I Love Lucy
I Love Lucy is an American television sitcom that originally ran on CBS from October 15, 1951, to May 6, 1957, with a total of 180 half-hour episodes spanning 6 seasons (including the 'lost' original pilot and Christmas episode). The show starred Lucille Ball, her real-life husband Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley. It followed the life of Lucy Ricardo (Ball), a middle class housewife in New York City, who either concocted plans with her best friends (Vance & Frawley) to appear alongside her bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Arnaz) in his nightclub, or tried numerous schemes to mingle with, or be a part of show business. After the series ended in 1957, a modified version continued for three more seasons with 13 one-hour specials; it ran from 1957 to 1960. It was first known as The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show and later in reruns as The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour.
|I Love Lucy|
Title shot from syndicated edition of series.
|Written by||Jess Oppenheimer (Seasons 1–5)|
Bob Carroll Jr.
Bob Schiller (Seasons 5–6)
Bob Weiskopf (Seasons 5–6)
|Theme music composer||Eliot Daniel|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Original language(s)||English, Spanish|
|No. of seasons||6|
|No. of episodes||180 (including the "lost" Christmas episode and original pilot) (list of episodes)|
Desi Arnaz (executive)
|Production location(s)||Desilu Studios|
Los Angeles, California
|Running time||23–26.5 minutes unedited, including opening and closing credits|
|Production company(s)||Desilu Productions|
CBS Television Distribution
|Picture format||480i (SDTV)|
Black and white
|Original release||October 15, 1951 –|
May 6, 1957
|Followed by||The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour|
I Love Lucy became the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and it was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998). As of 2011, episodes of the show have been syndicated in dozens of languages across the world and remain popular with an American audience of 40 million each year. A colorized version of its Christmas episode attracted more than 8 million viewers when CBS aired it in prime time in 2013–62 years after the show premiered; CBS has aired two to three new colorized episodes each year since then, once at Christmas and again in the spring.
The show, which was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35mm film in front of a studio audience, won five Emmy Awards and received numerous nominations and honors. It was the first show ever to feature an ensemble cast. It is often regarded as one of the greatest and most influential sitcoms in history. In 2012, it was voted the 'Best TV Show of All Time' in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine.
Originally set in an apartment building in New York City, I Love Lucy centers on Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and her singer/bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), along with their best friends and landlords Fred Mertz (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance). During the second season, Lucy and Ricky have a son named Ricky Ricardo Jr. ("Little Ricky"), whose birth was timed to coincide with Ball's real-life birth of her son Desi Arnaz Jr.
Lucy is naïve and ambitious, with an undeserved zeal for stardom and a knack for getting herself and her husband into trouble whenever Lucy yearns to make it in show business. The Ricardos' best friends, Fred and Ethel, are former vaudevillians and this only strengthens Lucy's resolve to prove herself as a performer. Unfortunately, she has few marketable performance skills. She does not seem to be able to carry a tune or play anything other than off-key renditions of songs such as "Glow Worm" on the saxophone, and many of her performances devolve into disaster. However, to say she is completely without talent would be untrue, as on occasion, she is shown to be a good dancer and a competent singer. She is also at least twice offered contracts by television or film companies—first in "The Audition" when she replaces an injured clown in Ricky's act, and later in Hollywood when she dances for a studio benefit using a rubber Ricky dummy as her dancing partner.
The show provided Ball ample opportunity to display her considerable skill at clowning and physical comedy. Character development was not a major focus of early sitcoms, so little was offered about her life before the show. A few episodes mentioned that she was born in Jamestown, New York (Lucille Ball's real-life home town), later corrected to West Jamestown, that she graduated from Jamestown High School, that her maiden name was "McGillicuddy" (indicating a Scottish or Irish ethnicity at least on her father's side, though she once mentioned her grandmother was Swedish; there are sizable Irish and Swedish communities in Jamestown), and that she met Ricky on a boat cruise with her friend from an agency she once worked for. Her family was absent, other than occasional appearances by her scatter-brained mother (Kathryn Card), who could never get Ricky's name right. Lucy also exhibited many traits that were standard for female comedians at the time, including being secretive about her age and true hair color, and being careless with money, along with being somewhat materialistic, insisting on buying new dresses and hats for every occasion and telling old friends that she and Ricky were wealthy. She was also depicted as a devoted housewife and attentive mother. As part of Lucy's role was to care for her husband, she stayed at home and took care of the household chores while her husband Ricky went to work. During the post war era Lucy took jobs outside of the home but in these jobs she was portrayed as being inept outside of her usual domestic duties.
Lucy's husband, Ricky Ricardo, is an up-and-coming Cuban American singer and bandleader with an excitable personality. His patience is frequently tested by his wife's antics trying to get into showbiz, and exorbitant spending on clothes or furniture. When exasperated, he often reverts to speaking rapidly in Spanish. As with Lucy, not much is revealed about his past or family. Ricky's mother (played by actress Mary Emery) appears in two episodes; in another Lucy mentions that he has five brothers. Ricky also mentions that he had been "practically raised" by his uncle Alberto (who was seen during a family visit to Cuba), and that he had attended the University of Havana.
An extended flashback segment in the 1957 episode "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana" of The Lucille Ball–Desi Arnaz Show filled in numerous details of how Lucy and Ricky met and how Ricky came to the United States. The story, at least insofar as related to newspaper columnist Hedda Hopper, is that the couple met in Havana when Lucy and the Mertzes vacationed there in 1940. Despite his being a university graduate, proficient in English, Ricky is portrayed as a driver of a horse-drawn cab who waits for fares at a pier where tourists arrive by ship. Ricky is hired to serve as one of Lucy's tour guides and the two fall in love. Having coincidentally also met popular singer Rudy Vallée on the cruise ship, Lucy arranges an audition for Ricky who is hired to be in Vallée's orchestra, thus allowing him to immigrate to the United States on the very ship on which Lucy and the Mertzes were returning. Lucy later states that Ricky played for Vallée only one night before being traded to Xavier Cugat's orchestra.
Note that the extended flashback segment "Lucy Takes a Cruise to Havana" and the story of how Lucy and Ricky met is inconsistent with Season 4, Episode 18 entitled, "Don Juan and the Starlets" (1955). In that episode, Lucy mistakenly believes that Ricky stayed out all night after his publicity agent, Ross Elliott, sent him to a movie premiere accompanied by young starlets who were appearing in his movie. As a comeback in the ensuing argument, Lucy bemoans that she made a mistake fifteen years before when Marion Strong asked her if she would like to go on a blind date with a Cuban drummer and she said "yes."
Lucy is usually found with her sidekick and best friend Ethel Mertz. A former model from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Ethel tries to relive her glory days in vaudeville. Ricky is more inclined to include Ethel in performances at his nightclub because, unlike Lucy, she can actually sing and dance rather well.
Ethel's husband Fred served in World War I, and lived through the Great Depression. He is very stingy with money and is an irascible, no-nonsense type. However, he also shows that he can be a soft touch, especially when it comes to Little Ricky. Fred can also sing and dance and often performs duets with Ethel.
