"Do you show the audience during the show?" a seemingly shy freckled woman asks in a 1967 opening segment of The Carol Burnett Show.
Burnett's onstage in a bright yellow shirt and her eyes get a little wider when she answers the woman, "Sometimes we do, why? Do you want to be separated from this gentleman here?" The camera pans back and the woman and the gentleman both laugh, before Carol moves on to point out celebrities seated in the audience, including Elizabeth Montgomery and Ken Berry. Apart from seeing the hilarious live show, this was the moment many people in the audience had really showed up for.
It's also a charming way to begin her variety show, and fans know she did this basically before each and every episode of the hit show's 11 seasons. However, according to fashion designer Bob Mackie, the costumer behind The Carol Burnett Show's most memorable looks, Carol never once planned to do a question and answer session with the audience. At least not a session that aired on her show.
No, the reason why The Carol Burnett Show famously started with this segment for more than a decade was the result of a tiny trick they played on the iconic TV star.
In a 2000 interview with the Archive of American Television, Mackie said, "In fact, she was never going to do questions and answers until they tricked her into it. In the first taping we did, she came out in her robe over her costume. We had a big opening number, which we never had after that again. We never had a big opening number. Carol came out in her robe and talked to the audience. She didn’t mind talking to the audience in the studio but talking directly to that, you know, nowhere out there, that made her very nervous because she never had to do that on Gary Moore or any of those other shows."
Luckily, Burnett's husband at the time, Joe Hamilton, was the show's producer, and Mackie said Hamilton knew that Burnett could pull it off even when she didn't believe in it herself. So he took it into his own hands to sneak this memorable segment into the show's cherished routines.
Mackie said, "But her husband, who was Joe Hamilton the producer, taped it, because he knew she could do it. He taped her questions and answers with the audience without her realizing it. And this was a show that was taped early on. It didn’t go on the next week. It was like a show that wouldn’t be on first, so [it was really] just to try it out."
This little tryout watching Carol connect to her audience was just as big a hit as Hamilton anticipated, and Mackie even said it felt like magic: "Of course, it was magic with her talking to the audience and answering questions and having them come up. So the very next week, that was decided that she would do questions and answers with the audience, and she did it for 11 years."
It was such a big hit, actually, that Burnett was later able to take just this tiny portion of her show on the road. Mackie said of Burnett's undeniable magnetism: "She’s still doing it! She’s out on the road with her tapes and she goes out and the audiences ask her questions, and she keeps them enthralled or an hour."