Carol Burnett Honored at Paley Center's Women in Television Gala
"I was told that comedy variety was a man’s game," said Burnett. "Luckily I persisted, and because of the contract, they had to put us on the air even though they didn't think we'd last a whole season."
"God, it's good to be at Planned Parenthood," joked Julianna Margulies as she took the stage at Cipriani Wall Street in New York City for the Paley Center's gala celebrating women in television on Wednesday night.
Margulies was one of the presenters at the Paley Honors, which chronicled the legacy of women on the small screen across disciplines, with special video montages from the Paley Center's archives. "I could be anywhere and women stop me, and they stop me to let me know that the characters I've played changed their lives," the actress said.
The evening's honoree was Carol Burnett, who spoke about how proud she is of the distance women have come since her early days. "When I started out the only one that was really doing this kind of thing was Lucy, and she became a mentor of mine, and we became very, very close friends," Burnett told The Hollywood Reporter.
"So now I'm so happy to see so many women in positions of power ,as executive producers and writers and creators and so forth. It's so much better now, but it can always get better. I'll be very happy when there are just as many women doing this as there are men," Burnett said.
Burnett admitted that when she first landed the contract for her comedy variety hour, The Carol Burnett Show, in the 1960s, network executives were skeptical of her ability to do the job.
"I was told that comedy variety was a man's game," Burnett said. "And I quote, 'You know, comedy is not for you gals.' Luckily I persisted, and because of the contract, they had to put us on the air even though they didn't think we'd last a whole season. But we did. We went for 11 wonderful seasons."
Marlo Thomas opened the event and also spoke about how when she was on the series That Girl, she struggled with having no women in the writers room at the beginning.
"I remember when That Girl debuted in 1966, there were only men on the creative team. Imagine that. And there was this constant debate over what they thought a girl would say and over what I thought a girl would say. And that made for a very long day at the office," Thomas said.
Thomas applauded female creators in television like Shonda Rhimes, Jill Soloway, and Lena Dunham, and on the red carpet before the event, Rachel Bloom told THR why she thinks television has gotten so "refreshing."
"When you are trying to tell a new story about a group of people or a type of person that hasn't been talked about on television, nine times out of 10 you need someone writing that story, directing it who has lived that experience," Bloom said. "That's why the dialogue feels so real. We're having women really for the first time in television history say, 'This is how I talk, this is how my friends and I talked,' and it's not filtered through any sort of male gaze."
Bloom also added that she is a huge admirer of Burnett's and would love to have her on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, to which Burnett responded, "I'm willing! Give me a call."
Burnett paid homage to her mentor, Lucille Ball, and she recalled Ball giving her advice as a young actress off Broadway and how she went from having her husband lead the show on I Love Lucy to calling the shots on The Lucy Show.
Burnett offered some advice for the next generation. "Each one of you knows if you believe you can do something, work hard and you'll make a difference in this world," she said. "As long as I'm still standing, I'm going to keep on laughing, and I hope you will too. God knows we need it."