For Lucille Ball, the question was “What do you do for a second act?“ I Love Lucy ran from 1951 to 1957, and virtually invented the situation comedy. The impact of the show was enormous, not only did it basically define all that would follow, but it instantly boosted Lucy and Desi to the celebrity “A” list. Desi was an notorious womanizer, which ended both their marriage and their television show. Lucy was nowhere near ready for retirement though, so in 1962 she reappeared with The Lucy Show, which ran for six seasons, 1962-1968.
The Lucy Show: The Official Sixth and Final Season has just been released as a four-DVD set containing all 24 episodes plus bonus material. The Lucy Show was based on the book Life Without George by Irene Kampen. In the book, the character is a divorcee, who is raising her children as a single mother. For the show, the marital status of Lucy was changed from divorcee to widow, which was thought to be more acceptable to the television public. There were a great deal more changes to come in the six seasons, the most significant of which saw Lucy going to work as a secretary for banker Mr. Mooney (Gale Gordon).
As the first woman to head a studio (Desilu), Lucy was one of the most powerful people in Hollywood at the time. One of the perks of this was that a lot of big stars were willing to appear on the show, a situation which was exploited mightily in the sixth season of The Lucy Show. As the cover art of the DVD package proclaims, it was an “All Star Season.” Among those who appeared that year were Milton Berle, Joan Crawford, Sid Caesar, Ken Berry, Buddy Hackett, Robert Goulet, Frankie Avalon, Jack Benney, and Carol Burnett, among others.
The Carol Burnett appearance was a two-parter, titled “Lucy and Carol Burnett.” In it, Lucy takes a leave of absence from the bank to try to become a stewardess. Carol Burnett is also trying out, and the two become fast friends. The second half is devoted to the variety show that the girls put on for their bosses, which allows both women to show off their various talents in singing and dancing.
In “Lucy and the Lost Star” Lucy and Vivian (Vivian Vance) get stranded and wind up at Joan Crawford’s house to make a phone. In a typical series of misunderstandings, they believe Joan to be penniless, and come up with a scheme to get her working again. As usual, it is just an excuse for everyone to strut their stuff, in this case at a charity benefit. Joan Crawford’s performance in this episode is pretty wild; she seems really out of it. Maybe she was, because the production notes for the episode say that she was extremely uncomfortable working in front of a live studio audience. The notes also reveal that the episode was written as something of a homage to Sunset Boulevard, and Gloria Swanson was the first choice for the role.
One of the best episodes of the season has to be “Lucy Gets Jack Benny’s Account.” In this one, Mr. Mooney and Lucy target the notoriously thrifty Benny as a possible customer for the bank. Benny keeps his money in a safe at home, which is better guarded than Fort Knox. He tells Lucy that if the Westland Bank can provide better security, he would be willing to give them the account. Jack and Lucy have great chemistry together, and this show is a real joy to watch. It turns out that the quicksand set that was built for the final scene was the most expensive one in The Lucy Show’s six-year history.
The extras include production notes for many of the shows, which provide some fascinating glimpses into what went on behind the scenes. There are also outtakes, photo galleries, and vintage openings and closings. The openings and closings include sponsor spots, along the lines of “Pepsodent presents, The Lucy Show.”
Perhaps the most important element of these DVDs is the presentation of the programs. They have all been remastered, and the color looks absolutely gorgeous. The Lucy Show was still riding high in the ratings, and had been renewed for a seventh season. But Lucille Ball thought that her character needed to interact with younger characters. This led to the format of The Lucy Show being abandoned, and that of Here’s Lucy being developed. Here’s Lucy would feature her real life children Desi Arnaz Jr. and Lucie Arnaz, and would debut the following year.
The Lucy Show was a great follow-up to I Love Lucy, and has never looked better than it does in this set. It is well worth a look for fans of classic TV.