The Manhattan building they all lived in before their move to Westport, Connecticut, was addressed at a fictional 623 East 68th Street, at first in apartment 4A, then moving to the larger apartment 3B (subsequently re-designated 3D; the Mertzes’ apartment is then numbered 3B), on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. In actuality, the addresses go up only to the 500s before the street terminates at the East River.
- Lucille Ball as Lucille Esmeralda "Lucy" McGillicuddy Ricardo
- Desi Arnaz as Enrique Alberto Fernando y de Acha "Ricky" Ricardo III
- Vivian Vance as Ethel Mae Potter Mertz (alternately "Ethel Louise" and "Ethel Roberta")
- William Frawley as Frederick "Fred" Hobart Mertz
- Richard Keith as Enrique Alberto Ricardo IV ("Ricky Ricardo Jr.")
- Twins Mike Mayer and Joe Mayer both played "Little Ricky" as a toddler
- Kathryn Card as Mrs. McGillicuddy, Lucy's mother (also Minnie Finch in the earlier episode "Fan Magazine Interview")
- Mary Jane Croft as Lucy's socialite school chum Cynthia Harcourt, Evelyn Bigsby ("Return Home from Europe") and later as Connecticut neighbor Betty Ramsey
- Frank Nelson as various characters and as Ralph Ramsey
- Jerry Hausner as Jerry, Ricky's agent
- Doris Singleton as Carolyn Appleby (she was originally named Lillian Appleby; but after Singleton's first appearance on the show, the producers felt that the names Lillian and Lucy sounded too similar, so her name was changed to Carolyn)
- Shirley Mitchell as Marion Strong, a role originated by Margie Liszt
- Elizabeth Patterson as Mrs. Matilda Trumbull (also the town mayor in the earlier episode "The Marriage License")
- Charles Lane as various characters
- Barbara Pepper as various characters
- Eve McVeagh as Roberta, Lucy's hairdresser
- Bob Jellison as Bobby the Bellboy (Hollywood Episodes)
- Mary Wickes as Madame Le Mond, Lucy's ballet teacher
Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet, supporting cast members on My Favorite Husband, were originally approached for the roles of Fred and Ethel, but neither could accept owing to previous commitments. Gordon did appear as a guest star in three episodes, playing Ricky's boss, Mr. Littlefield, in two episodes, and later in an hour-long episode as a civil court judge. Gordon was a veteran from the classic radio days in which he perfected the role of the exasperated character, as in Fibber McGee and Molly and Our Miss Brooks. He would go on to co-star with Ball in all of her post–I Love Lucy series (The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy and Life with Lucy). Benaderet was a guest star in one episode as elderly Miss Lewis, a neighbor of the Ricardos.
Barbara Pepper (later featured as Doris Ziffel in the series Green Acres) was also considered to play Ethel, but Pepper had been drinking very heavily after the death of her husband, Craig W. Reynolds. Her friendship with Ball dated back to the film Roman Scandals, in which both appeared as Goldwyn Girls. She did, however, turn up in at least nine episodes of I Love Lucy in bit parts.
Many of the characters' names were after Lucille Ball's family members or close friends; for example, Marion Strong was one of her best friends and roommate for a time in New York, and also set Lucy and Desi up on their first date. Lillian Appleby was a teacher of Lucy's when she was in an amateur production on the stage. Pauline Lopus was a childhood friend, Fred was also her brother and grandfather's name. Lucy and Desi had a business manager by the name of Mr. Andrew Hickox, and in the first episode of season 4, called "The Business Manager" Lucy and Ricky hire a man named Mr. Hickox.
Primary production team
- Directors: Marc Daniels (33 episodes, 1951–53); William Asher (101 episodes, 1952–57); James V. Kern (39 episodes, 1955–57)
- Producers: Jess Oppenheimer (153 episodes, 1951–56); Desi Arnaz (exec. producer—124 episodes, 1952–56; producer—26 episodes, 1956–57)
- Writers: Jess Oppenheimer (head writer, seasons 1–5), Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll Jr. (All Seasons including Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour), Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf (Seasons 5–6 and Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour)
- Original Music: Wilbur Hatch (33 episodes, 1951–54); Eliot Daniel (135 episodes, 1952–57); Marco Rizo (1951–1957)
- Cinematography: Karl Freund (149 episodes, 1951–56)
- Costume design: Elois Jenssen (57 episodes, 1953–55)
- Editors: Dann Cahn, Bud Molin
Background and development
Lucille Ball had come to Hollywood after a successful stint as a New York model. She was chosen by Samuel Goldwyn to be one of sixteen Goldwyn Girls to co-star in the picture Roman Scandals (1933) with film star Eddie Cantor. Enthusiastic and hard-working Ball had been able to secure film work briefly at the Samuel Goldwyn Studio and Columbia Pictures and then eventually at RKO Radio Pictures. It was at RKO that Ball received steady film work, first as an extra and bit player and eventually working her way up to co-starring roles in feature films and starring roles in second rate B pictures, collectively earning her the nickname "Queen of the B's". During her run at RKO, Ball gained the reputation for doing physical comedy and stunts that most other actresses avoided, keeping her steadily employed. In 1940, Lucy met Desi Arnaz, a Cuban bandleader who had just come off a successful run in the 1939–40 Broadway show Too Many Girls. RKO had bought the film rights to the show and cast Ball as Arnaz's love interest in the picture. The duo began a whirlwind courtship leading to their elopement to Connecticut in November 1940. Despite their marriage, however, their careers kept them separated, with Lucy's film work keeping her anchored in Hollywood, while Desi's nightclub engagements with his orchestra kept him on the road.
Despite steadily working in pictures, Lucy's movie career never advanced to the level of a headlining feature-film actress; nevertheless she remained popular with movie audiences. Ball came to the attention of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after receiving critical acclaim for her starring role in the 1942 Damon Runyon film The Big Street, which bought out her contract. It was at MGM that Ball, who had been a blonde, dyed her hair red to complement the Technicolor features that MGM had planned to use her in. MGM used Ball in a variety of films, but it was her work with funny man Red Skelton in the 1942 film DuBarry Was a Lady that brought Ball's physical comedy into the forefront, earning her the reputation as "that crazy redhead", as Ricky would later call her. Nonetheless, Ball's striking beauty was in sharp contrast to physical antics she did in her films; thus, MGM tried to use her in multiple different film genres that did little to highlight her skills. Given their difficulties in casting her, MGM chose not to renew her contract when it expired in 1946.
Ball began working as a free-lancer in films and also began to explore other venues. Before and during World War II, Lucy had made several notable and successful guest appearances on several radio programs, among them Jack Haley's radio show and bandleader Kay Kyser's radio program. These appearances brought Lucy to the attention of CBS, which in 1948 enlisted Ball to star in one of two new half-hour situation comedies in development, Our Miss Brooks and My Favorite Husband. Choosing the latter, Lucy portrayed Liz Cugat (later anglicized to Cooper), the frustrated and scheming housewife of a Minneapolis banker, played originally by actor Lee Bowman in the series pilot, and later by actor Richard Denning. Based on the novel Mr. and Mrs. Cugat by Isabel Scott Rorick, My Favorite Husband was produced by Jess Oppenheimer, and written by Oppenheimer, plus scribes Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr. Premiering on July 23, 1948, and sponsored by General Foods, Husband became a hit for CBS. During the run of the radio program Lucy appeared in two feature films with Bob Hope, Sorrowful Jones in 1949, and Fancy Pants in 1950. Both films were box office and critical successes, further cementing Ball's reputation as a top notch first-rate comedian. They also showed her continuing popularity with audiences, enticing CBS to further use her skills.
