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Behind Carol Burnett’s elegant (and hilarious) ’90 Years of Laughter + Love’

By Marianne Garvey, CNN

It was no trouble securing stars to appear on a television special to celebrate Carol Burnett’s 90th birthday, according to the event’s executive producer Mark Bracco.

Bracco and co-executive producer Linda Gierahn spent about a year putting the show together. When it came time to secure talent for the event, Bracco told CNN he has never seen a response as swift from artists eager to appear and fete the comic icon.

“Literally everyone wanted to say yes,” Bracco said in an interview ahead of Wednesday’s broadcast. “It just grew beyond our wildest expectations of how many people would come and participate.”

Vicki Lawrence, Kristin Chenoweth, Bernadette Peters, Julie Andrews, Jane Lynch and Katy Perry were among the first to agree.

“Katy Perry’s people got back to us with a yes in under ten minutes,” Bracco said.

The special was recorded last month at the intimate Avalon Hollywood theater in Los Angeles to honor Burnett’s seven decades of work in Hollywood.

Steve Carell opens the show with a tribute to Burnett’s trailblazing television work.

“Tonight you will see an amazing gathering of talented performers, friends and fans from every generation — except babies — who are here to celebrate the hilarious, incredible, one of a kind, no one like her, Carol Burnett,” Carell said. “Brace yourself, because we are about to lay it on thick.”

Burnett, sitting in the audience in a sequined Bob Mackie suit, reacted with smiles and surprise as guests like Amy Poehler and Maya Rudolph took the stage, along with Cher, who said Burnett helped her immensely when she went solo in her career.

Bracco explained that Burnett, also a producer on the special, know what she wanted.

“She said ‘I don’t want a birthday party. I don’t want balloons and cake and I don’t want anyone singing ‘Happy Birthday.’ She said, ‘I wanna put on a show, I wanna have music and comedy,” Bracco recalled.

It didn’t hurt that Burnett “remembers everything,” recalling exact dates, footage and stories from her performances over the years.

Gierahn told CNN it was “one of the most special evenings” she’d ever helped produce.

“It wasn’t just the TV producing portion of it. It was just a beautiful event,” she said. “Everything went really smoothly and there was just such joy in the room.”

“Seeing all the reactions from all of Carol’s friends and celebrities, everyone was so engaged and just happy,” Gierahn said of the evening.

Bracco added that Burnett herself showed up for edits and was thrilled with the final cut.

“Watching it back, she got a bit emotional,” he said. “It was what she envisioned and we were so happy to give it to her.”

For viewers at home, Bracco offered some insight.

“You’re gonna laugh a lot and you’re gonna be singing along, and you probably want to have a little box of Kleenex next to you as well,” he said.

“Carol Burnett: 90 Years of Laughter + Love” airs Wednesday, April 26 at 8 p.m. EST on NBC and will stream the next day on Peacock.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Entertainment

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