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Harvey Korman, R.I.P. (Expanded)

By admin Published: May 29, 2008

Harvey and Tim, in a 1978 photo. (From

The veteran funnyman, famous for his work with Carol Burnett and with Tim Conway in the Burnett ensemble, has died. Obit here. Great team player, and he and Conway toured together long after the Burnett show ended. He'll be missed.

Here's a bit of Tim and Harvey. Watch how hard Harvey has to fight to keep from laughing at Tim. It wasn't the only time.

After the jump I have added the text of a phone interview with Harvey and Tim that I did in 1997.

Many network television series ardently woo the young adults in the viewing audience.

One of the ways they do it is by casting series stars around the same age as the targeted viewers. But another way is to bring in guest stars who were striding the small screen before many of those viewers were born.

Roseanne once collected a whole set of former TV moms for an episode. Mad About You has enlisted the likes of Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Carroll O'Connor and Carol Burnett for recurring roles. Spin City recently brought back Meredith Baxter, the former TV mom of star Michael J. Fox, to play his new TV mom.

And on Monday night, Suddenly Susan will try the stunt with guest turns by Harvey Korman, Rose Marie and Northeast Ohio's own Tim Conway.

The episode (at 8 p.m. on NBC) finds Susan (star Brooke Shields) befriending an old man (Conway) and reuniting him with his brother (Korman) and sister-in-law (Marie).

Korman acknowledged that current sitcoms are becoming very, very good to older stars.

"This has become a cottage industry, especially with ex-stars playing the parents of current stars," Korman said in a recent telephone chat with him and Conway.

But if the older stars are so appealing to audiences, why don't they get their own series? "It might happen," said Korman. "They're getting too close to running out of youth-oriented material. . . . How many stories are there about 20-year-olds?"

Korman said he had a great time on Suddenly Susan. "Brooke is a delight. She's smart and wonderful and generous and funny."

"I thought Carol Burnett was the nicest person on television," added Conway. "But she and Brooke might be in a dead heat."

"And how you feel about a show comes from the top," Korman said. Shields was setting a happy tone on her set, which isn't always the case. "I've worked with a lot of people -- I won't mention any names -- who weren't all that kind. If you did something funny in rehearsal, the star would end up doing it."

Korman and Conway also fret over the content of some of the shows on the air today, especially those in the so-called family hour. "I have a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, and they wouldn't let me stay in the room when they watched Friends," said Korman. "I found out why."

"Obviously, times have changed," said Korman, who remembers "when we would turn in a script to CBS and have to trade a 'damn' for two 'hells.' " He had no problem with one vulgar expression on Suddenly Susan since it fit with his character. But of changing content overall, he said, "Not so early, and not to cater to the kids."

Although Suddenly Susan was more fun than some shows, and Korman said his character was being talked about for a series of his own, he added that he's not going to jump into just any series.

"I wouldn't do it unless it was with Conway," he said.

"And it's highly unlikely," Conway cracked, "because I wouldn't work with him."

Actually, the two will be seen still more on TV in the days and weeks ahead. Korman pays tribute to Conway in the American Comedy Honors special on Fox on Dec. 2. And the two have worked together on a new home video about hunting, done with the same company making Conway's successful Dorf videos.

Working outside of network TV gave them a chance to be funny in the way they know best. Both Conway and Korman are skeptical of the current generation of TV writers. "They look at the run-through and say, 'You didn't say this line.' On the Burnett show, we just did what was funny."

"And then we got out," added Korman. "Doing things over and over again takes the spontaneity out of it. We did each (Burnett) show twice. If there were boo-boos in both places, they went on the air."

Korman tried to shrug off the changing environment, saying, "We're old people." But it's clearly tough sometimes to look approvingly at TV today when you've been on the air with giants.

"The people of our period -- Jackie Gleason, Carol Burnett, Danny Kaye, Red Skelton -- they were funny people. . . . Today it's hard to find people that make you sputter for breath, you're laughing so hard." Korman said he gets more mail now, from kids who are watching Burnett reruns, than he did when the show was in its heyday. "They keep saying nothing they're seeing is as funny as what we used to do."

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