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Carol Burnett Sues Over "Family Guy" Gag

3/16/2007 3:25 PM PDT BY TMZ STAFF

Peter Griffen, Carol BurnettComedian Carol Burnett is suing the FOX comedy "Family Guy" for using one of Burnett's signature characters and an altered version of her theme music without permission.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court yesterday, Burnett alleges that FOX requested permission to use "Carol's Theme" -- the theme music from "The Carol Burnett Show" -- in an episode of "Family Guy." When permission was denied, the lawsuit claims that FOX then went back and had the show rewritten to "disparage Ms. Burnett using Ms. Burnett's signature ear tug."

In the episode titled "Peterotica," the main character on "Family Guy," Peter, goes into a porn shop and remarks how clean it is. One of his friends says it is clean because "Carol Burnett works part-time as a janitor." The lawsuit says the camera then cuts to one of Burnett's signature characters from her TV show -- "Charwoman" -- wearing her "trademarked blue bonnet, bucket and mop" and "a slightly altered version of 'Carol's Theme' is playing."

Later in the scene, one character makes fun of Burnett's signature ear tug by saying, "She was really saying goodnight to her mom." To which another replies, "I wonder what she tugged to say goodnight to her dad." In fact, Burnett's ear tug was actually a hello to her grandmother.

Burnett claims this was all done without her permission or consent and is seeking in excess of $6 million in damages.

A statement from FOX reads: "'Family Guy,' like the 'Carol Burnett Show,' is famous for its pop culture parodies and satirical jabs at celebrities. We are surprised that Ms. Burnett, who has made a career of spoofing others on television, would go so far as to sue 'Family Guy' for a simple bit of comedy."


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Previous 15 Comments | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12


Family guy is the best show with some of the best writing in the history of television. This really angers all of those want to be actors because there are no actors in the most popular TV shows right now, Simpsons and Family guy. Sorry! Time to get a real job like the rest of us.
Carol Burnett never had a funny show. I am 40 and I remember being tortured by having to watch that crap as a youth. She is old and broke from what I understand. Do we not remember this same Bitch sueing the Enquirer in the 1970's when they reported just the facts regarding her BIG drinking problem. Broke, old, miserable, she does not want everyone to see how tiny her estate is we she soon dies. Christ shes in her 70's.
I hope that Fox counter sues and leaves her on the street looking like her cleaning lady character.

2739 days ago


I think the people she spoofed when she was on TV should come back and sue her then. Give Carol a taste of her own medicine. What's wrong with a comedy that spoofs? She just wants the money.

2739 days ago

White Rabbit    

Man, so much Carol-bashing!

Carol did comedy the hard way -- with some very smart scrips and dialogue, great talent and a knack for picking great fellow cast members and sometimes guest stars.

They all admired Carol, and righly so.

Family Guy, a shitty cartoon of ugly characters doing ugly things -- as usual pandering to the lowest-common-denominator of fans as viewers. Its entire conception is based on cruditiy, WHICH IS NOT NEEDED if there actually were some good (REAL) jokes there. Not to mention its total lack of some genuine talent behind the scenes.

2738 days ago


Whoever said that the Carol supporters are over 30??????????????????
I'm wondering who Wierd Al Yankovic is?
I see Carol Burnett on TV Land re-runs and she is funny! She and her Company have a legitimate copywrite on the Theme Song and it was misused without their permission.
Carol Burnett is forever. Give her her due....

2738 days ago


"1. Don't mess with Carol Burnett! Have some respect, she is sacred!"
Posted at 2:38PM on Mar 16th 2007 by Leslinka

SHUT UP!!!!! Carol Burnett maid her money with parodies and satirical jabs at celebrities on television for many years. Get over it at lest someone remmembers her to put her in the show. She is just a BITTER OLD BAG TRYING to get some ATENTION.

2738 days ago


Umm, does anybody have an inkling about copyright law or trademark law? To qualify as an infringement, Fox would have to have aired intact copies of the original showings, or really close approximations. As it was, in the few seconds of airing, Carol Burnett, and not one of her characters, was lampooned by depicting her in a persona she popularized. Perhaps she could claim injury if the character was featured, but the show specifically identified the character as her, the actual person. As for the music, one could assert that it is derivative, but it was featured only in the context of satire and not designed to stand on its own or compete. This is a different situation than, say, a DJ taking a popular song and "re-mixing" it for the purposes of direct profit. Not to deny Fox made a direct profit the show, but the modified music does not stand alone in that regard so it would be hard to definitely show loss in such a situation.

As for which show is better or funnier, what relevance does that have? If you read the actual complaint, easily found on the web, you can see that it is not dispassionate nor particularly well drafted. In paragraph 10 they hold that Carol Burnett can not be cited without permission - and while it has been a few decades since I have seen a Carol Burnett performance, I find it hard to believe she never referenced any popular figure (of course, even if she didn't, it wouldn't matter - when Carol Burnett became a national figure, especially one with a show named for her, she became fair game - think any episode of Saturday Night Live). And to assert any claims for damages, her lawyers are going to have to assert that Fox created some sort of misleading association between themselves and Whacko (by misusing a trademark) - that is to say that they will have to convince the court that Fox, by depicting Carol Burnett in janitorial capacity at an adult store was actually representing her and/or Whacko ... if those lawyers pull it off, they will deserve the excessive fees they are likely charging, and then they will deserve a good beating for setting back protected speech a few centuries.

2738 days ago

Lanie Tilly    

She should have sued. Who wants there name with that trash.

2738 days ago


You're famous deal with it. This stuff happens to anyone famous and you don't see them running out to sue. She is sueing for the very same thing she does/did on her show. Too many people now a days sueing over hurt feelings or stupid stuff. So someone made fun of you without your permission ..oh well move on. Look at Drew she lets them make fun of her by showing her dating Kool-aid man. DEAL WITH IT AND MOVE ON. All she wants is money. That is all people want now a days.

2737 days ago


I always thought she had a sense of humor...guess i was wrong on that...but i've seen episodes of her old show where she totally rips on other people.... if i could tug on my ear at her right now, i'd so do it.
Carol, consider yourself tugged at.

2732 days ago


Think of it this way, folks: If "Family Guy" used a Disney character (pick one--any one--they're all copyrighted) in a porn shop, Disney would be suing too. So what's the difference--a corporation or an individual suing over the same issue? It takes a lot of guts to stand up for your own rights if you're standing out there by yourself, instead of hiding behind a corporation.

Whether or not anyone can "take a joke" is irrelevant here--obviously the "Family Guy" people are trying to point attention away from the legal issues.

2722 days ago

Candice Deaverux    

Carol Burnett is a deluded old fool. She is so out of date that she should be in a nursing home sitting on a comode chair, not daring to sue a show that young people like me everywhere really like. She is a jealous old has been and no one under the age of 65 with any taste would rate the garbage/ poor excuse for comedy that she produced. The scene in question in Family Guy is so innocuous that only a fractious old bore like Burnett would tak offence at it. Hands Off Family Guy!

2719 days ago


Lawsuits like this are being tossed out the window more and more, thankfully. I oppose intellectual property, especially if it's "intangible"...

802 days ago

Michaela Baldwin    

Carol had every right to sue. after she denied them her permission, they did it anyway! she had every right to sue Family Guy! And! never did she make a parody to purposely get under anyone's skin. look at it from her point of view for once.

561 days ago
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