The Rerun Is Born: October 20, 1952

Written By: Greg Howell - Feb• 21•14

ILOVELUCYAt the end of the 1951-52 television season, I Love Lucy had skyrocketed to the top of the ratings chart. In just its first season, 39 hilarious episodes were broadcast, each building on an audience that was breaking records. Like almost all other television shows, each broadcast was “watch it or miss it.” Even telefilms were most often limited to one run each. But in late spring, 1952, all of this was about to change.

The most notable rerun prior to Lucy was The Lone Ranger, who just months before (and after 78 consecutive weeks of televising new episodes), ceased production  during contract disputes with star Clayton Moore.  Over the summer, between finding a replacement for Moore to launch new shows for its third season in the fall of ’52, ABC rebroadcast The Lone Ranger telefilms. While these predate Lucy by a couple months, the ratings were only mediocre and the reruns produced little fanfare or notice.  No one seemed to notice that the shows were reruns, which speaks volumes about the quality of the Lone Ranger show.

Simultaneously, As I Love Lucy ended the first season,  the blockbuster show prepared to leave the air, like all other network shows, for the summer. In Lucy’s time slot, My Little Margie would run until the new fall season. It appeared, however, that the nation’s top show would not return in the fall, as Lucille Ball discovered she was pregnant.

In a landmark decision, producer and series creater Jess Oppenheimer decided to write her pregnancy into the show. This created a number of problems, the most significant was that Lucy would not be able to film enough episodes for the season’s full run. Suddenly it dawned on Oppenheimer that Lucy existed on film, as it was not produced live as other television shows of the era. Those beautiful black and white prints and high production values were about to come in very handy. Oppenheimer realized he could pad out the season with re-broadcast of some of the first season shows, particularly the earlier ones that many fans had missed.

Several techniques are employed, including the cast creating new footage as a “flashback” technique, and other times the rerun being introduced by the announcer Roy Rowan as an audience requested repeat. Even the flashback technique is influential, creating a device used in many television shows to come (probably the most notable being The Dick Van Dyke Show).

On October 20, 1952, just 6 episodes into the new second season, I Love Lucy reran “The Quiz Show”, the fifth episode from Season 1. Ultimately, 9 episodes were rerun during the 1952-53 season. The remarkable popularity of these repeat broadcasts changed the way the entire industry viewed programming. It was no longer a one shot deal. In fact, the popularity of re-running I Love Lucy on CBS broadcasts kept the show out of syndication until the the fall of 1967! CBS purchased the show from Desilu in 1957 and reran Lucy exclusively on CBS until it was offered to local stations via syndication. The show proved so popular in reruns, that CBS kept it on the prime time schedule for 2 full seasons after the show ended production in spring of 1957, then moved the show to daytime through the summer of 1967.  CBS finally replaced I Love Lucy reruns with, of course, reruns of The Lucy Show, which was nearing its primetime run (1962-1968.)  I Love Lucy has run endlessly in syndication, and in the 1970’s in large urban markets, it was commonplace for  Lucy episodes to air 5 times a day.  Today, all of I Love Lucy‘s episodes are available on DVD and recently released on BluRay.



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