Any follow-up to a groundbreaking classic TV sitcom is already hard to imagine, let alone actually do it. But The Lucy Show proves that a follow-up can be done, and done successfully.
For dyed-in-wool fans of Lucille Ball in particular, you bet that they have followed the actress’ career from her start in show business to her legendary fame as her small-screen alter-ego Lucy on I Love Lucy and The Lucy Show. The latter show may be less popular compared to I Love Lucy, but it is certainly not less funny.
The Lucy Show was, of course, meant as a follow-up to I Love Lucy. It premiered on CBS network on October 1, 1962 and ended on March 11, 1968 after six successful seasons. The show was initially broadcast in black-and-white format, but from 1963 onwards it was shown in color.
Ball and her husband and former I Love Lucy co-star Desi Arnaz divorced in 1960, but the now-estranged couple decided to stay together as friends and also as business partners, as both of them were running their own company Desilu Productions. Obviously, Ball’s newfound civil status as a divorcee became a great material for the new sitcom, where she would be cast as an unmarried lady.
During (or following) Ball’s and Arnaz’s divorce, Desilu Productions was struggling, and several of its shows (such as The Ann Sothern Show and Guestward, Ho!) were cancelled. The TV crime drama The Untouchables was the only one series in the Desilu roster that managed to stay afloat at the time, becoming a big hit.
Ball’s attempt to return to the small screen without Arnaz (with his own encouragement, no less) as a way to somehow salvage Desilu Productions initially raised the eyebrows of CBS bigwigs, in light of the successive failures of Desilu’s recent shows. They doubted whether she could carry the proposed show without her now ex-husband, or she would be able to match the success of I Love Lucy.
But Desilu managed to convince CBS to take them in again, on the condition that Ball would be reunited with her I Love Lucy co-star Vivian Vance as well as the previous series’ screenwriters. Besides those conditions, Desilu and CBS had also agreed upon other things: that the show would be broadcast on Monday nights, and it would not go beyond one season.
Upon casting Vance on The Lucy Show, she insisted that her character be called Vivian too. At the time, Vance was still being called “Ethel” (her character’s name on I Love Lucy) by people on the street, much to her annoyance and disappointment.
The premise of the show is this: two friends – one widow named Lucy and one divorcee named Vivian – live together in a new abode along with their own children in Danfield, New York. Lucy, ever the schemer, causes a lot trouble that exasperates almost everyone (including her boss of a local bank where she works as a secretary).
The book was loosely based on Irene Kampen’s book Life Without George whose story centers on two divorcees. But on the show, Ball’s lead character was a widow while Vance’s character was a divorcee. Being a divorced person (most particularly a divorced woman) was considered pretty much an outcast back in the day, so Vance’s character as a divorcee was indeed a groundbreaking event in American television. Two divorced characters in 1960s television would have been more scandalous, as divorce was still considered taboo back in the day.
Through all the obstacles, The Lucy Show became an astounding success, and that saved Desilu Productions from total bankruptcy. Lucille Ball, once again, proved that she was still the “queen of comedy” through this sitcom, further cementing her legendary status as the ditzy, wisecracking redhead who was (and is still) loved by her fans.
Also check out: I Love Lucy Fun Facts.
Interesting facts about The Lucy Show
Originally, only one season of the show was planned
Desilu Productions went through a difficult period in the early 1960s, as was already mentioned. The Ann Sothern Show in the studio, Angel, and Guestward, Ho! were canceled, leaving the network to broadcast only The Untouchables.
Arnaz suggested the sitcom as a temporary fix to persuade CBS to give Desilu some funding, according to The Lucy Book: A Complete Guide to Her Five Decades on Television. The network was initially dubious about Ball’s ability to repeat I Love Lucy’s popularity on her own. Lucy agreed to the project on the terms that her former co-star Vivian Vance be included in the cast and that the project air on her typical Monday night. What follows is history.
Vivian Vance insisted that her persona be given the name “Vivian.”
All renowned actors from sitcoms experience it. The name of your character is called out by viewers. It was the same with Vance. The general public frequently referred to her as “Ethel,” despite the fact that they knew her as Mrs. Mertz, Lucy’s neighbor and friend. She requested that the name of her new character be the same as hers in the hopes that others would refer to her as Vivian.
