"Does this mean I'll never get another bad review?" the 73-year-old actress-comedian joked Sunday as she accepted the honor.
Burnett went on to recount how "The Carol Burnett Show," which aired from 1967-78, got started. A pay-or-play clause in her contract with CBS for 30 hourlong variety shows was about to run out and she decided to exercise it.
The network, she said, wasn't thrilled. A CBS executive told her that variety was the proper domain of male stars like Jackie Gleason, Sid Caesar and Milton Berle and suggested she consider a proposed sitcom titled "Here's Agnes," Burnett said.
"I'm so glad I didn't do `Here's Agnes,'" she said, dryly.
The variety show represented "the greatest years of my professional life" and the TV critics' honor rightly belongs to the show's cast and crew, she said.
Burnett, also a singer, starred in a series of musical specials with guests including Julie Andrews, Beverly Sills and Dolly Parton and in three TV adaptations of the Broadway musical "Once Upon a Mattress," most recently in 2005. Earlier this year she was a guest star on "Desperate Housewives."
Also honored Sunday were actors Hugh Laurie of Fox's "House" and Steve Carell of NBC's "The Office," who received awards for individual achievement in drama and comedy, respectively.
The group, which includes more than 200 reporters and columnists working in U.S. and Canadian print media, voted a heritage award to "The West Wing."
Series creator Aaron Sorkin called the honor "an incredible compliment" to all those involved in the White House drama that wrapped up its seven-year run on NBC last season.
Sorkin also called it a tribute to "the memory of the unforgettable John Spencer," who played Leo McGarry in the series and who died of a heart attack in December 2005 at age 58.
Other TCA winners were:
• "Grey's Anatomy," ABC, program of the year.
• "My Name Is Earl," NBC, best new program.
• "Lost," ABC, best achievement in drama.
• "The Office," NBC, best achievement in comedy.
• "Frontline," PBS, best achievement in news and information.
• "High School Musical," Disney Channel, best achievement in children's programming.
• "American Masters: Bob Dylan — No Direction Home," PBS, best achievement in movies, miniseries and specials.