January 05, 2019


(CBS, October 15, 1951-May 6, 1957)

Desilu Productions

            When CBS wanted to adapt their radio show My Favorite Husband to television, they naturally sought to bring that show’s stars to the small screen. However, star Lucille Ball saw it as an opportunity to finally work together with her husband, bandleader Desi Arnaz. I Love Lucy focused on the misadventures of New York housewife Lucy Ricardo (Ball) who had delusions of stardom and did whatever it took to try and achieve those dreams, despite not having a single marketable talent. She often tried to become part of her husband, Ricky’s (Arnaz), nightclub show through any means necessary; a constant source of headaches for him. They were best friends with their landlords, Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) Mertz. Fred was a cheapskate who would end up becoming Ricky’s manager, and Ethel was Lucy’s sidekick, often ended up involved with her various schemes.

Lucy, Ethel, Fred and Ricky conversing during a meal.

Husband writers Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll, Jr. and Jess Oppenheimer, who also produced, set about adapting the radio show for television. Original sponsor Philip Morris wanted the show to be filmed in New York so that the larger Eastern audience wouldn’t be subjected to delayed and inferior quality kinescope recordings. Lucy and Desi worked out an arrangement to keep the show in Hollywood for Lucy’s pending childbirth by having the show recorded onto more-expensive film in exchange for their taking a pay cut and majority ownership of the show. They also produced the show through their new production company, Desilu Productions. Oppenheimer had the show filmed before a live audience to provide Lucy with the energy she needed for her performance, and the show pioneered the use of a three-camera system for sitcoms that would become the industry standard. When previous episodes were aired to give Lucy recovery time after her second childbirth, they effectively gave birth to the concept of the rerun when the episodes received high ratings.

Lucy up to one of her schemes.

I Love Lucy ran for 6 seasons on CBS. Lucy’s second pregnancy was incorporated into the show, cited as her being “expecting” at CBS’ insistence, and gave birth to the character of Little Ricky (James John Ganzer, Richard Lee Simmons, Ronald Lee Simmons, Michael Mayer, Joseph Mayer & Keith Thibodeaux at different periods). The show was a ratings success, taking the top spot for four of its seasons. In 1957, the show was retooled into the hour-long The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and showed extended hour-long episodes as part of an anthology series for the next three seasons. An emphasis was placed on big name guest stars at the expense of the Mertz characters. To make it up to them, Desi offered to do a spinoff centered around them, but as Vance and Frawley barely got along, she ultimately declined. Beginning in 1955, CBS began airing reruns of Lucy at various points throughout its schedule, with reruns hitting Saturday mornings in 1959. These reruns introduced the familiar “heart on satin” opening, which replaced the original stick figure caricatures of Lucy and Desi introducing that episode’s sponsor created by an uncredited William Hanna and Joseph Barbera and animated by Gene Hazelton (they were under exclusive contract to MGM at the time and had to keep their involvement on the down-low). In 1967, CBS began offering their syndicated rerun package, resulting in the show still being seen on various networks to this day.

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