In 1950, CBS asked Ball to take My Favorite Husband to television with co-star Richard Denning. She, however, saw a television show as a great opportunity to work with Desi, so Lucy insisted that Desi play her husband, much to the dismay of CBS, which was reluctant because Arnaz was Cuban. CBS executives believed that audiences would not believe the marriage between an all-American girl and a Latin man. To prove CBS wrong, the couple developed a vaudeville act, written by Carroll and Pugh, that they performed at Newburgh NY's historic Ritz Theater with Arnaz's orchestra. The act was a hit and convinced CBS executive Harry Ackerman that a Ball-Arnaz pairing would be a worthwhile venture. At the same time, rival networks NBC, ABC, and DuMont were showing interest in a Ball-Arnaz series, which Ackerman used to convince CBS to sign the duo.
A pilot was ordered and kinescoped in Hollywood in March 1951, which coincided with Lucy's first pregnancy, and the ending of Husband, which aired its last radio show on March 31, 1951. Ball and Arnaz used the same radio team of Oppenheimer, Pugh, and Carroll to create the television series that was named I Love Lucy. After showing the pilot to several advertising agencies, at first with not much luck, CBS was able to sell the series to the Milton H. Biow agency, which was able to convince one of their clients, cigarette giant Philip Morris, to sponsor the show.
During the spring and summer of 1951, I Love Lucy moved into production. Oppenheimer, Pugh, and Carroll began fine-tuning the premise of the show and writing the series' first scripts. The trio had the good graces of having a backlog of storylines from My Favorite Husband to adapt for use on television. In addition, the series' ensemble cast and crew were assembled. Desi Arnaz retained his orchestra, which was used in the series musical numbers and to score the show's background and transitional music. Arnaz's childhood friend Marco Rizo arranged the music and played the piano for the show, while Wilbur Hatch was used to conduct the orchestra. Two problems arose, however, after Philip Morris signed on to sponsor the show, that would ultimately change the fate of I Love Lucy.
Lucy and Desi had originally decided that the series would air on a biweekly basis, much like The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. Philip Morris, however, was insistent that the show air weekly, thus diminishing the possibility of Lucy continuing her film career alongside a television show. Another problem lay in the fact that Philip Morris wanted the series to originate from New York rather than Hollywood. At the time, most television shows were produced from New York with live broadcasts of the show airing for eastern and Midwest audiences. West Coast viewers were able to view live programs only through low-quality kinescopes, which derived their images by using a 35 mm or 16 mm film camera to record the show from a television monitor. As videotape had not yet been developed, kinescopes seemed to be the only practical means to allow a live show to reach television markets on the West Coast. Complicating matters was that kinescopes were not available for immediate re-broadcast as in 1951 no coast-to-coast cable system was yet in service. Shows had to be sent to Hollywood, which delayed their airings for West Coast audiences by nearly a week. The process operated in the reverse for the few programs that originated live in Hollywood, such as The Ed Wynn Show, thus making blurry kinescopes of these shows the only available print for eastern audiences. Most sponsors, including Philip Morris, found this to be undesirable as most of the television audience lived east of the Mississippi at the time.
Although the pilot had been made as a kinescope, for the series itself, the process was rejected. Owing to the impending birth of their first child, both Lucy and Desi insisted on staying in Hollywood and producing the show on film, something a few Hollywood-based series had begun to do. Both CBS and Philip Morris initially balked at the idea, because of the higher cost that filming the show would incur, yet acquiesced only after the couple offered to take a $1,000 a week pay cut in order to cover the additional expense. In exchange, Lucy and Desi demanded, and were given, 80% ownership in the I Love Lucy films (the other 20% went to producer Jess Oppenheimer who then gave 5% to writer Madelyn Pugh and 5% to writer Bob Carroll Jr.). Shooting the show on film, however, would require that Lucy and Desi become responsible for producing the series themselves. Union agreements at the time stipulated that any production filmed in a studio use film studio employees. CBS staff were television and radio employees and thus fell under different union agreements. Thus, Arnaz reorganized the company he created to manage his orchestra bookings and used it as the corporation that would produce the I Love Lucy shows. The company was named Desilu, from the combination of both their first names "Desi" and "Lucille".
Though some television series were already being filmed in Hollywood, most used the single-camera format familiar from movies, with a laugh track added to comedies to simulate audience response. Arnaz and I Love Lucy creator Jess Oppenheimer decided, however, that Lucy needed to work in front of an audience to create the kind of comic energy she had displayed on radio. The idea of a film studio that could accommodate an audience was a new one for the time, as fire safety regulations made it difficult to allow an audience in a studio. Arnaz and Oppenheimer were lucky enough to find the financially struggling General Service Studios located on Las Palmas Avenue in Hollywood. Studio owner Jimmy Nasser was eager to accommodate the Desilu company and allowed them, with financial backing of CBS, to renovate two of his studios so that they could accommodate an audience and be in compliance with local fire laws.
Another component to filming the show came when it was decided to use three 35 mm film cameras to simultaneously film the show. The idea had been pioneered by Ralph Edwards on the game show Truth or Consequences, and had subsequently been used on Amos 'n' Andy as a way to save money, though Amos n' Andy did not use an audience. Edwards's assistant Al Simon was hired by Desilu to help perfect the new technique for the series. The process lent itself to the Lucy production as it eliminated the problem of requiring an audience to view and react to a scene three or four times in order for all necessary shots to be filmed. Multiple cameras would also allow scenes to be performed in sequence, as a play would be, which was unusual at the time for filmed series. Retakes were rare and dialogue mistakes were often played off for the sake of continuity.
Ball and Arnaz enlisted the services of Karl Freund, a cinematographer who had worked on such films as Metropolis (1927), Dracula (1931), and The Good Earth (1937), as well as directing The Mummy (1932), to be the series cinematographer. Although at first Freund did not want anything to do with television, it was the personal plea of the couple that convinced him to take the job.
Freund was instrumental in developing a way to uniformly light the set so that each of the three cameras would pick up the same quality of image. Freund noted that a typical episode (20–22 min.) was shot in about 60 minutes, with one constant concern being the shades-of-gray contrast in the final print, as each stage of transmission and broadcast would exaggerate the contrast.:22 Among other non-standard techniques used in filming the show, cans of paint (in shades ranging from white to medium-gray) were kept on set to "paint out" inappropriate shadows and disguise lighting flaws. Freund also pioneered "flat lighting," in which everything is brightly lit to eliminate shadows and the need for endless relighting.
Audience reactions were live, thus creating a far more authentic laugh than the canned laughter used on most filmed sitcoms of the time. Regular audience members were sometimes heard from episode to episode, and Arnaz's distinctive laugh could be heard in the background during scenes in which he did not perform, as well as Ball's mother, DeDe, whose distinctive "Uh Oh" could be heard in many of the episodes. In later years, CBS would devise a laugh track from several I Love Lucy audiences and use them for canned laughter on shows done without a live audience.