Executives were unsure of the feasibility of an on-screen mixed marriage
After meeting at a Broadway show, Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball were wed in 1940. Immediately after meeting, the two fell in love and got married. Given the show’s influence and legacy, it’s difficult to imagine the skepticism and worries the creators had before the pilot even aired, but I Love Lucy did raise some issues with the top brass.
CBS officials debated whether or not to cast a different actor to play Lucy’s husband, despite the fact that they like the concept of the show. Executives weren’t sure whether Americans would accept Lucy’s foreign marriage given Desi’s Cuban heritage. Their connection was all the more unique because at the time, mixed marriages weren’t frequently seen on television.
It was a real loaf of bread that big
In the first season episode “Pioneer Women,” Ricky and Fred face off against Lucy and Ethel to determine who can go without modern luxuries for the longest. The girls try their hand at baking in the scene that sticks in everyone’s memory, and their toddler-sized lump of dough explodes into an 8-foot-long loaf of bread that shoots across the kitchen and pins Lucy to the cupboards; Ethel uses a saw to free her.
Ball wanted the scene to look realistic, so the producers had a large loaf of rye baked by L.A.’s Union Mode Bakery, and the cast and crew actually had a meal with the audience after filming.
The mother of Lucille Ball became a regular on the laugh track
As Lucy is about to enter a potentially dangerous position in numerous episodes, an audience member may often be heard tremblingly exclaiming, “Uh-oh! Dede Ball, Ball’s mother, was there for each recording.
The first divorced lady to appear on primetime television was Vivian’s role
The two freshly single females were the main focus of the sitcom. Lucy played a widow who shared a residence with her best friend Vivian after divorcing her husband. In 1962, that was uncharted territory. Take into account the fact that eight years later, even the progressive Mary Tyler Moore Show hesitantly abandoned its original plan to have Mary get a divorce.
The book “Life Without George” served as the inspiration for the television program
In 1961, Irene Kampen, a writer from New York, released her book about two divorcees, which served as the inspiration for The Lucy Show. Ball’s main character was changed to become a widow, which slightly altered the theme. In 1962, showing one divorced woman on television was novel; showing two might have been scandalous.
Lucy came dangerously close to drowning while filming “Lucy and Viv Put in A Shower.”
The scene with Lucy and Vivian stuck in a glass shower that is rapidly filling with water may be the episode most remembered. Lucy has to eventually descend to the bottom. Vance remembered pulling her friend up for air by her hair as Ball battled to stand back up. That’s what you see on the screen since The Lucy Show was captured in real time in front of a live audience.
On-screen, the actors smoked actual cigarettes
Philip Morris was an avid sponsor of the program, and they renewed their agreement in 1953 for an astounding $8 million. Throughout the duration of the series, that sponsorship included live-action and animated commercials in which Ball and Arnaz promoted the “benefits” of selecting Philip Morris.
Desi Arnaz Jr. and little Ricky both have the same birthday
Little Ricky was born on January 19, 1953, during the widely famous episode “Lucy Goes to the Hospital.” Born on that day as well, Desi Arnaz Jr. was delivered by scheduled cesarean section at Cedars of Lebanon Medical Center. Hollywood lore claims that when the episode ended, water pressure decreased across the nation. People had been holding it in until Little Ricky was born, and when they all flushed at once after the episode ended, reservoir levels temporarily dropped. Nearly 72% of American households were watching the episode, making it the most watched in TV history up to that point.
Henna is responsible for Lucy’s distinctive hair color
Ball, a natural brunette, started bombshell-blonding her hair in the 1920s and 1930s before switching to red. Her hair actually had more of a “golden apricot” color, as described by her on-set hairstylist Irma Kusely. This color was created by first using dye and then concluding with a henna rinse. Ball met a wealthy sheik in Las Vegas, and he sent her a massive amount of money, which she kept in a safe in Kusely’s garage, according to an interview with Kusely given by the Archive of American Television.
Lucie Arnaz, her daughter, made an appearance
Ball’s little daughter appeared in six episodes of the show as five different characters during the course of the show. She first made an appearance in “Lucy Is a Soda Jerk” as a malt shop clerk. Later, she played characters much older than her actual age, showing up as a teenager in “Lucy Is a Chaperone” and as Lucy’s buddy in “Lucy and Robert Goulet” at the age of 16.