How ‘I Love Lucy’ Created Reruns for Lucille Ball’s Pregnancy

by Caitlin Berard

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, stars of the classic TV series I Love Lucy, are often credited as the inventors of modern television. Though this is a bold claim, it’s not at all without merit. Did they invent the television show? Of course not. Desi and Lucy were 11 and 17 when the first TV show, a one-act drama called The Queen’s Messenger, aired in 1928.

What the iconic couple did do, however, was change the face of television forever. The way television is produced and enjoyed today is a product of Desilu Productions, the television production company founded by Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball.

The trailblazing couple chose to capture I Love Lucy on 35mm film instead of kinescope, which allowed them to produce high-quality programming capable of national broadcasting. Though it cost far more to shoot on film, Lucy and Desi each took a salary cut to compensate.

The deal still worked in the business-savvy couple’s favor, however, as they also asked to retain all the rights to the program. This single decision is what enabled syndication and reruns, a television staple and billion-dollar industry to this day.

In 1952, Lucille Ball fell pregnant with her second child, Desi Arnaz Jr. And rather than put the show on hold for her pregnancy, Lucy and Desi continued until their son was born.

How Desi Arnaz Invented the Rerun for ‘I Love Lucy’

Pregnancy was a taboo subject for television in the ’50s. Desi Arnaz, however, was determined to integrate the happy news into the show. And after a great deal of argument, Season 2 of I Love Lucy featured a pregnant Lucy Ricardo. The only condition was that they couldn’t say “pregnant”. Instead, they could only use the term “expecting.”

As with all of their ideas, the pregnancy storyline was a major hit with fans. The Season 2 episode in which Lucy gives birth drew 44 million viewers – a whopping 72% of television owners.

Though Lucille Ball continued to work throughout her pregnancy with Desi Jr., she wanted to take some time away from I Love Lucy to spend with her newborn. And it was from this desire that the rerun was born.

Because the couple owned the rights to the show, Desi Arnaz was able to air episodes fans had already seen. While Desi and Lucy spent some much-needed quality time with their children, I Love Lucy fans got their weekly dose of the couple just like always.

The profits Desi and Lucy earned from the series syndication and reruns allowed them to finance other beloved shows. The Andy Griffith Show, The Untouchables, and My Three Sons are all Desilu productions.