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.