Five Facts on the Most Popular Sitcom Episode of All-Time
1. Fifty-nine years ago yesterday, 44 million people watched “Lucy Goes to the Hospital,” better known as, The Episode of I Love Lucy Where Lucy Has Little Ricky. Meaning, in 1953, nearly 72% of American households that owned a TV were tuned in to Lucy that night (the U.S. population at the time was around 160 million). To put that number into perspective: the M*A*S*H finale, “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen,” is the highest rated non-Super Bowl program of all-time, with over 50 million viewers. But the percentage of households that watched the episode was “just” 60.2%. Even last year’s Super Bowl, the most watched in American history with 111 million viewers, only got 47.9%. Lastly, the Beatles first performance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 was seen by 73 million people, which accounted for roughly 60-70% of American households, slightly lower than Lucy‘s 72%.
2. “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” was filmed on November 14, 1952, when the real-life Lucille Ball was roughly seven months pregnant. In a weird, yet all-too-perfect coincidence, Ball went into labor and gave birth to the real-life Little Ricky, Desi Arnaz, Jr., by cesarean section on January 19, 1953, 12 hours before “Hospital” aired.
3. Though I Love Lucy didn’t have the first pregnancy plot on TV (that distinction actually belongs to the FIRST sitcom, Mark Kay and Johnny, in 1948), it did have the one that received the most attention, due to the show’s overwhelming popularity. Ball and Arnez both thought their show would be canceled when she got pregnant, but creator/producer Jess Oppenheimer convince the couple to write it into the show. CBS, the Biow Advertizing Agency, and Philip Morris Cigarettes, the show’s advertising sponsor, were against the idea, but they consented – once every script was read over by a priest, a minister, and a rabbi, according to the Library of Congress. Also, the word “pregnant” could never be said, and it never was.
4. Desi Arnaz was a brilliant son of a bitch. In 1951, Arnaz and Ball, who had been married since 1940, formed Desilu Productions together, the world’s first independent TV production company. Most shows at the time were broadcast live and shot in New York, not Hollywood, where the couple lived. But:
“So, quite naturally, CBS expected Arnaz and Ball to move to New York. But the couple insisted on staying in Hollywood…CBS protested, claiming that live production in Los Angeles was impractical. Because of the time difference between the coasts, the network would be forced to air blurry kinescopes in the East, where most television-viewing homes were located. Arnaz and Ball offered a simple solution: produce the show on film and dispense with kinescopes altogether.” (Entrepreneur.com)
CBS agreed, and thus, the rerun was created, which proved necessary when Ball was pregnant and needed time to rest.
5. Character actor Charles Lane made his first appearance on Lucy in “Hospital,” as the man who’s seated in the waiting room with Arnaz. Lane would guest star in three more episodes, and later reunite with Ball on The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and The Lucy Show. Even if you’ve never watched any of those programs, you’re still likely to recognize Lane because he appeared in hundreds of films and TV shows in his 60-year career, from Soap to The Odd Couple, often as a no-nonsense professional. His most recognizable role is as Henry Potter’s scornful rent collector in It’s a Wonderful Life, a performance that later led to the creation of the the Blue-Haired Lawyer character on The Simpsons.
Josh Kurp can relate any show to The Simpsons