Friday, October 14, 2011

Rant #596: And We Still Love Lucy, Too

Going along with our look at classic (and not so classic) television shows, tomorrow just happens to mark the 60th anniversary of the debut of the situation comedy that set the standard for all the sitcoms to follow.

"I Love Lucy" started out as an idea to bring actress Lucille Ball to television, nothing more, but it snowballed, and the premier of this show raised the standards of the situation comedy to new heights, many of which haven't been equaled to this day.

Ball was pretty much a B-actress throughout her early career, but she worked regularly and appeared in numerous films. She stands as the only actress who appeared with both Abbott and Costello and the Three Stooges on screen.

She was known for her long legs and sharp wit. The henna rinse came later.

Anyway, in the late 1940s, she was achieving fame as a radio comedienne, as the star of a show called "My Favorite Husband." No Desi Arnaz was not her favorite husband at this point in time.

Ball had just married Arnaz, and she wanted to both keep her career moving and make a go at a good marriage.

So she and Arnaz tried to convince studio executives to allow them to bring a show revolving around Ball and Arnaz to the small screen.

Executives initially balked. Who would watch a show with a tall redhead and her husband who spoke with a Cuban accent?

To convince studio executives that they could pull this off, Ball and Arnaz went on a cross-country tour with a stage show, and the audiences loved it.

This convinced studio executives to give the thing a try, but Ball and Arnaz insisted that the show be shot in California. At that time, the center of the TV universe was New York, so how could they shoot a show in California and placate New York executives?

Arnaz decided to film the show using the best available recording devices around at that time, to give it a live feel. He also used different camera angles with three cameras to give the show a more intimate feel. And he used a live audience to give it a stage-type feel.

And most importantly, he and Ball retained the rights to the show, and were able to rerun the show in between new shows.

The show, which also starred Vivian Vance, William Frawley, and later, Keith Thibodeaux, was an out and out hit. It never fell below No. 3 in the ratings, and it made Arnaz, and particularly Ball, into megastars.

And there were those classic episodes: the pregnancy episode, and Vitameatavegimin, and the grape stomping, all the supposed trips they took to Europe and Hollywood, and the allure of watching the wacky hijinks of a redheaded wife of a Cuban bandleader get into the craziest predicaments each and every week--and all in black and white!

Since 1951, the show has never been off the air, and probably never will leave the airwaves. To this day, it is that popular.

"I Love Lucy" set the highest standard for sitcoms that it possibly could, helped create Desilu Studios, one of the more active TV studios of the 1950s and early to mid 1960s, and helped make TV the institution that it became and still is to this day.

So when I watch a show like "Mike and Molly," I have to think: Is this fellow CBS show a poor stepchild of "I Love Lucy"?

Is this how TV sitcoms have evolved over the past 60 years?

Or is this really a devolve?

I think it's pretty much the latter. "Mike and Molly" is what sitcoms have devolved to today, and Ball and Arnaz must be churning in their graves about this situation.

This is what "I Love Lucy" wrought on the world?

I think not, but the popularity of "I Love Lucy" allowed sitcoms to become immensely popular dollar generators for the networks, so, I guess in some tangental way, "I Love Lucy" did wrought on us "Mike and Molly."

It's horrible to believe that, but it's true.

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