I Love Lucy Premieres
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
Originally set 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 friends and landlords Fred Mertz (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance). During the second season, Lucy and Ricky have a son named Little Ricky (whose birth was devised to coincide with Lucille Ball's real life pregnancy). "Little Ricky" literally grows up on the show and during the final season is played by 6-year-old actor Keith Thibodeaux.
Lucy is somewhat naïve and ambitious, with an overactive imagination and a knack for getting herself into trouble. Primarily she is obsessed with joining her husband in show business, despite his refusal to cooperate. Fred and Ethel are former vaudevillians and this only strengthens her resolve to prove herself as a performer. Unfortunately, she has little discernable ability. She cannot carry a tune or play anything other than off-key renditions of songs such as "Glow Worm" or "Sweet Sue" on the saxophone, and many of her performances devolve into disaster. On occasion, she is shown to be to be a good dancer and a competent singer.
The show provided Ball ample opportunity to display her considerable skill at clowning and physical comedy. Lucy's determination to get into the act in any way possible results in numerous wacky situations. Character development was not a major focus of early sitcoms, so little was offered about her life prior to the show. A few episodes mentioned that she was born in Jamestown, New York, (later corrected to West Jamestown), that she graduated from Jamestown High School, and that she met Ricky on a blind date. Her family was absent, other than occasional appearances by her mother (Kathryn Card), who annoyed Ricky to no end by constantly mispronouncing his name as "Mickey" and mistaking him for fellow bandleader Xavier Cugat. Lucy also exhibited many stereotypical female traits that were standard for comedy at the time, including being secretive about her age, and being careless with money. She is also depicted as a devoted housewife and attentive mother.
Lucy's husband, Ricky Ricardo, is an up-and-coming Cuban American singer and bandleader with an excitable personality. His patience is frequently tested, sometimes to the breaking point, by his wife's antics. 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'd been "practically raised" by his uncle Alberto (who was seen during a family visit to Cuba), and that he had attended Havana University.