Sunday, May 06, 2012

Seeds of Greatness #1: I Love Lucy

Beginning: an occasional series where we examine pilots...
Show Title: “I Love Lucy”
Years: 1951
Creators: Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, Bob Carroll Jr. 
Stars: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Jr., Vivian Vance, William Frawley

Background: Lucy had starred in a similar radio program with a different actor.  CBS wanted to transfer it over to TV, but Lucy insisted that they re-conceive the show to star her real Cuban husband.  The network was talked into it and the rest was history. 

Type of Show: ½ hour three-camera episodic network sitcom
Structure: No teaser, two long acts and a tag. 
Irreconcilable Hero: Lucy is the ultimate example of the unfairly cloistered housewife: She married an exciting nightclub bandleader because she was looking for fun, but he expects her to do nothing but cook and clean, content to never leave the house.  They love each other too much to break up, but they have totally irreconcilable temperaments. 

Polarized Ensemble: Lucy and Ethel are pretty similar, but Ricky and Fred very much are mirror opposites: the loving newlywed and the bitter henpecked grouch.  Compare this to the rejected pilot without Fred, where Ricky comes off as too much of a jerk.  By splitting the character in two, we get to admire Ricky, while still getting to hear Fred’s complaints, suspecting that Ricky secretly feels the same way.

Point of View: Each week, we start with Lucy getting frustrated, then follow her daffy attempts to alleviate her frustration.

Pilot Title: “The Girls Want to Go to a Nightclub”
First Aired: October 15th, 1951
Type of Pilot: Center Cut, but it’s not so much a typical episode as an archetypical episode.  Few episodes would state the show’s central irony so explicitly.

The Storylines: We start out with two, but they interact from the third scene on, so it’s really just one. 
  1. Act 1: Breakfast scene: The wives want to go to a nightclub.  They vow to sweet-talk the husbands.
  2. Living room: The husbands want to go to a boxing match.  
  3. The wives arrive and all four try to sweet-talk each other, to no avail.  The men leave, but the wives threaten to find dates so they can go by themselves.
  4. Dining room: the husbands worry about their wives’ dates, and vow to find their own dates.  Ricky makes a call.
  5. Back in the living room, the wives discover that all of their old dates have kids now.  Lucy calls the same mutual friend that Ricky just called and finds out that the guys are lining up their own dates.  The girls decide that they will take the place of those dates: ACT OUT 
  6. Act 2: Living room: the husbands anxiously wait in their tuxes to meet their dates.  When the doorbell rings, they fail to recognize that their hideous man-crazy dates are their own wives.
  7. After being chased around the living room, the guys flee to the kitchen and figure it out. 
  8. The guys come back and chase the girls right back until they fess up.  To make up for teasing them, the guys agree to take them out after all… 
  9. Tag: …but they take them to the fights. 
Statement of Theme: “Ever since I said ‘I do’ there are so many things we don’t.”
Twist: none

Why We Fall in Love with Lucy:
  1. Moment of Humanity right away: Lucy insists the spot on a plate is part of the pattern until it comes off on her hand.
  2. The unfair irony of her situation. 
  3. Extremely active (aka scheming).  A big fan of tricks and traps. 
  4. She’s an amazing physical comedienne, so the more she more she gets up and moves, the more we love her. 
Does The Pilot Predict the Greatness of the Show?: Yes.  It’s hysterically funny and the characters are fully formed.  

What Followed: Six wildly-popular regular seasons followed by three more years of occasional specials.  The day after the last episode wrapped, the real-life Lucy and Dezi filed for divorce. 

How Available Is It?: Every episode is on DVD, four to a disk.  The first disk also has the original, rejected pilot. 


Monica Edinger said...

How funny that I mentioned "I Love Lucy" (in a very different way) in a post yesterday as well!

Matt Bird said...

Hi Monica, thanks for pointing me back to your blog Educating Alice, which is always so well written.

It's even more ironic, because one of the reasons I ran this Lucy piece was because I couldn't decide yet what movie should have won Best Picture in 1936 (my usual Sunday feature), and guess what one of the leading candidates is?