I Love Lucy's pioneering use of three cameras led to it becoming the standard technique for the production of most sitcoms filmed in front of an audience. Single-camera setups remained the technique of choice for sitcoms that did not use audiences. This led to an unexpected benefit for Desilu during the series's second season when it was discovered that Lucy was pregnant. Not being able to fulfill the show's 39-episode commitment, both Desi and Jess Oppenheimer decided to rebroadcast popular episodes of the series's first season to help give Lucy the necessary rest she needed after she gave birth, effectively allowing fewer episodes to be filmed that season. Unexpectedly the rebroadcasts proved to be ratings winners, effectively giving birth to the rerun, which would later lead to the profitable development of the rerun syndication market.
The show's original opening and commercial bumpers were animated caricatures of Lucy and Desi. They were designed and animated by MGM character designer and future "Flintstones" cartoonist, Gene Hazelton (1917–2005) and were produced secretly under a contract producer William Hanna had secured privately. The program sponsor, Phillip Morris cigarettes was incorporated into many of these sequences, so when I Love Lucy went into repeats, they were replaced by the now familiar heart logo. However Gene Hazelton's original animation survives, and can be seen in the DVD boxed set as originally presented.
Desilu Productions, jointly owned by Ball and Arnaz, would gradually expand to produce and lease studio space for many other shows. For seasons 1 and 2 (1951–1953), Desilu rented space and filmed I Love Lucy at General Service Studios, which eventually became known as Hollywood Center Studios. In 1953, it leased the Motion Picture Center at 846 Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood, renaming it Desilu Studios, to shoot seasons 3–6 (1953–1957) of I Love Lucy. After 1956, it became known as Desilu-Cahuenga Studios to avoid confusion with other acquired Desilu locations. In an effort to keep up with the studio's growth, and need for additional sound stages, Desi and Lucy purchased RKO Radio Pictures from General Tire in 1957 for over $6 million, effectively owning the studio where they had started as contract players. Desilu acquired RKO's two studio complexes located on Gower Street in Hollywood, and in Culver City (now part of the Paramount lot and Culver Studios respectively), along with the Culver City back lot nicknamed "Forty Acres". The sale was achieved by the duo selling their ownership of the once-thought-worthless I Love Lucy films back to CBS for over four million dollars.
In 1962, two years after their marriage dissolved, Lucy bought out Desi's shares of Desilu, becoming the studio's sole owner. She eventually sold off Desilu in 1967 to Gulf+Western, owners of Paramount Pictures. After the sale, Desilu-Cahuenga became a private production company and was known as Ren-Mar Studios till 2010, when it was acquired by the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company and renamed Red Studios – Hollywood.
As with My Favorite Husband, Lucy writers decided that the Ricardos needed an older couple to play off of. While performing in Husband, veteran character actors Gale Gordon and Bea Benaderet had played Rudolph and Iris Atterbury, an older, more financially stable couple as Mr. Atterbury had been George Cooper's boss. Ball had initially wanted both actors to reprise their roles on television; however, both were unavailable at the time the show went into production as Benaderet was already playing Blanche Morton on The Burns and Allen Show, and Gordon was under contract by CBS to play Mr. Conklin on both the radio and television versions of Our Miss Brooks.
Casting the Mertzes, as they were now called (the surname taken from a doctor that Lucy scriptwriter Madelyn Pugh knew as a child in Indianapolis), proved to be a challenge. Ball had initially wanted character actor James Gleason, with whom she appeared in Columbia Pictures film Miss Grant Takes Richmond (1949), to play Fred Mertz. However, Gleason wanted nearly $3,500 per episode to play the role, a price that was far too high to sustain.
Sixty-four-year-old William Frawley, a seasoned vaudevillian and movie character actor with nearly 100 film credits to his name, was a long shot to play Fred Mertz and only came into consideration after he telephoned Ball personally to ask if there was a role for him on her new show. Ball, who had only briefly known Frawley from her days at RKO, suggested him to both Arnaz and CBS. The network objected to the idea of casting Frawley, fearing that his excessive drinking—which was well known in Hollywood—would interfere with a commitment to a live show. Arnaz nonetheless liked Frawley and lobbied hard for him to have the role, even to the point of having Lucy scribes re-tailor the role of Fred Mertz to be a less financially successful and more curmudgeonly (in contrast to Gale Gordon's Mr. Atterbury) character to fit Frawley's persona. CBS relented only after Arnaz contractually bound Frawley to complete sobriety during the production of the show, and reportedly told the veteran actor that if he ever appeared on-set more than once in an intoxicated state he would be fired. Not once during Lucy's nine seasons did Frawley's drinking ever interfere with his performance, and over time Arnaz became one of Frawley's few close friends.
Casting the Ethel Mertz character was also some work. One choice was actress Barbara Pepper, who was a close friend of Ball. The two had a long history together, as Pepper had been one of the Goldwyn Girls who came to Hollywood with Lucy in 1933. Pepper was favored by Lucy herself; however, CBS refused on the grounds that Pepper suffered from a drinking problem too, which was far more severe than Frawley's. Nonetheless Pepper did appear in several bit parts during the run of the show.
Vivian Vance became a consideration on the recommendation of Lucy director Marc Daniels. Daniels had worked with Vance in New York on Broadway in the early 1940s. Vance had already been a successful stage star performing on Broadway for nearly 20 years in a variety of plays, and in addition, after relocating to Hollywood in the late 1940s, had two film roles to her credit. Nonetheless, by 1951, she was still a relatively unknown actress in Hollywood. Vance was performing in a revival of the play The Voice of the Turtle in La Jolla, California. Arnaz and Jess Oppenheimer went to see her in the play and hired her on the spot. Vance was reluctant about giving up her film and stage work for a television show, yet was convinced by Daniels that it would be a big break in her career. Ball, however, had many misgivings about hiring Vance, who was younger and far more attractive than the concept of Ethel as an older, somewhat homely woman. Ball was also a believer in the Hollywood adage at the time that there should be only one pretty woman on the set and Ball, being the star of the show, was it. Arnaz, however, was impressed by Vance's work and hired her. The decision was then made to dress Vance in frumpier clothing to tone down her attractiveness. Ball and Vance's relationship during the series' early beginnings was lukewarm at best. Eventually realizing that Vance was no threat and was very professional, Ball began to warm to her. In 1954, Vance would become the first actress to win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress. Vance and Ball would develop a lifelong close friendship. Ball would go on to ask Vance to co-star in Ball's new series The Lucy Show after the end of I Love Lucy.
Vance and Frawley's off-screen relationship was less successful. In spite of this, they were always professional and exhibited exceptional chemistry while performing on the show. In fact, their acrimonious personal relationship may have helped their onscreen marriage be that much funnier. Frawley derisively described Vance's appearance as "a sack of doorknobs." It was reported that Vance, who was 22 years younger than Frawley, was not really keen on the idea that her character Ethel was married to a man that was old enough to be her father. Vance also complained that Frawley's song-and-dance skills were not what they once were. Frawley and Vance would have an adversarial relationship during the entire run of the show.
