Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

Falling in Love with Lucy

Oct. 15, 1951

The evening that I Love Lucy first went on the air, the director and his wife invited us all to have dinner and watch the premiere. Lucy and Desi were there, along with producer Jess Oppenheimer and his wife, Vivian Vance and her husband, and our editor, Dann Cahn. We gathered around the 12-in. screen to watch the opening episode, "The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub." We had seen the show at the filming, so there wasn't much laughter. But Vivian's husband Phil Ober, who hadn't been at the filming, was laughing so hard he almost fell out of his chair, which we hoped was a good omen.

When the reviews appeared, they were mixed. The Hollywood Reporter gave it a rave. Daily Variety said the show needed work, but the New York Times thought it had "promise." TIME called it "a triumph of bounce over bumbling material." (Apparently the magazine had a change of heart later on, because Lucy was featured on its cover in May 1952.) When the ratings came out, I Love Lucy was in the Top 10, and six months later it reached No. 1. People ask why the show was an immediate hit and has remained popular for more than 50 years. Most of the credit goes to the incredible comedy genius of Lucille Ball.

I Love Lucy established a lot of records. It has been seen by more than 1 billion people. But one of the show's biggest contributions to the entertainment world was something that happened before we ever went on the air. In the early '50s, most TV shows were performed for live broadcast in New York City, and stations around the country played a kinescope, a copy of the show filmed from a TV screen, which wasn't of good quality. But Lucy and Desi were expecting their first child, and they didn't want to move to New York. So Desi got a group of top technical people together who figured out how to shoot the show with three film cameras in front of an audience. CBS said that would cost too much, so Desi and Lucy took a cut in salary and in return were given the rights to the negatives of the films. Thus the three-camera film system, still used for situation comedies today, was created, and the rerun was born.

Davis and Carroll co-wrote the pilot for I Love Lucy and stayed with the show for six years