On This Day: ‘I Love Lucy’ Premiered in 1951

by Jennifer Shea

On this day 70 years ago, television history was made. On Oct. 15, 1951, “I Love Lucy” premiered on a Monday night at 9 p.m. ET.

The show followed the exploits of Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) as she hatched plots to break into show business and otherwise exasperated her bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz). With the help of her best friend Ethel (Vivian Vance) – who constantly bickered with her husband, Fred (William Frawley) – Lucy got into one hilarious situation after another, from which Ricky often needed to extricate her.

The show received 21 total Emmy Award nominations in the course of its run, according to the Lucy-Desi Museum. It won five Emmys, twice for Best Situation Comedy and once each for Best Comedienne, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Actress-Continuing Performance.

‘I Love Lucy’ Was an Industry Trendsetter

Several conventions still common today – for example, the rerun and the millionaire television star – started with “I Love Lucy.”

The show is also often credited as the first sitcom to be filmed on three cameras with 35-mm film in front of a live audience, but the Los Angeles Times reports that other shows predated “I Love Lucy” as far as the three-camera setup and 35-mm film go.

Jerry Fairbanks, the NBC film department chief from 1947-48, told the L.A. Times in 1991 that he launched the three-camera setup for “Truth or Consequences” in 1950. He later regretted never securing a patent.

“We didn’t pursue it because I was trying to help the industry,” he said. “We were trying to promote the use of film for television. I was more interested in promoting the film industry than in getting an individual reputation for things.”

Be that as it may, after “I Love Lucy” picked up the three-camera technique for its tapings, the practice exploded. And the show’s pioneering rerun idea led to the invention of syndication, which made the television industry a cash cow.

“I Love Lucy” was also the first sitcom to reach the top of the Nielsen ratings. And not only did the show reach No. 1 on Nielsen’s charts, but it stayed there for four of its six total seasons, ultimately finishing its tenure at the top of the charts.

Lucy-Desi Biopic on the Way

As multiple biographers have noted, Ball and Arnaz lived considerably more tumultuous lives than Lucy and Desi’s happy-go-lucky existence onscreen. And their lives behind the scenes is the subject of a new biopic from Aaron Sorkin, “Being the Ricardos.”

Starring Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem, the biopic follows the couple through one week in the production schedule of their TV show.

The movie will feature a total of four musical numbers, Sorkin recently revealed to Entertainment Weekly. It’s something the writer-director has never attempted before, he said.

“The musical numbers are organic,” Sorkin added. “It’s not ‘La La Land.’ It’s rehearsals for ‘Too Many Girls.’ It’s at Ciro’s where Desi and his orchestra are playing, that kind of thing.”

“Too Many Girls” was the musical film where Ball and Arnaz met and fell head-over-heels in love. But their life together was not all roses, and some of the elements that led to their divorce will no doubt feature in the biopic.

All the same, to legions of “I Love Lucy” fans, Ball and Arnaz will always be Lucy and Desi, the happily married couple from television who charmed their way into America’s living rooms every week.