Today is the 100th birthday of Lucille Ball, the iconic comedy legend.
I’ve loved Lucy for as long as I can remember, although I’m pretty sure my introduction began with the earliest incarnation of The Lucy Show, rather than I Love Lucy. I was a kid in the days before multichannel cable TV, so I grew up with three network affiliates and a PBS station. We lived in the country where the 12-33 channel cable service wasn’t even an option.
I grew up with The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy and watched them regularly, week after week. I had a bit of a crush of Desi Arnaz, Jr. My mom usually watched, as well. I watched I Love Lucy reruns whenever I found them on TV.
In my teen years, a couple of my relatives had those giant satellite dishes that brought in WTBS and WGN. When I visited, I could watch I Love Lucy, if it happened to be on during my stay.
In my college years, I lived in the sorority house—with cable TV, thank goodness. But Tuscaloosa’s cable was VERY basic. Around 30 channels, at first, as I recall. We couldn’t watch MTV in those early days because the Tuscaloosa cable system wouldn’t add MTV until 1983—too controversial. The absence of MTV, though, meant lots of Solid Gold, Night Flight, soaps and syndicated sitcoms. I Love Lucy was usually on at some point each day, in one of the three TV rooms.
I Love Lucy that changed the face and future of television sitcoms. In addition to its ratings success, the Desilu team behind I Love Lucy pioneered many production innovations that became standard practices in sitcom television. At the time, Kinescopes were the only way to capture live television not recorded on film. To maximize Lucy’s comedic skills, Desi & Lucy wanted a live audience. I Love Lucy was shot on film, using three cameras and overhead lighting, before a live studio audience. No other TV production had used three cameras to film a TV program. Before I Love Lucy, TV shows were live or shot to film with only one camera, or filmed on a soundstage without an audience. By the 1970s, the Desilu production approach was the norm.
I used to show the Vitameatavegamin episode of I Love Lucy to my History of Mass Communication class at Oklahoma State. Most of the students had never watched I Love Lucy before that day. Only the most cynical would leave the class without having laughed out loud.
To this day, if I really need a pick-me-up I can pop in a DVD of I Love Lucy and instantly get a change of mood.
Many people probably don’t realize that Lucille Ball had a promising film career in the 1930s, before television came along. I watched Stage Door on TCM last night. Here’s a compilation of some of Lucille Ball’s scenes in Stage Door:
Instead of I Love Lucy and comedic brilliance—and all the great sitcoms that followed in the wake of I Love Lucy—we’re served up Real Housewives, Jersey Shore, Hoarders and Pawn Stars. Today’s television is 90% brain-kill.
They don’t make stars like Lucille Ball any more.