It's hard to choose a favorite episode of "I Love Lucy," the comedy that premiered in 1951 and ran for six seasons. Whether you pick the one in which Lucy and Ethel work at a candy shop, the episode featuring Vitameatavegamin or the show guest-starring Harpo Marx, there's no denying "I Love Lucy" holds a place in TV history. In fact, the show holds a number of TV firsts, including being the first multi-camera sitcom shot before a live audience and the first to turn its stars, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, into multimillionaires.
The Early Years
Before "I Love Lucy" premiered in 1951, redheaded pistol Lucille Ball spent three years starring in "My Favorite Husband," a radio sitcom with Richard Denning. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, CBS pleaded with Ball to move to television, but she'd only do so on the condition she'd star opposite her husband, Desi Arnaz, a semi-successful musician and orchestra leader. According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications, the network was hesitant; Arnaz's Cuban accent might scare off viewers. It took a successful touring nightclub act starring the married duo to convince CBS otherwise. Writers Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll Jr., comprised the production team, with Oppenheimer serving as producer and the other two writing the sitcom.
The inaugural season of "I Love Lucy" centered around Lucy and Ricky Ricardo, a young married couple learning the ins and outs of married life, as well as Lucy's desire to be as big of a performer as her husband. Next-door neighbors Fred and Ethel Mertz -- played by William Frawley and Vivian Vance -- provided support and extra laughs to the married couple. As the years progress, the Ricardos welcomed a baby boy, Little Ricky, in the second season, and the family and the Mertzes moved to California in the fourth season as Ricky was wooed by a Hollywood studio. In the fifth season, the group returned to New York but visited Europe. The final season of "I Love Lucy" saw Ricky buy his own nightclub and both the Ricardos and the Mertzes moved to the suburbs of Connecticut. Behind the scenes, Bob Schiller and Bob Weiskopf joined the team as writers. During the fifth season, Arnaz stepped in as producer.
To offset the production costs incurred by filming the show in Los Angeles -- a requirement by Ball and Arnaz -- the duo took a salary cut. In return, CBS gave ownership rights to the couple after they were broadcast -- a novelty in TV and a move that made the two the first TV multimillionaires, according to the MBC. At the time, cinematographers widely agreed it was impossible to film a multi-camera show in front of a live audience; Arnaz disagreed and called cinematographer Karl Fruend, who achieved the seemingly impossible by developing an overhead lighting system. This made "I Love Lucy" the first multi-camera show shot in front of a live audience. According to the Director's Guild of America, producer and director William Asher once said that they filmed the series like a Broadway show; they didn't stop for missed lines, retakes or anything other than Ball's big costume changes.
In its six prime-time seasons, the comedy was the highest-rated series for four of them. It never placed lower than third in the ratings and drew more than 44 million viewers -- 72 percent of all U.S. homes with a television -- when Lucy gave birth to Little Ricky in January 1953. That number beat out President Dwight Eisenhower's presidential inauguration the day previous, which was watched by 29 million viewers. At the end of its run in 1957, "I Love Lucy" still ranked as the no. 1 series in the country.
- Photo Credit David McNew/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
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