In 1957, I Love Lucy was re-tailored into an hour-long show originally titled The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show that was to be part of an anthology series called the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. The hour-long Lucy-Desi show was to alternate on a monthly basis with other hour long Playhouse shows. The new series put a much heavier emphasis on big name guest stars as being part of the plot and although the Mertz characters continued into the new series, their roles became somewhat diminished. Although a lighter workload was welcomed by Frawley, Vance came to somewhat resent the change. Arnaz, in an effort to please Vance, for whom he had much respect, proposed doing a spin-off from I Love Lucy called The Mertzes. Seeing a lucrative opportunity and the chance to star in his own show, Frawley was enthused. Vance, however, declined for a number of reasons, the biggest factor being that she felt she and Frawley could barely work together on the ensemble show they were doing at the time, so it would be much less likely the two could work together on their own series. Vance also felt that the Mertz characters would not be as successful without the Ricardos to play off of, and despite being her biggest success, she was becoming interested in playing more glamorous roles rather than Ethel. In fact, during the thirteen-episode run of the Lucy-Desi hour-long shows, Vance was given a lot more latitude to look more attractive as Ethel Mertz, something she was denied during the run of the I Love Lucy episodes. Frawley's resentment of Vance intensified after she declined to do the spin-off show and the two rarely talked to each other outside of their characters' dialogue with one another.
Pregnancy and Little Ricky
Just before filming the show, Lucy and Desi learned that Lucy was once again pregnant (after multiple miscarriages earlier in their marriage) with their first child, Lucie Arnaz. They filmed the original pilot while Lucy was "showing", but did not include any references to the pregnancy in the episode. This was because CBS thought that talk of pregnancy might be in bad taste and because an ad agency told Desi not to show a pregnant woman.
Later, during the second season, Lucy was pregnant again with second child Desi Arnaz Jr., and this time the pregnancy was incorporated into the series' storyline. (Contrary to popular belief, Lucy's pregnancy was not television's first on-screen pregnancy, a distinction belonging to Mary Kay on the late 1940s sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny.)
CBS would not allow I Love Lucy to use the word "pregnant", so "expecting" was used instead. In addition, sponsor Philip Morris made the request that Lucy not be seen smoking during the pregnancy episodes. The episode "Lucy Is Enceinte" first aired on December 8, 1952 ("enceinte" being French for "expecting" or "pregnant"). One week later, on December 15, 1952, the episode titled "Pregnant Women Are Unpredictable" was aired (although the show never displayed episode titles on the air). The episode in which Lucy gives birth, "Lucy Goes to the Hospital", first aired on January 19, 1953, which was the day before the inauguration of Dwight Eisenhower as President of the United States. To increase the publicity of this episode, the original air date was chosen to coincide with Lucille Ball's real-life delivery of Desi Jr. by Caesarean section. "Lucy Goes to the Hospital" was watched by more people than any other television program up to that time, with 71.7% of all American television sets tuned in, topping the 67.7 rating for the inauguration coverage the following morning.
Unlike some programs that advance the age of a newborn over a short period, I Love Lucy at first allowed the Little Ricky character to grow up in real time. America saw Little Ricky as an infant in the 1952–53 season and a toddler from 1953 to 1956. However, for the 1956–57 season, Little Ricky suddenly aged by two years, becoming a young school-age boy from 1956 to 1960. Five actors played the role, two sets of twins and later Keith Thibodeaux, whose stage name when playing Ricky Ricardo Jr. was Richard Keith. (In the Superman episode, Little Ricky is mentioned as being five years old but it had been less than four years since the birth-of-Little-Ricky episode.)
Jess Oppenheimer stated in his memoir, Laughs, Luck...and Lucy: How I Came to Create the Most Popular Sitcom of All Time, that the initial plan was to match the sex of the Ricardo baby with Lucille Ball's real baby, inserting one of two alternate endings into the broadcast print at the very last minute. When logistical difficulties convinced Oppenheimer to abandon this plan, he advised Desi that as head writer, he would have Lucy Ricardo give birth to a boy. Desi agreed, telling Oppenheimer that Lucy had already given him one girl, and might give him another—this might be his only chance to get a son. When the baby boy was born, Desi immediately called Oppenheimer and told him, "Lucy followed your script. Ain't she something?", to which Oppenheimer replied "Terrific! That makes me the greatest writer in the world!"
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||35||October 15, 1951||June 9, 1952||3||50.9|
|2||31||September 15, 1952||June 29, 1953||1||67.3|
|3||31||October 5, 1953||May 24, 1954||1||58.8|
|4||30||October 4, 1954||May 30, 1955||1||49.3|
|5||26||October 3, 1955||May 14, 1956||2||46.1|
|6||27||October 1, 1956||May 6, 1957||1||43.7|
|5||November 6, 1957||April 14, 1958||N/A||N/A|
|5||October 6, 1958||June 5, 1959||N/A||N/A|
|3||September 25, 1959||April 1, 1960||N/A||N/A|
I Love Lucy aired Mondays from 9:00 to 9:30 PM ET on CBS for its entire first run. Each year during its summer hiatus its timeslot was occupied by various summer replacement series. Beginning in April 1955 CBS added reruns from the show's early years to its early evening weekend schedule. This would be the first of several occasions when I Love Lucy reruns would become part of CBS's evening, prime time, and (later on) daytime schedules.
In fall 1967, CBS began offering the series in off-network syndication; As of August 2017, the reruns air on the Hallmark Channel and MeTV networks, and scores of television stations in the U.S. and around the world, including Fox's KTTV/KCOP in Los Angeles until December 31, 2018.
In addition, CBS has run numerous specials, including a succession of annual specials which feature episodes which have been newly colorized.
The episode "Lucy Goes to the Hospital", which first aired on Monday, January 19, 1953, garnered a record 71.7 rating, meaning 71.7% of all households with television sets at the time were tuned in to view the program. That record is surpassed only by Elvis Presley's first of three appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, which aired on September 9, 1956 (82.6% rating). The overall rating of 67.3 for the entire 1952 season of I Love Lucy continues to be the highest average rating for any single season of a TV show.
The opening familiar to most viewers, featuring the credits superimposed over a "heart on satin" image, was created specifically for the 1959–67 CBS daytime network rebroadcasts, and subsequent syndication. As originally broadcast, the episodes opened with animated matchstick figures of Arnaz and Ball making reference to whoever the particular episode's sponsor was. These sequences were created by the animation team of William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, who declined screen credit because they were technically under exclusive contract to MGM at the time.
The original sponsor was cigarette maker Philip Morris, so the program opened with a cartoon of Lucy and Ricky climbing down a pack of Philip Morris cigarettes. In the early episodes, Lucy and Ricky, as well as Ethel and Fred on occasion, were shown smoking Philip Morris cigarettes. Lucy even went so far as to parody Johnny Roventini's image as the Philip Morris "bellhop" in the May 5, 1952, episode, "Lucy Does a TV Commercial". Since the original sponsor references were no longer appropriate when the shows went into syndication, a new opening was needed, which resulted in the classic "heart on satin" opening. Other sponsors, whose products appeared during the original openings, were Procter & Gamble for Cheer and Lilt Home Permanent (1954–57), General Foods for Sanka (1955–57), and Ford Motor Company (1956–57). The later Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show was sponsored by Ford Motor Company (1957–58) and Westinghouse Electric Corporation (1958–60), as part of the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse.
