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VICKI LAWRENCE: Lighten Up, Daytime!

August 30, 1992|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Vicki Lawrence promises her new syndicated daytime talk show "Vicki!" will not feature the usual daytime talk-show assortment of Satan worshipers and the women who love them. The slogan of her show is "Fun. Entertainment. Information."

Lawrence, a 43-year-old Los Angeles native, was a member of the traveling singing group Young Americans while in high school. During her senior year, she sent a letter and a photo introducing herself to Carol Burnett, to whom she bore an amazing resemblance. After seeing Lawrence perform in a local talent contest, Burnett offered her a job on her new CBS musical-variety series, "The Carol Burnett Show." During her 11 seasons on "Burnett," Lawrence earned one Emmy Award (1976) and received five nominations.

One of Lawrence's most memorable characters on "Burnett" was the crotchety old "Mama." From 1983 to '90, Lawrence re-created that role in the NBC and syndicated comedy series "Mama's Family." From 1988 to '90, she also hosted NBC's daytime quiz show "Win, Lose or Draw."

A singer and a dancer, Lawrence earned a gold record for her 1973 hit "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia." Married to Al Schultz, former head of CBS makeup, Lawrence is the mother of two teen-agers.

Lawrence talked about "Vicki!" as well as her experiences with sexual discrimination with Times Staff Writer Susan King.

How did you make the transition to talk-show host?

After "Mama's Family" went off the air in 1990, I went to the networks with an idea I had for a sitcom because I thought it would be a good idea to play somebody my age before I am not (that age) any more. I spent a horrible year-and-a-half being knocked around by networks. It was a real frustrating experience.

(The talent agency) William Morris put me together with Group W (the producers of "Vicki!") about a talk show. I was really at a point where I was going to slit my wrists or do something constructive with myself. So I bought a Lifecycle and I put it in front of the TV and I started watching all the talk shows trying to figure out what I could do that everybody else hadn't done already.

What did you notice about the current crop of daytime talk shows?

You begin to wonder if you are the last normal person left on this planet. Where are they finding these people? More importantly, why do they deserve air time?

The other thing I noticed is that there is an expert on those shows and everybody is trying so hard to be perfect--the perfect wife, the perfect mother. There is no such thing as a perfect mother. I am a mother. I feel it is time to lighten up and laugh about things and enjoy ourselves a little bit more.

So besides not having experts and outrageous guests, what makes "Vicki!" unique?

Hopefully, we are going to bridge the gap between doing themes and doing topics rather than just have a bunch of celebrities on for no reason who have nothing in common. I don't think "The Tonight Show" will work in the daytime. The average person home during the daytime wants to get something for their hour's worth of time invested.

I am opinionated and want to be part of the conversations. I am interested in a lot of the same things people are interested in. I am trying to raise kids without them self-destructing. I am trying to hold the marriage together and I am trying to take off the same 10 pounds everyone else is. I am worried about the education system which is falling apart. Women's rights are real interesting this year.

Wasn't it true when you hosted "Win, Lose or Draw" the producers and network imposed a strict dress code, allowing you to only wear suits?

It was a constant battle. (The producers said,) "You can't be in control if you are in a dress." I said, "What does that have to do with control? Why can't I wear slacks or a pretty blouse?"

I used to say to them, "If you wanted that male image, why didn't you hire a male and put him in a Botany 500 suit and stick him there?" Their research showed that women in the morning wanted a handsome guy they could relate to sexually. It used to crack me up.

It's also amazing you were laid off from "The Carol Burnett Show" after you became pregnant due to a deformity clause in your contract. Can you talk about that?

Yeah, I was laid off because I was pregnant for the last eight weeks of the season. (They didn't want you) having a baby on the show.

I hadn't (heard of a deformity clause) and I didn't know it was there. Everything from pregnancy to skating and breaking your leg falls under the deformity clause.

I cried a lot then. I said to the executive producer (Joe Hamilton), who was Carol's husband and has passed away since, "Lucy had her baby on her commercial break." He said, "Yeah, but that was Lucy. She was married to her leading man. You should be home knitting booties with your feet up."

What other type of discrimination are women still experiencing in Hollywood?

I think there are definitely still pay discriminations. One time when I went in to renegotiate on the "Burnett" show, I made an appointment to go in and see the executive producer at lunch. I said, "You know I really feel I have spent enough time on the show and I pull my weight and I think I should be paid what Lyle (Waggoner) is making." He said, "Lyle has a family to support." I said, "Oh, all right." I turned around and left and didn't even get mad until about five years later when Carol got really involved in the ERA. I said (to her), "Well, clean up your back yard first!"

"Vicki!" premieres Monday and airs weekdays at 9 a.m. on KCAL and 3 p.m on KNSD.

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