Ken Foote’s Radio/TV Files: Is It Live Or Is It…

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TV technology has sure come a long way with digital-quality pictures and sound, and how shows run technically in a station’s or network’s master control area. But when TV started, it was in some ways very primitive.

TV was originally perceived as “radio with pictures” and many shows were live. There was no such thing as videotape or HD formatted discs at the time. It was either live, film, or kinescope, a film of a continuous TV picture. And color TV was still be developed and debated before the FCC.

The comedy team of George Burns and Gracie Allen did some shows on kinescope before moving to film. So did Jackie Gleason with “The Honeymooners.” Many of the stars in that day were not only talented creatively, but were also good businessmen and women… and many who had no more than a high school education at best! Dealing the network executives from the talent point of view was not easy.

In 1951, CBS was getting ready to take Lucille Ball’s network radio show, “My Favorite Husband,” and move it to television under the name of “I Love Lucy.” CBS didn’t want her real life husband, Desi Arnaz, as the husband in the show, saying Americans wouldn’t accept a Cuban being married to an American, but that proved wrong. Once Lucille told CBS that Desi was it, the network wanted the Arnazs to do the show live out of New York. Lucille would have nothing to with that. After some 11 years of marriage and seeing very little of Desi being an orchestra leader travelling all over the country, she was ready for some family stability. And Lucy wanted a family.

Desi convinced CBS that the show will instead be filmed in Hollywood with three cameras before a live studio audience. The Arnazs had purchased the old RKO studio lots where they had been actors years ago. So on October 15, 1951, “I Love Lucy” premiered on the CBS Television Network on film, to be preserved for generations to come. 179 episodes of the show were produced, including one color episode with a Christmas theme. In addition, 13 one-hour episodes under the name of “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour” aired from 1957 to 1960. The show was major hit for CBS!

If it had not been for Desi’s brilliance as a businessman, these episodes might never have been seen after their initial airings. Arnaz is credited for creating “the rerun” and for standing up for residual payments to people connected with the show every time they aired. Lucille was also a brilliant businesswoman. At the time of her death in 1988, Ball was the single largest stockholder in Paramount Communications, the successor company of the one she sold Desilu Productions to, after having bought out Desi’s interest in the 1960s.

In 1965, KTVT Channel 11 acquired the syndication rights for “I Love Lucy” and propelled the station to new records in ratings and in revenue! I was only 11 years old, but I never missed “Lucy” on KTVT at 6 p.m.! By the time it premiered on KTVT, “I Love Lucy” was 14 years old… but the audience loved it!

We will do more blogs on “I Love Lucy” in the future. So many stories.

See you next time.

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