The original openings, with the sponsor names edited out, were revived on TV Land showings, with a TV Land logo superimposed to obscure the original sponsor's logo. However, this has led some people to believe that the restored introduction was created specifically for TV Land as an example of kitsch.
The animated openings, along with the middle commercial introductory animations, are included, fully restored, in the DVDs. However, the openings are listed as special features within the disks with the "heart on satin" image opening the actual episodes.
The complete original broadcast versions of Seasons 1 and 2, as seen in 1951–1953 with intros, closings, and all commercials, are included on their respective Ultimate Season Blu-ray editions.
The title music from the second season on was written by Eliot Daniel as an instrumental. Lyrics were written by Harold Adamson, who was nominated five times for an Oscar. The lyrics to "I Love Lucy" were sung by Desi Arnaz in the episode "Lucy's Last Birthday":
I love Lucy and she loves me.
We're as happy as two can be.
Sometimes we quarrel but then
How we love making up again.
Lucy kisses like no one can.
She's my missus and I'm her man,
And life is heaven you see,
'Cause I love Lucy, Yes I love Lucy, and Lucy loves me!
"I Love Lucy" sung by Desi Arnaz with Paul Weston and the Norman Luboff Choir was released as the B-side of "There's A Brand New Baby (At Our House)" by Columbia Records (catalog number 39937) in 1953. The song was covered by Michael Franks on the album Dragonfly Summer (1993). In 1977, the Wilton Place Street Band had a Top 40 hit with a disco version of the theme, "Disco Lucy".
In other media
There was some thought about creating an I Love Lucy radio show to run in conjunction with the television series as was being done at the time with the CBS hit show Our Miss Brooks. On February 27, 1952, a sample I Love Lucy radio show was produced, but it never aired. This was a pilot episode, created by editing the soundtrack of the television episode "Breaking the Lease", with added Arnaz narration (in character as Ricky Ricardo). It included commercials for Philip Morris, which sponsored the television series. While it never aired on radio at the time in the 1950s (Philip Morris eventually sponsored a radio edition of My Little Margie instead), copies of this radio pilot episode have been circulating among "old time radio" collectors for years, and this radio pilot episode has aired in more recent decades on numerous local radio stations that air some "old time radio" programming.
Ball and Arnaz authorized various types of I Love Lucy merchandise. Beginning in November 1952, I Love Lucy dolls, manufactured by the American Character Doll Company, were sold. Adult-size I Love Lucy pajamas and a bedroom set were also produced; all of these items appeared on the show.
Comic book and comic strip
Dell Comics published 35 issues of an I Love Lucy comic book between 1954 and 1962 including two try-out Four Color issues (#535 and #559). King Features syndicated a comic strip (written by Lawrence Nadel and drawn by Bob Oksner, jointly credited as "Bob Lawrence") from 1952 to 1955. Eternity Comics in the early 1990s issued comic books that reprinted the strip and Dell comic book series.
After the conclusion of the sixth season of I Love Lucy, the Arnazes decided to cut down on the number of episodes that were filmed. Instead, they extended I Love Lucy to 60 minutes, with a guest star each episode. They renamed the show The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show, also known as The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Thirteen hour-long episodes aired from 1957 to 1960. The main cast, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, William Frawley and Little Ricky/Richard Keith (birth name Keith Thibodeaux) were all in the show. The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour is available on DVD, released as I Love Lucy: The Final Seasons 7, 8, & 9. On March 2, Desi's birthday, 1960, the day after the last hour-long episode was filmed, Lucille Ball filed for divorce from Desi Arnaz. It made that playful, yet passionate kiss at the end of the final episode, which aired April 1, "Lucy Meets the Moustache", all the more poignant, as the world already knew that this storied Hollywood marriage was all but over, and also lent extra meaning to the use of the song "That's All" (performed by guest star Edie Adams) in that episode.
As already mentioned, Vance and Frawley were offered a chance to take their characters to their own spin-off series. Frawley was willing, but Vance refused to ever work with Frawley again since the two did not get along. Frawley did appear once more with Lucille Ball — in an episode of The Lucy Show in 1965, which did not include Vance (who by then had ceased to be a regular on that show). However, this was his last screen appearance with his longtime friend. He died in Hollywood on March 3, 1966, of a heart attack at age 79.
In 1962, Ball began a six-year run with The Lucy Show, followed immediately in 1968 by six more years on a third sitcom, Here's Lucy, finally ending her regular appearances on CBS in 1974. Both The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy included Vance as recurring characters named Viv (Vivian Bagley Bunson on The Lucy Show and Vivian Jones on Here's Lucy), so named because she was tired of being recognized on the street and addressed as Ethel. Vance was a regular during the first three seasons of The Lucy Show but continued to make guest appearances through the years on The Lucy Show, and on Here's Lucy. In 1977, Vance and Ball were reunited one last time in the CBS special, Lucy Calls the President, which co-starred Gale Gordon (whom Ball had known for very many years by 1977 and who had appeared as a regular on her television shows since 1963; becoming even more prominent once Vivian Vance left The Lucy Show in 1965.)
In 1986, Ball tried another sitcom, Life with Lucy. The series debuted on ABC to very high ratings, landing in Nielsen's top 20 for that week. Its ratings quickly declined, however, and resulted in a cancellation after eight episodes.
In 1989, the never-seen pilot episode was discovered and revealed in a CBS television special, hosted by Lucie Arnaz, becoming the highest rated program of the season.
I Love Lucy continues to be held in high esteem by television critics, and remains perennially popular. For instance, it was one of the first American programs seen on British television — which became more open to commerce with the September 1955 launch of ITV, a commercial network that aired the series; in 1982, the launch of a second terrestrial TV station devoted to advertising funded broadcasting (Channel 4) saw the show introduced to a new generation of fans in the UK, with the Channel 4 network repeating the program several times between 1983 and 1994. As of January 2015, meanwhile, it remains the longest-running program to air continuously in the Los Angeles area, almost 60 years after production ended. However, the series is currently aired on KTTV on weekends and now KCOP on weekdays because both stations are a duopoly. Ironically, KTTV was the original CBS affiliated station in Los Angeles until 1951, just before "I Love Lucy" premiered on KNXT Channel 2 (now KCBS-TV) when CBS bought that station the same year. In the US, reruns have aired nationally on TBS (1980s–1990s), Nick at Nite (1994–2001) and TV Land (2001–2008) in addition to local channels. TV Land ended its run of the series by giving viewers the opportunity to vote on the show's top 25 greatest episodes on December 31, 2008 through the network's website. This is particularly notable because, unlike some shows to which a cable channel is given exclusive rights to maximize ratings, Lucy has been consistently — and successfully — broadcast on multiple channels simultaneously. Hallmark Channel is now the home for I Love Lucy in the United States, with the show having moved to the network on January 2, 2009, while the national version of Weigel Broadcasting's MeTV digital subchannel network has carried the program since its debut in December 15, 2010, depending on the market (in markets where another station holds the rights, The Lucy Show is substituted). The show is seen on Fox Classics in Australia.
