How ‘I Love Lucy’s Desi Arnaz Transformed American Television Entertainment

by Clayton Edwards

Generations of television viewers have enjoyed “I Love Lucy.” What many may not know is that the show laid the foundation for the way we watch television today. Specifically, Desi Arnaz laid the groundwork for modern television.

To understand how much Arnaz’s vision and “I Love Lucy,” changed television, we need to look back at what TV was like before the show. When the series first aired in 1951, things were much different. At the time, television shows were recorded on kinescope. Put simply, a camera recorded the action and displayed it on a monitor. Another camera would then record from the monitor. This made for grainy recordings. At the same time, television programs were recorded using only one camera. Programs were broadcast live. Each episode would air and then it would be gone.

According to an episode of NPR’s “Planet Money,” this wouldn’t cut it for Desi and Lucy. The couple toured the country with a music and comedy show. They knew that to truly capture comedy, they needed multiple cameras. Along with this, Desi wanted their show to look good. So, he wanted the show recorded on 35mm film. These two things alone made the show revolutionary. Television audiences had never seen anything like “I Love Lucy.”

The networks were unsure about doing this because of the cost. However, Desi and Lucy believed in their show so much that they would foot the bill. They accepted lower salaries to offset the cost of filming. In exchange, though, they would own all of the filmed episodes.

Desi Arnaz and “I Love Lucy” Invent Reruns

Desi Arnaz didn’t just change the way that television shows were recorded. He changed the way they aired. When Lucille Ball became pregnant, they had to work it into the show. So, they wrote not only her pregnancy announcement but also the birth of their child into the show.

However, they had another issue. Lucille had just had a baby. She was in no shape to get back in front of the camera. At the same time, she probably wanted to spend time with her new child. Desi most likely wanted to be with his new family. At the same time, they had a show to do.

This got Desi thinking. They had a warehouse full of pre-recorded episodes of “I Love Lucy,” just sitting in a warehouse. So, why not run a few of them again? With this decision, Desi Arnaz created the concept of reruns. That was only the tip of the iceberg, though.

Later on, they decided if you could rerun a few episodes why not rerun a whole season? While you’re at it, why not rerun a whole series on a different network. That’s right, Desi Arnaz invented syndication. Because of the smart business decisions made by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, we can watch classic television episodes decades later.

Desi Arnaz came to America as a Cuban refugee. Through hard work and determination, he revolutionized television.