There's a Reason We Loved Lucy
Last week marked the 100th birthday of TV legend Lucille Ball. There's no question that she, Desi Arnaz, and "I Love Lucy"'s talented producers, writers, and technicians changed television's landscape for the better. We will always feel the residual waves of their combined genius -- from implementing the first filmed 3-camera sitcom setup (a technique still in use today) to their avoidance of current-event topics and most holidays (which made the show perfect for multigeneration syndication). And much to our delight, "I Love Lucy" episodes are starting to migrate from midday reruns on local TV channels, to online distribution in their entirety.
Of course the '50s series was a product of its time. Who doesn't cringe when Ricky spanks Lucy or threatens her with violence? Who isn't appalled when Lucy and Desi are shilling Philip Morris cigarettes at the end of an episode? (Sadly, Desi died of lung cancer in 1986). Who else learned that enceinte means "pregnant" in French -- because the censors wouldn't allow the latter word on television?
Flash years ahead, and everything has changed. Cigarette ads are banned. Spanking is left for crime shows, and it's open season on language. Case in point, one of my favorite "Rosanne" tags (from "The Parenting Trap" episode)
"I Love Lucy" was ahead of its time in other ways. For instance, it was the first to portray a mixed marriage. At Lucy's insistence, and with great resistance from the network, Cuban-born Desi was eventually allowed to play her husband -- giving new texture and a unique voice to what could have been a bland couples comedy.
Lucy's legacy stretched beyond "I Love Lucy." Aside from her forays into other sitcom vehicles, for a while she was briefly the president of Desilu. During her tenure, she personally green-lit many classic series of the 1960s, including "Star Trek." She also gave many women, both in front of and behind the cameras, a lot of encouragement. (Marlo Thomas discusses this in this clip)
So, happy 100th birthday, Lucille Ball. There's no doubt that electronic media, whatever form it takes, will be saluting your 200th!