The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York is a museum memorializing Lucy and I Love Lucy, including replicas of the NYC apartment set (located in the Desilu Playhouse facility in the Rapaport Center).
On May 4, 2003, CBS aired a television movie titled Lucy that portrayed the life of Lucille Ball, and during the I Love Lucy days, showed clips of I Love Lucy episodes. Numerous clips were remade, most notably "Lucy Does a TV Commercial", "Lucy Is Enceinte", and "Job Switching". Near the end of the movie, there are a selection of TV Guide covers in the hallway showing I Love Lucy franchises on their cover. Also, there was a close up of a New York Post article that tells the birth of Little Ricky.
In 2012, Emily VanDerWerff of The A.V. Club wrote retrospectively:
I Love Lucy […] is one of the two foundational texts of American TV comedy, along with The Honeymooners. The series is legitimately the most influential in TV history, pioneering so many innovations and normalizing so many others that it would be easy to write an appreciation of simply, say, the show’s accidental invention of the TV rerun.
I Love Lucy: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sitcom, a comedy about how Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz battled to get their sitcom on the air, had its world premiere in Los Angeles on July 12, 2018, starring Sarah Drew as Lucy, Oscar Nuñez as Desi, and Seamus Dever as series creator-producer-head writer Jess Oppenheimer. The play, from Gregg Oppenheimer (son of Jess Oppenheimer), was recorded in front of a live audience for nationwide public radio broadcast and online distribution.
Primetime Emmy Awards and nominations
- Best Comedy Show—Nominated (Winner: The Red Skelton Hour)
- Best Situation Comedy—Won
- Best Comedienne: Lucille Ball—Won
- Best Female Star of a Regular Series: Lucille Ball—Nominated (Winner: Eve Arden for Our Miss Brooks)
- Best Series Supporting Actor: William Frawley—Nominated (Winner: Art Carney for The Jackie Gleason Show)
- Best Series Supporting Actress: Vivian Vance—Won
- Best Situation Comedy—Won
- Best Actress Starring in a Regular Series: Lucille Ball—Nominated (Winner: Loretta Young for The Loretta Young Show)
- Best Situation Comedy Series—Nominated (Winner: The Danny Thomas Show)
- Best Supporting Actor in a Regular Series: William Frawley—Nominated (Winner: Art Carney for The Jackie Gleason Show)
- Best Supporting Actress in a Regular Series: Vivian Vance—Nominated (Winner: Audrey Meadows for The Jackie Gleason Show)
- Best Written Comedy Material: Jess Oppenheimer, Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis—Nominated (Winners: James B. Allardice, Jack Douglas, Hal Kanter and Harry Winkler for The George Gobel Show)
- Best Actor in a Supporting Role: William Frawley—Nominated (Winner: Art Carney for The Honeymooners)
- Best Actress—Continuing Performance: Lucille Ball—Won
- Best Comedy Writing: Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Davis, Bob Carroll Jr., Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf for "L.A. at Last"—Nominated (Winners: Nat Hiken, Barry E. Blitzer, Arnold M. Auerbach, Harvey Orkin, Vin Bogert, Arnie Rosen, Coleman Jacoby, Tony Webster and Terry Ryan for The Phil Silvers Show: "You'll Never Get Rich")
- Best Continuing Performance by a Comedienne in a Series: Lucille Ball—Nominated (Winner: Nanette Fabray for Caesar's Hour)
- Best Supporting Performance by an Actor: William Frawley—Nominated (Winner: Carl Reiner for Caesar's Hour)
- Best Supporting Performance by an Actress: Vivian Vance—Nominated (Winner: Pat Carroll for Caesar's Hour)
- Best Continuing Performance (Female) in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or any Person who Essentially Plays Herself: Lucille Ball—Nominated (Winner: Dinah Shore for The Dinah Shore Show)
- Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actor in a Dramatic or Comedy Series: William Frawley—Nominated (Winner: Carl Reiner for Caesar's Hour)
- Best Continuing Supporting Performance by an Actress in a Dramatic or Comedy Series: Vivian Vance—Nominated (Winner: Ann B. Davis for The Bob Cummings Show)
- In 1990, I Love Lucy became the first television show to be inducted into the Television Hall of Fame.
- In 1997, the episodes "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" and "Lucy's Italian Movie" were respectively ranked No. 2 and No. 18 on TV Guide's list of the 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
- In 1999, Entertainment Weekly ranked the birth of Little Ricky as the fifth greatest moment in television history.
- In 2002, TV Guide ranked I Love Lucy No. 2 on its list of the 50 greatest shows, behind Seinfeld and ahead of The Honeymooners (According to TV Guide columnist Matt Roush, there was a "passionate" internal debate about whether I Love Lucy should have been first instead of Seinfeld. He stated that this was the main source of controversy in putting together the list.)
- In 2007, Time magazine placed the show on its unranked list of the 100 best television shows.
- In 2012, I Love Lucy was ranked the Best TV Comedy and the Best TV Show in Best in TV: The Greatest TV Shows of Our Time.
- In 2013, TV Guide ranked I Love Lucy as the third greatest show of all time.
- A 2015 The Hollywood Reporter survey of 2,800 actors, producers, directors, and other industry people named I Love Lucy as their #8 favorite show.
Several classic episodes of I Love Lucy have been colorized. Star and producer Desi Arnaz had expressed interest in airing the show in color as early as 1955, but the cost of such a presentation was prohibitive at the time.
The first episode to be colorized was the Christmas special, which had been feared to be lost for many years, as it was not included in the regular syndication package with the rest of the series. A copy was discovered in 1989 in the CBS vaults and was aired by CBS during December of that year in its original black-and-white format. In 1990, this episode was again aired in the days prior to Christmas, but this time the framing sequence was in color, while the clips from earlier episodes remained in black and white. The special performed surprisingly well in the ratings during both years, and aired on CBS each December through 1994.
In 2007, as the "Complete Series" DVD set was being prepared for release, DVD producer Gregg Oppenheimer decided to have the episode "Lucy Goes to Scotland" digitally colorized (referencing color publicity stills and color "home movies" taken on the set during production), making it the first I Love Lucy episode to be fully colorized. Four years later, Time Life released the "Lucy's Italian Movie" episode for the first time in full color as part of the "Essential 'I Love Lucy'" collection.
The colorized "Lucy Goes to Scotland" episode has never aired on television, but that episode, along with the Christmas special and "Lucy's Italian Movie", were packaged together on the 2013 "I Love Lucy Colorized Christmas" DVD. In 2014, Target stores sold an exclusive version of the DVD that also included "Job Switching".
