ILL in the Beginning

5 Jan

America first watched ILL on Oct 15th, 1951. A Monday night on CBS. (Can we all agree that the CBS Monday night line up has fallen farrrr from the comedy tree?) So in keeping with tradition, I’m going to be watching an episode every Monday from the beginning all through the 180 episodes, to the Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour. Follow along!

Image result for my favorite husband radio show

Before we get into Ep 1, let’s look at the show as a whole & it’s background. ILL started as the radio program “My Favorite Husband” which I’m sure I’ll reference much during the first season as most of the plot lines were borrowed from that. Lucille Ball played Liz opposite Richard Denning as George Cooper. Originally they were the Cugat’s but the last name was changed to avoid confusion with Xavier Cugat.

CBS asked Ball to expand her show to TV and Ball demanded that her husband Desi Arnaz take Denning’s place. CBS didn’t think America would buy or want to watch a white woman and a Cuban husband so the Arnaz-Balls took their show on the road as a vaudeville act and proved CBS wrong. The exec’s eventually gave in to Ball’s request. A little foreshadowing of the kind of woman Ball was!

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There’s so much behind the scenes production stuff that went into creating the show that I don’t know if is interesting to anyone else but goes into the way the makers of this show changed TV forever. They brought in an audience because it made Ball a better performer. Which meant a live laugh track.  They pioneered the three camera format. They shot on film even though it was more expensive and Ball and Arnaz took pay cuts to pay for it, in exchange for producer credit and part ownership.

The radio program turned into a pilot which was ultimately tweaked and with that, the parts of the Mertzes were created. Ball lobbied for old friends Gale Gordon and Bea Benarderet to play Fred and Ethel but their schedules didn’t work out for a permanent role; Gordon would go on to play bit parts throughout the series and Benarderet was the one hit wonder Mrs. Lewis. Frawley was finally brought on as Mr. Mertz and oh brother, I’ll get into that later! Vivian Vance was cast as his wife- and again there’s a story there we’ll talk about in the future.

So with the MFH writers, Bob Carroll Jr and Madelyn Pugh (later Davis) on board, the Mertzes cast and CBS agreeing that a real life couple could be accepted as a TV couple, I Love Lucy was born.

 

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