Monday, October 15, 2012

Rant #823: We Still Love Lucy

Back in 1951, television was still in its infancy.

A lot of the programming on television at that time looked like either televised radio broadcasts or stage shows brought to the small screen.

Many people didn't even have televisions in their homes and color TV was still years and years away.

Few movie starts were emigrating to television. That medium was still thought to be somewhat second or third rate, a place for vaudeville acts, radio acts, or performers who had seen better days.

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were known commodities back then, but not really household names.

Ball had been in numerous films--she is the only actress to have appeared with both the Three Stooges and Abbott and Costello on film--but her star was not shining as brightly as it had been.

Arnaz was looked at as something of a novelty act, a second rate Xavier Cugat, with a Cuban band and his signature song, "Babalu."

CBS took a chance on their brainchild--a situation comedy about a nightclub entertainer, Ricky Ricardo--originally named Larry Lopez--and his show biz wannabe wife, Lucy Ricardo--and "I Love Lucy" was born on this date 61 years ago, debuting on the CBS network on this day.

Its presence changed the face of television forever.

The show was an immense hit from the start, showing the comedic sense of Ball and the brains of Arnaz, who helped develop many of the camera techniques used to film the show, including shooting the half hour show on film, which allowed it to supposedly take place in Manhattan, while it actually was filmed in Hollywood.

This led to the show being shown countless times in reruns, another first for a network sitcom.

The Ball/Arnaz partnership made them probably the most famous Hollywood couple of their time, and brought them countless riches, and the creation of the Desilu studio, which churned out hundreds of shows through the mid to late 1960s, including "Star Trek."

But all good things usually come to an end. The half hour show morphed into the hour-lomg "Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour," which doubled the show's time, but was only about half as funny as the original. Ball and Arnaz eventually divorced, and the studio was later sold to Paramount ...

But "I Love Lucy" lives on in almost uninterrupted reruns. Does anybody ever remember a time when it wasn't on the air?

But "I Love Lucy" wasn't just about the Ricardos. The supporting players on the show added to its popularity.

Something must be said about the mismatched pair of Vivian Vance and William Frawley, who played Ethel and Fred Mertz on the show.

They were essentially sidekicks to the main characters, but the probably were the best second bananas ever on a situation comedy. Playing frumpier versions of the stars, the mismatched pair--who supposedly didn't get along with each other in real life--added to the show's success by their characterizations of the Ricardo's landlords and best friends.

And Little Ricky--played by Keith Thibodeux--well, he was there, added to the sitcom's later shows, but he was often used as little more than a prop for the adult stars to use to further the storylines, such as when Lucy gave birth to him--that episode--"Lucy Has a Baby"-- is probably the best of all the show's episodes. But that kid could drum, couldn't he?

Anyway, 61 years later, "I Love Lucy" stands as probably the single most popular TV show ever. There's been nothing like it before or since.

Is there anyone who doesn't like this show?

My mother tells the story of her and my grandmother watching the show together, and my grandfather huffing and puffing about "what all the fuss was about" as they laughed and laughed and laughed some more.

Maybe he didn't get it, but just about everyone else did.

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