A Brief History of Lucille Ball on TV

Herbie J Pilato

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[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

I Love Lucy, which originally aired on ABC from 1951 to 1957, is considered by many as the sitcom of the television age, past, present, or future.

There would have been no My Little Margie or Roseanne without it. Probably not even Bewitched, which was directed by William Asher, who commenced his TV helming on Love, would have discovered its small screen magic, had it not been for Lucy.

Though real-life married Lucy stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had a rocky road, off-screen, their chemistry (and sorry, there's just no other over-used way to say it) between them as Ricky and Lucy Ricardo in Love was flat-out unstoppable.

The show aired in its original half-hour format (based in the Ricardo's NYC apartment) on CBS from 1951 to 1957, and then switched to various locales and formats until 1961.

Desi and Lucy then divorced in real life, and Ball returned to CBS with the newly over-hauled Lucy Show (with her Love co-star Vivian Vance along for the ride). In this Show, Ball played Lucy Carmichael, secretary to Mr. Mooney - a banker played by Lucy's favorite Gale Gordon.

Ball remained with CBS, and changed her Show title and format once again, this time to Here's Lucy, which ran from 1968 to 1974, and in which she now played Lucy Carter, secretary at an employment agency operated by Mr. Carter - played by Gordon. [Ball had originally cast Gordon as Fred Mertz (hubby to Vances' Ethel) in the original Love sitcom, but that role ultimately went to William Frawley (who later played Uncle Bub on CBS' My Three Sons).]

In the Fall of 1986, ABC and Aaron Spelling (of all producers) began to play the Lucy game and chimed in with an all-new sitcom entitled, Life with Lucy. Ball now played a grandmother opposite in-law grandfather Gordon, both of whom were back in top form.

Unfortunately, Life failed miserably, and Ball went on The Tonight Show and sincerely cried that her fans didn't love her anymore.

A short time later, Miss Lucille Ball, the Queen of Television Comedy, bar none (and that includes Carol Burnett and Mary Tyler Moore), passed into spirit.

The sad thing is, had ABC given Life with Lucy half a chance (instead of only half a season), it would have succeeded.

Ball was in top form from the beginning, but Life was still trying to find its center - like any new series that attempts to do from the onset. By probably the 8th or 9th episode, I found myself laughing out loud, just like I used to do while watching the original I Love Lucy series.

Had ABC loved Life, as much as we all really loved Lucy (the character and the human being), her new series would have made it.

What's more, Lucille Ball probably wouldn't have died when she did - about a year after Life folded - or how she did: of a heart attack, which is also known as a broken heart.

Though when thinking of Lucy, we should always choose to remember only the healthy and happy "heart" that opened and closed every episode of the original series - a series that starred the most original comedian, male or female, in the history of television.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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