Annual colorized specials
On December 20, 2013, CBS revived an annual holiday tradition when it reaired the Christmas special for the first time in nearly two decades. The Christmas special's framing sequence was colorized anew. The network paired this special with the color version of "Lucy's Italian Movie" episode. This special attracted 8.7 million people. Nearly a year later, on December 7, 2014, the Christmas special was again aired on CBS, but this time paired with the popular episode "Job Switching", which was newly colorized for that broadcast. That episode appeared on the "I Love Lucy: The Ultimate Season 2" Blu-ray edition released on August 4, 2015. CBS aired the Christmas special again on December 23, 2015, with the flashback scenes being colorized for the first time, and with a colorized "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" replacing "Job Switching". CBS next aired the Christmas special on December 2, 2016, this time paired with the newly colorized "Lucy Gets in Pictures". On December 22, 2017, the Christmas episode was followed by a newly colorized episode, "The Fashion Show". On December 14, 2018, the Christmas episode was paired with a newly colorized episode, "Pioneer Women".
On May 17, 2015, CBS began a new springtime tradition when it aired two newly colorized episodes in an "I Love Lucy Superstar Special" consisting of "L.A. at Last" and "Lucy and Superman", which attracted 6.4 million viewers. A DVD of this special was released on October 4, 2016. A second "Superstar Special" containing the newly colorized two-part episode "Lucy Visits Grauman's" and "Lucy and John Wayne" aired on May 20, 2016 and was released on DVD on January 17, 2017. A third "Superstar Special" aired on May 19, 2017, featuring two more newly colorized Hollywood-based episodes: "The Dancing Star" featuring Van Johnson, and "Harpo Marx". A two-episode "Funny Money Special" was introduced on April 19, 2019, featuring the episodes "The Million-Dollar Idea" and "Bonus Bucks", both from early 1954.
Colorized feature film
On August 6, 2019, Ball's would-be 108th birthday, a one-night-only event took place in movie theaters around the United States, I Love Lucy: A Colorized Celebration, a feature film consisting of five colorized episodes, three of which contain never-before-seen content. The episodes included are: "The Million Dollar Idea" (1954), "Lucy Does a TV Commercial" (1952), "Pioneer Women" (1952), "Job Switching" (1952) and "L.A. at Last!" (1955). A short documentary on the colorization process of the episodes was also included. The film proved to be very successful, grossing $777,645 from 660 theaters across the country, coming in at #6 at the domestic box office and beating Disney's Aladdin.
Beginning in the summer of 2001, Columbia House Television began releasing I Love Lucy on DVD in chronological order. They began that summer with the pilot and the first three episodes on a single DVD. Every six weeks, another volume of four episodes would be released on DVD in chronological order. During the summer of 2002, each DVD would contain between five and seven episodes on a single DVD. They continued to release the series very slowly and would not even begin to release any season 2 episodes until the middle of 2002. By the spring of 2003, the third season on DVD began to be released with about six episodes released every six weeks to mail order subscribers. All these DVDs have the identical features as the DVDs eventually released in the season box sets in retail.
By the fall of 2003, season four episodes began to be offered by mail. By the spring of 2004 season five DVDs with about six episodes each began to be released gradually. Columbia House ended the distribution of these mail order DVDs in the Winter of 2005. They began releasing complete season sets in the Summer of 2004 every few months. They stated that Columbia House Subscribers would get these episodes through mail before releasing any box sets with the same episodes. They finally ended gradual subscriptions in 2005, several months before season 5 became available in retail. Columbia House then began to make season box sets available instead of these single volumes.
CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released all six seasons of I Love Lucy on DVD in Region 1, as well as all 13 episodes of The Lucy and Desi Comedy Hour (as I Love Lucy: The Final Seasons – 7, 8, & 9). Bonus features include rare on-set color footage and the "Desilu/Westinghouse" promotional film, as well as deleted scenes, original openings and interstitials (before they were altered or replaced for syndication) and on-air flubs. These DVDs offered identical features and identical content to the mail order single sets formerly available until 2005.
In December 2013, the first high-definition release of I Love Lucy was announced, with the Blu-ray edition of the first season, scheduled for May 5, 2014. The Second Season Ultimate Blu-ray was released on August 4, 2015.
- I Love Lucy's Zany Road Trip: California Here We Come!, a compilation of 27 episodes, released by CBS/FOX Video on VHS in 1992
- "I Love Lucy – Season 1" (9 separate discs labeled "Volumes", first volume released July 2, 2002, final volume released September 23, 2003)
- "I Love Lucy – Season 1" (9 Volumes in box set, released September 23, 2003)
- "I Love Lucy – 50th Anniversary Special" (1 disc, released October 1, 2002)
- "I Love Lucy: The Movie and Other Great Rarities" (1 disc, released April 27, 2010) (Also included as a bonus disc in the complete series set.)
- "The Best of I Love Lucy" (2 discs: 14 episodes, released in June 2011 in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the series and Lucille Ball's 100th birthday; sold exclusively through Target.)
The DVD releases feature the syndicated heart opening, and offer the original broadcast openings as bonus features. Season 6 allows viewers to choose whether to watch the episodes with the original opening or the syndicated opening. The TV Land openings are not on these DVDs.
Initially, the first season was offered in volumes, with four episodes per disc. After the success of releasing seasons 2, 3, and 4 in slimpacks, the first season was re-released as a seven disc set, requiring new discs to be mastered and printed to include more episodes per disc so there would be fewer discs in the set. For the complete series box set, the first season would be redone again, this time to six DVDs, retaining all bonus features. The individual volume discs for the first season are still in print, but are rare for lack of shelf space and because the slimpacks are more popular. In 2012, all season sets were reissued in slipcovered clear standard-sized amaray DVD cases, with season 1 being the 6-disc version as opposed to the 7-disc version.
Episodes feature English closed-captioning, but only Spanish subtitles.
In Australia and the UK, the first three seasons were finally released in Region 2 & Region 4 on August 3, 2010, by CBS, distributed by Paramount. Season 1 includes the pilot and all 35 Season 1 episodes in a 7-disc set. Season 2 includes all 31 Season 2 episodes in a 5-disc set. Season 3 includes all 31 Season 3 episodes in a 5-disc set. Season 2 and 3 are in a slimline pack. All three seasons have been restored and digitally remastered. All episodes appear in order of their original air dates, although it states that some episodes may be edited from their original network versions. It is unknown if the remaining seasons will be released individually. A complete series box set titled I Love Lucy: Complete Collection was scheduled for release on April 6, 2016, and in the UK on May 30, 2016. This collection contains 34 DVDs with all six seasons of I Love Lucy and all 13 episodes of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.
In September 2018, Time-Life released a DVD, Lucy: The Ultimate Collection, which collected 76 episodes of I Love Lucy, The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour, The Lucy Show, Here's Lucy, and the short-lived ABC-TV series Life with Lucy (which has never before been released to home media), plus a wide variety of bonus features.
A DVD collection containing every colorized I Love Lucy episode as of August 13, 2019 will be released on that date as I Love Lucy: Colorized Collection and contains the fully colorized Christmas special, the "Lucy Goes to Scotland" episode, and every colorized episode that aired as part of the Christmas specials, Superstar Spectacular specials, and the Funny Money special.
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[...]which owns the rights to the series still seen on TV by 40 million Americans each year.
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I met [Desi Arnaz] at the RKO studio in May 1940. We were filming Too Many Girls, the stage show in which Desi made his first big hit. He asked me for a date that very night, and pretty soon we were married.
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