Behind the Scenes of The Carol Burnett Show Anniversary Special With Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters, and More

Seth Rudetsky   Behind the Scenes of The Carol Burnett Show Anniversary Special With Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters, and More
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth takes us into the rehearsal room for the upcoming 50th anniversary special.
(From left): James Wesley, Carol Burnett, and Seth Rudetsky
(From left): James Wesley, Carol Burnett, and Seth Rudetsky Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

First, let me begin the column by writing about Las Vegas. After the Orlando mass shooting, we recorded “What The World Needs Now Is Love.” The recording is still raising money for Orlando as well as the Trevor Project that helps LGBTQ teenagers who feel suicidal.

Music definitely has a way of healing, helping and giving people hope. But what’s going to specifically help this problem is calling your representatives. Yes, you can tweet about your devastation and outrage, but the more people who call their representatives and ask for specific change, the more we’re going to have a chance to prevent this from happening again.

Here’s a wonderful organization that tells you exactly what you can do:

On a related note, Concert For America is coming up Monday, October 16, in Hartford, Connecticut. One of the organizations we help is the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Ruth Glenn was married to an abusive man. She finally tried to leave, he attacked her, shot her numerous times and left her for dead. How did a man like that get access to a gun? Regardless, the amazing part is that she survived, got her life together, and is now the executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence! She’s helping other men and women like her escape their abusive relationships. You can support this organization and four other non-profits—that are fighting for everything from a clean environment to civil rights by coming to Concert For America or watching the livestream and donating! You can buy tickets at and there’s a donate button on the website!

The concerts are always a joyous, hope-filled entertainment fest! This time we have Todrick Hall from American Idol (and Kinky Boots), Broadway stars like Judy Kuhn and Beth Malone from Fun Home , the high-belting Capathia Jenkins, dance master Maurice Hines, the wonderful Holly Near (who my classmates at Oberlin were obsessed with), Jenna Ushkowitz from Waitress and Glee, and MORE!

Here’s one of my favorite moments from one of our concerts: Helen Reddy singing her ’70s female anthem “I Am Woman” sounding like she did when I was in elementary school rockin’ out to my 45 record!

Right now I’m in L.A. because I got one of my favorite gigs I’ve ever been offered; I’m working on the 50th anniversary of The Carol Burnett Show!!!!


It’s going to be on CBS and Carol is hosting with tons of celebrities joining her while they highlight amazing moments from the run of the show. I’m going to be in the salute to the wonderful musical sequences they did. Yesterday, James and I flew to L.A. and it’s been truly thrilling so far. He’s with me because he has meetings with TV production companies about some of his scripts, and I’m here because we’re rehearsing every day until we film on Wednesday. Yesterday, we recorded the orchestra for the middle section of the finale from the segment I’m in. Carol is going to be joined by Kristin Chenoweth, Kevin Spacey, and Bernadette Peters, who are each going to talk about their favorite musical moment, sing some of it, and then segue to the original clip. Plus, they’ll be in the finale featuring my parody lyrics! It’s sung to “Comedy Tonight” and anyone who watched her show will know why I renamed it “Saturdays At Ten.”

Seth Rudetsky in rehearsal for <i>The Carol Burnett Show</i>
Seth Rudetsky in rehearsal for The Carol Burnett Show Courtesy of Seth Rudetsky

All the people in the segment are going to mention musical sequences they watched while at home, but Bernadette will get to show a clip she was in! Do you know she was the very first guest they booked? Carol told me (yes, I now call her Carol!) that she and her husband, Joe Hamilton (who was the executive producer), went to see Dames at Sea in the late ’60s, headed backstage and told Bernadette they were about to start a new variety show and asked if she’d be a guest! She was the first! And she made numerous appearances. I think this is from the Carol Burnett Show and even if it isn’t, it’s a classic ’60s variety show with Bernadette go-go dancing and shaking it up a storm while sounding great and then doing a duet with a giant version of herself. Brava! Watch here.

At the recording studio, Carol was talking to me and James about the show schedule. They did an entirely new show in six days…all the sketches, all the music and dancing, new costumes…everything! Carol said it was like doing summer stock. She loved it! And she was able to be home for dinner with her kids every night! She filmed in the same studio as all the classic ’70s variety shows including The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, etc. As a matter of fact, sometimes during her opening question and answer “Let’s Bump Up The Lights” sequence with the audience (which was never scripted) Carol would sometimes get a surprise visit from Cher, who would walk over from her soundstage.

Speaking of unscripted, here’s the classic moment where a woman from the audience, who looked exactly like Bea Arthur, wound up coming onstage. And then singing! And then busting Carol for “messing up the ending.” It truly was spur-of-the-moment and so fantastic! Watch here.

Carol also told us about the time she was a struggling actress in New York City. I loved this story. She came from a very poor family and got a job as a hat check girl. She soon found a scheme she’d pull all the time: She’d take the little fabric hook inside a coat (that you use to hang it up) and she’d cut it! Then she’d sew it back on with a different colored thread. When the man would come back to pick up his coat, she’d tell him innocently that the hook in his coat ripped, but she diligently sewed it back on. And she wound up doubling her tips!

Well, I’m off to rehearse with Carol and Bernadette (seriously!) so I’ll leave you with one of her amazing duets. This one is with the late great Eydie Gorme. As you listen to this, remember that these were all learned in a week and Carol doesn’t read music! She’d have cue cards with little squiggles she’d put on them that represented where the notes went. The whole medley ends with them next to the Hollywood sign. The crew thought it would be funny to strand them there and they didn’t come to pick them up for 30 minutes.


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