Tuesday, October 15, 2013

62 years on and still never outdone...

It has been said that there is never a time when an episode of "I Love Lucy" is not being broadcast somewhere in the world.

I'm not sure that is literally true, but if it isn't, it is probably very close to the truth. Certainly, reruns of the show (and, more on reruns later) run often and widely, even now. This is quite an accomplishment, considering that the show debuted 62 years ago today, on October 15, 1951.

"I Love Lucy" was a pioneering show in quite a few ways. For example, it was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35-mm film in front of a studio audience. It was the first show to be shot in the three-camera format that has become standard for sitcoms filmed in front of a studio audience. And, it was the show that gave rise to the rerun.

The thing about that was, when Lucille Ball found that she was pregnant with her second child, it was clear that she would not be able to film the full order of 39 episodes for the season, and it was decided by producers Jess Oppenheimer and Desi Arnaz that they would rebroadcast some of the most popular episodes during the time Ms. Ball could not work after she gave birth. It turned out that these rebroadcasts got high ratings, opening up the idea that this could be done for other shows.

Because the show was filmed on 35-mm film, it meant that the west coast could see the show as those on the east coast and in the middle of the nation could see it without distortion. Previously, shows were often broadcast live to the eastern and central time zones but the rest of the country had to see them via kinescopes, in which the show was filmed from video monitors. This preserved the shows only in a dim, degraded form.

And the cinematography of the show, the way the show looked on film, deserved to be seen in as good a quality format as possible. The cinematographer for the first 149 episodes of the show, from 1951 through 1956, was Karl Freund, who had been cinematographer on such landmark films as "Metropolis" (1927) and "Dracula" (1931). Freund also directed the classic 1932 version of "The Mummy".

There are complaints from some quarters that "I Love Lucy", seen today, seems hopelessly sexist. And it is a product of its time. However, I think the thing that means the most is that the show is funny. Much funnier, in fact, than all but a very few of the many, many sitcoms that have come after it. Personally, I have many favorites. There are, of course, the episodes when Lucy announces that she is pregnant and the one in which she goes to the hospital to have the baby. Here is the clip, from "Lucy is Enciente", when she lets Ricky know that she's going to have a little Ricardo:

I'm not sure exactly what that is at the end of the clip, but despite that, I think this is one of the sweetest scenes I've ever seen on television.

Another one of my favorites is the mirror routine Lucy did with Harpo Marx on one episode:

And then there was the time that Lucy and Ethel got a job in a chocolate factory:

So, yeah. Kind of sexist. Kind of dated. But still, one of the best, all these years later.

No comments: