The Baby, December 8, 1952 – January 18, 1953

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 24•14

NY11704190241_spThis I Love Lucy story arc is the pinnacle of the television event for entertainment. As Christmas, 1952 approached, TV’s top show was enjoying record-breaking ratings and enormous publicity. American audiences had flipped for Lucy Ricardo’s independent spirit and Lucille Ball’s comic genius. The second season premiere, the famous “candy factory episode” had placed Ball and the show at the top echelon of comedy, not just for TV, but any comedy ever preserved on film.

Indeed, Lucille Ball’s brilliant performance created a character so sharp and so complex, audiences had welcomed her into their hearts and families almost instantly. Most actors are lucky if they are capable of resonating a few distinct character traits, but Ball’s Lucy Ricardo came to life through hundreds of nuances. Take a minute to describe Lucy Ricardo. She was zany, independent, determined, conniving, manipulative, inventive, loving, and fiery. She was loyal, envious, smart, sexy, cheerful, aggressive, and feminine. She was humorous, imaginative, sophisticated, and fearless. She was suspicious, crafty, clever, and indefatigable. This exersize could go on for pages. No other television character in history was as well defined or expertly crafted. And in December, 1952, Lucy Ricardo was about to fold “maternal” into the list of character traits.

The networks and sponsors, upon hearing of the baby shows, were nervous.  The subject of having babies was never discussed in American entertainment.  In movies, babies were announced, then appeared, often years older.  The process and pregnancy of a woman having a baby was taboo in Hollywood. Great lengths were taken to “maintain decency,” including the network hiring three priests to oversee the story arc, and the removal of the word “pregnant  or pregnancy” in any scripts, nor could Lucy be shown smoking a cigarette, even though Phillip Morris was the sponsor.  Network and sponsors fears were unfounded, however, and the America population responded as never before and never since. The first “baby” episode is a masterpiece, establishing the intense joy and excitement of a couple having their first baby, and when Lucy and Ricky break down into tears during the final scene, the entire country cried tears of joy too. Through 7 episodes that holiday season, the anticipation grew. When would it happen? What was the baby’s sex? The entire story arc was the talk of America and the media.

As word was leaked that January 18, 1953 was the date for the baby’s birth, as well as the real date for the birth of Lucille Ball’s baby, the two events combined into one, unprecedented explosion of publicity and outpouring of national emotion. The January 18 episode captured almost two-thirds of the audience. 71.7% of Americans with television watched the birth of the Ricardo baby. More people watched the episode than watched Eisenhower’s inauguration the previous day. More people watched the birth of Little Ricky than watched the coronation of Queen Elizabeth earlier in the year. Newspapers in large cities and small towns exclaimed on front pages, “LUCY HAS A BOY!,” and above headlines related to Ike’s inauguration or politics. Walter Winchell reported it a “banner week” as “the nation got a President, and Lucy got a boy.” It was also the first cover of TV Guide‘s very first national edition.

The influence, both in culture and entertainment, was monumental. The use of story arcs became a television staple. I Love Lucy began a merchandising campaign that still resonates today. Little Ricky dolls, cribs, pajamas, and furnishing made the Arnazes millions of dollars. From this point forward, television  became THE favored medium in America. It is nearly impossible to fully describe the baby show’s impact and longevity. Only two television shows since have successfully utilized a “new baby” story arc, Bewitched in 1965-1966, and All in The Family in 1975 that were able to captivate audiences in a similar, albeit, lesser way.

Even in 2006, the Ricardo baby was used to define the excitement surrounding the Cruise-Holmes baby by ABC News. In a lengthy discussion, ABC News acknowledged “The hoopla over the baby girl born Tuesday to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes recalls another highly anticipated birth 53 years ago arguably, one of the most-covered births of the 20th century.”

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