Carol Burnett, Dean Martin; 2 names that helped define the TV Variety genre in the 1960’s and 70’s, yet for all their magnificent success, they went head-to-head only once: That night was December 18, 1977.
That night, Burnett moved to Sunday in the midst of her final season, while Martin, in the twilight of his NBC career spent “Christmas In California” with both shows sharing the 10:00 time slot on this night.
Burnett: In addition to Tim and Vicki, she welcomed song-and-dance man Ken Berry(later to be Vicki’s costar on the Mama’s Family spinoff) and Australia’s other top female pop singer, Helen Reddy(there were two of them, you know).
Martin: You know he would have beautiful women on his shows, this roster wasn’t too shabby, Linda Lavin, Crystal Gayle, French songstress Mirelle Mathieu and old standbys The Golddiggers. Comedy relief was supplied by Johnathan Winters and Chico Jr, Gabriel Melgar.
Burnett: A Tudball-Wiggins holiday sketch, a feuding couple take it out on a water-department inspector and a skit featuring a fast-talking stewardess aboard the Concorde. Musical numbers by Berry, Reddy and a cast number “Strike Up The Band.”
Martin: He does some “horsing” around with Andalusians and Winters, plus musical numbers with his female guests, though despite the “Christmas” theme, only one musical number is holiday-related, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas”(unless you consider Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue” holiday- related).
As for the final outcome, we can assume they pulled in only a fraction of their once-mighty ratings, plus they had a movie on ABC to contend with as well. Still, it is amazing that only once did Burnett and Martin actually fought it out on the same night, even more so that today 40 years later, Burnett and Lavin are still pulling in viewers. That fact alone is even worth celebrating this holiday season.