FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Today, the CBS Television Network and CBS Entertainment present their 2018-2019 primetime schedule to the advertising community in New York City. This season, the network will premiere three new comedies and two dramas, two shows of which are reboots: “Magnum P.I.” and “Murphy Brown.”
This week’s blog is not about the upcoming season, but about what the schedule was in 1951, which put CBS on the map and led the way to it being America’s Most Watched Network.
In that year, there were four over-the-air TV networks: CBS, NBC, ABC and the Dumont Network. That fall, CBS only premiered three new shows: a drama anthology (“Schlitz Playhouse of Stars”), a crime drama under the name “Crime Syndicated,” and a new situation comedy or ‘sitcom’ called “I Love Lucy.”
Lucille Ball had been a theatrical actress who then moved to CBS Radio in the 1940s to do a show called “My Favorite Husband.” With the advent of TV, she decided to try that show for television under the name we have all come to know and love. Her character on the radio show was similar to what it would evolve to be on television.
While CBS liked the idea of a TV show with Ball, they were not enthusiastic about real life husband Desi Arnaz, saying that the public would not believe she was married to him, but Ball insisted that Desi be on the show. Another item was that CBS wanted the show aired LIVE in New York (as they insisted with Burns & Allen), but the Arnazs said no. Lucille did not want to commute cross-country and wanted Desi off the road from his orchestra leader duties. They knew the significance of filming so that there could be reruns, which we all still enjoy today, and provide ‘residuals’ or royalties to those connected with the show. CBS also didn’t want William Frawley playing the part of Fred Mertz but, again, the Arnazs said no. While Frawley was known not to consistently show up on time for work at a studio, he never once missed a call time while appearing in “I Love Lucy” or “The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour.”
From 1951-1957 and 179 episodes (with one color episode with a Christmas theme), “I Love Lucy” dominated the network television ratings scene and put CBS Television on the map. After its primetime run, CBS ran the show in daytime in the early-to-mid ’60s before it went into local syndication.
I can only imagine what it would be like if Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance and William Frawley were here today and introduced for the first time to a packed house of advertising executives who might want to sponsor their show and with all the fanfare. Times were different in 1951 for sure… just not all the glitz and glamour these venues have today. But good programming is good programming, and advertisers played a very significant role as sponsors of these shows, some of which were the sole sponsor of a network radio/TV show.
Enjoy this clip of a 1975 interview with Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance.