I Love Lucy, an award-winning sitcom starring quirky husband and wife duo Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, premiered on American television on this day in 1951. The show’s premise revolved around Desi, a Cuban-born singer and bandleader, and Lucy, a housewife with the uncanny ability to get her husband or herself in trouble whenever she tried to break into show business (which was quite often).
The show’s concept was based off of a radio show Ball starred in for two years which was mildly popular called “My Favorite Husband.” Taking this concept to the new media of television and bringing her real-life husband with her, I Love Lucy was born. The show skyrocketed Lucille Ball into stardom after spending years as a B movie actor because of her knack for slapstick physical comedy, and her creation of a character America simply could not live without. I Love Lucy was the first scripted TV show to be shot in front of a live studio audience on 35 mm film. Rather than just shooting with one camera, the show was shot with three, so that the director would not have to retake the same scene several times to get all the different shots needed. Scenes were often not re-shot even if the actors made mistakes with their lines. Instead, they would improvise to get extra laughs from the live audience.
During the show’s run, Desi and Lucy created their own production company called “Desilu” to produce the show themselves and thus have greater control over their own work. Part of Desilu’s legacy in television was the creation of the rerun. When Lucy gave birth to her and Desi’s two children, she needed time to recover, so older episodes of the show were rerun much to America’s approval.
After an incredibly successful 10 years, Lucy and Desi decided to cancel the show. The overwhelming pressures of the industry and living a life in the spotlight became too much for the couple, and they were soon after divorced. Ball became the president of Desilu and shortly after made a return to television with The Lucy Show, once again portraying the well-loved character she created and featuring one of her I Love Lucy co-stars, Vivian Vance. Though it never reached the status that I Love Lucy did in sitcom history, The Lucy Show (later called Here’s Lucy) enjoyed a successful combined twelve-year run.
I Love Lucy won five Emmy awards including “Best Situation Comedy” and “Best Comedienne” (Lucille Ball) plus several other nominations. The show was ranked #2 on TV Guide‘s “50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time” in 2002, second only to Seinfeld, and was also listed on Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME” in 2007. Reruns of I Love Lucy are still broadcast all over the world, and it has an American audience of 40 million each year.
Watch a montage of some of the most hilarious moments of I Love Lucy here!