America in the 1960s and 70s was in turmoil. The civil rights struggle, the war in Vietnam and the sexual revolution defined a nation in conflict. But at 10 o'clock every Saturday night, in dorms and dens, in living rooms and bedrooms across the country, Americans watched "The Carol Burnett Show."

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Photo: PBS

Carol Burnett

For 11 years, the wacky performer yelled like Tarzan and won — and sometimes broke — our hearts with her edgy, always sympathetic, characters. She could fall down a flight of stairs or hold her own in a duet with Julie Andrews. Yet, as with so many brilliant comedians, hers was a difficult childhood. A glimpse of something deeper and darker began to emerge in the dramatic career that followed her TV variety show.

American Masters, Tuesday at 8 p.m. on PBS-HD.

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