Monday, October 10, 2011

This Week in Television History: October 2011 Part II

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As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

October 15, 1951

TV's first long-running sitcom hit, I Love Lucy, debuts on this day.

Ball starred as a ditzy wife on the radio show My Favorite Husband from 1948 to 1951. CBS decided to launch the popular series on the relatively new medium of TV. Lucy insisted Desi be cast as her husband in the TV version, though the network executives said no one would believe the couple were married. Desi and Lucy performed before live audiences and filmed a pilot, convincing network executives that audiences responded well to their act, and CBS cast Desi for the show.

At the time, most television shows were broadcast live from New York City, and a low-quality 35mm or 16mm kinescope print was made of the show to broadcast it in other time zones. Because Ball was pregnant, she and Arnaz insisted on filming the show in Hollywood. The duo, along with co-creator Jess Oppenheimer, then decided to shoot the show on 35 mm film in front of a studio audience, with three cameras, a technique now standard for most present-day sitcoms.
The result was a much sharper image than other shows of the time, and the audience reactions were far more authentic than the "canned laughter" used on most filmed sitcoms of the time. The technique was not completely new — another CBS comedy series, Amos 'n' Andy, which debuted four months earlier, was already being filmed at Hal Roach Studios with three 35mm cameras to save time and money.
Hal Roach Studios was also used for filming at least two other TV comedies as early as 1950, both airing on ABC, namely Stu Erwin's The Trouble with Father, and the TV version of Beulah; the original 1949/50 Jackie Gleason TV version of The Life of Riley on NBC was also done on film, not live. There were also some dramatic TV shows pre-dating I Love Lucy which were also filmed, not live. But I Love Lucy was the first show to use this film technique in front of a studio audience.

Arnaz persuaded Karl Freund, an Academy Award -winning cinematographer of such films as Metropolis (1927), Dracula (1931), and The Good Earth (1937), as well as director of The Mummy (1932), to be the series' cinematographer.

Scenes were often performed in sequence, as a play would be, which was unusual for comedies at that time. Retakes were rare and dialogue mistakes were often played off for the sake of continuity.

I Love Lucy became one of the most popular TV situation comedies in history, ranking in the top three shows for six years and turning the couple's production company, Desilu, into a multimillion-dollar business. Ball became president of the company in 1960, after she and Desi divorced. She also starred in several other "Lucy" shows, including The Lucy Show, which debuted in 1962 and ran for six seasons, and Here's Lucy, in which she starred with her two children until the show was cancelled in 1974. A later show, Life with Lucy, featuring Lucy as a grandmother, was cancelled after only eight episodes. Ball worked little in the last years of her life. She died of congestive heart failure following open-heart surgery in 1989.

October 16, 1946

Suzanne Somers is born Suzanne Marie Mahoney. is an American actress, author and businesswoman, best known for her roles on Three's Company and Step by Step.
Somers later became the author of a series of best-selling self-help books, including Ageless: The Naked Truth About Bioidentical Hormones (2006), a book about bioidentical hormone replacement therapy. She has also released two autobiographies, four diet books, and a book of poetry entitled "Touch Me" (1980). She currently features items of her design on the Home Shopping Network. During the 1980s, Somers became a Las Vegas entertainer. She was the spokeswoman for the Thighmaster, a piece of exercise equipment that is squeezed between one's thighs. Thighmaster was one of the first products responsible for launching the infomercial concept. During this period of her career, she also performed for U.S. servicemen overseas.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

Stay Tuned
Tony Figueroa

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