor Ricky Martin, 52, and Burnett said she had no hesitation when she was offered a part.

“All I had to do is hear who was going to be in it. Kristen, Laura, Ricky, it’s just an incredible cast. I didn’t even have to read the script. I just wanted to work with these people and get to know them, and go out to dinner and have some fun.”

When she did read the script, she learned that her wealthy dowager character starts the series in a coma.

“I still got paid,” Burnett quipped. “So, I mean, it was a slam dunk.”

Burnett went on to say that Palm Royale was one of the most elaborate productions she has ever been part of in her long career.

“Just the look of it is incredible, the scenery and all, and then with all the costumes it’s better than any great, big motion picture that you would see. It is eye candy.”

But it’s not all eye candy. Sylvia noted that he left plenty of room for his comedy veterans to improvise. “I mean, to skip the opportunity to have Kristen Wiig and Carol Burnett improvise with one another, that would be a fatal flaw on my part to not allow that to happen.”


Carol Burnett and Kristen Wiig
Carol Burnett and Kristen Wiig arrive at the world premiere of Palm Royale on March 14, 2024 in Beverly Hills. Photo: Steve Granitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images


And Martin said audiences should expect more than just sketch humour. “It’s comedy, it’s a tear- jerker, it’s thought provoking, it’s a very powerful show. And I’m very honoured to be a part of it.”

Palm Royale is not “Bridesmaids”, the hilarious 2011 feature also starring Wiig, and it is definitely not SNL or The Carol Burnett Show. This is part Dallas or Dynasty, with a little bit of Hacks thrown in. Yes there are beautiful people lounging around luxurious swimming pools but, rich or wannabe rich, there are moments of both envy and pity aimed at both ends of the social spectrum.


The Carol Burnett Origin Story


Burnett, for her part, pivoted while taking questions, taking reporters on a trip down memory lane starting with her first showbiz experience 70 years ago.

“I went to New York in 1954, and I was – I didn’t have any jobs or anything – but I lived at a place called The Rehearsal Club, which was for young women interested in the theatre – $18 a week room and board.”

In 1955 she auditioned for composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein – the subject of the Oscar-nominated Maestro biopic – when he was doing his TV series Omnibus.  

“I sang for Lenny, and he said, ‘Take it up a key.’ Sang again, up a key, because he wanted me to belt.”

Burnett wore a powdered wig “and the whole nine yards” for the part and aced the audition. “I was absolutely thrilled and there was no billing or anything. I was just hired and along with all the other young people to do scenes for a musical comedy. So that was my first one.”

Her big break came when she auditioned for director George Abbott and won a key role in the musical Once Upon a Mattress. While still in that play, she began moonlighting in television on the ‘50s variety series The Garry Moore Show.


Garry Moore and Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett and Garry Moore in a scene from The Garry Moore Show, 1959. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images


When she started doing sketches and comedy on Moore’s series, she realized that “I would rather do different things every week than to be doing the same thing eight times a week on Broadway. So, I never thought I would be a television person, but once I got with Garry’s show, that was it, that solidified it for me.”

When the time came to do her own series in the ‘60s, Burnett turned down CBS’s initial offer to headline her own sitcom and insisted on doing a one-hour comedy-variety show.

“I wanted music. I wanted dancers. I wanted guest stars. I wanted a rep company. And so we wound up doing an original musical comedy revue every week, and that was my love, and I feel very fortunate that we came along at that time.”

That was, of course, The Carol Burnett Show, which ran from 1967 to 1978. “You couldn’t do what we did today because we had a 28-piece orchestra, we had 65 to 70 costumes a week. As I say, the guest stars and so forth. No network would let us do that now with that kind of money.”

Burnett had complete creative control, even taking a wild chance by hiring 18-year-old Vicki Lawrence to be part of her comedy ensemble. 


Carol Burnett
The Carol Burnett Show cast in an undated photo, clockwise from left: Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Carol Burnett. Photo: Everett Collection/Canadian Press


“I’d seen her at a contest, and we hired her, and no network today would let me do that… a girl right out of high school with no experience. So I feel very fortunate that our show happened at the time it did.”

Burnett’s series was taped each week at CBS’s Television City studios in Los Angeles. The 25-acre, mid-century showbiz shrine was sold to a developer in 2018 and Burnett was relieved to hear that the plan is to preserve and expand the facility as a television production centre.

“Our studio was Studio 33,” Burnett told reporters, “And it was the only one in the building that was like a little theatre.” This allowed her to open each episode with some back-and-forth banter from the studio audience, a unique feature seldom seen on television today.

Burnett’s variety hour would tape on Friday nights. It was a golden era of TV variety shows.

“Across the hall were the Smothers Brothers,” she said. “Right next door were Sonny and Cher, and, before that, All in the Family. Down the hall, Glenn Campbell at one point. So, it was a beehive of activity with all the different shows every Friday night.”

The clothes she and the others changed in and out of were all designed by Bob Mackie. Between the dancers and the singers and all the sketch players, Burnett reiterated that Mackie designed “65 to 70 costumes a week on our show.”  

Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett as Nora Desmond during her famous Sunset Boulevard parody, wearing a costume designed by Bob Mackie for The Carol Burnett Show. Photo: Everett Collection/Canadian Press


Yet all those costume changes were never allowed to slow down the show. Burnett said that they would get an entire episode performed and shot, all the dancing, the music, the sketches, “in two hours. Then we’d leave and take our guests to dinner at Chasen’s.”

That is in stark contrast to some of the marathon sitcom tapings that take place in television today. “I’ve done some guest shots on sitcoms a few times where it’s maybe 22 minutes of show,” says Burnett. “They’d take five hours to tape it. There’s no reason for that.”


Ready to Make a Splash on Palm Royale


Burnett, of course, brought her strong work ethic to the set of Palm Royale. In episode three, she was called upon to make three big beach ball entrances. 

“Carol went from being Venus on the Half-Shell, to Cleopatra, to Marie Antoinette in 45 minutes,” said director Sylvia. Each shoot included four background dancers who also had to make changes.

Another member of the cast, Josh Lucas (Yellowstone), pointed out that Burnett’s professionalism extends well beyond her performances.


Carol Burnett says that, when it came to signing on to join the cast of Palm Royale, it didn’t take much convincing. “All I had to do,” the TV legend noted, “is hear who was going to be in it.” Photo: Apple TV+


“There are cast members and crew who come up to Carol and say that they had written her a letter back 40 years ago when they were in high school drama class and that she personally responded,” he said.

“That level of not just professionalism but joy of what you’re doing and respect for the audience and respect for everything, to give back to what the people are giving you, I think constantly taught all of us.”

Burnett was just as lavish in her praise of her fellow Palm Royale cast mates. 

“Everybody scores in this,” she said “Everybody has these wonderful moments, and it was just a joy to go to work. And at my age, it’s a joy to be anywhere. But this was really something for me, and I loved it, and I hope there’s a second season because I don’t want to be out of work.”


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