Lucille Ball is widely regarded as one of the most legendary comedians in history, famous the world over for her zany Vitameatavegamin mispronunciations, hilarious grape-stomping escapades and overzealous chocolate-gorging abilities. Far lesser-known than her countless comic feats, though, is the fact that the iconic redhead and her longtime husband/”I Love Lucy” co-creator and co-star, Desi Arnaz, turned the world of television programming on its head by pioneering countless revolutionary techniques that are still in use today! It is because of the innovative couple, for instance, that sitcoms are shot in front of a studio audience. Though the concept was completely foreign at the time “I Love Lucy” debuted, Ball enjoyed the immediate feedback and palpable energy live assemblages provided, so the couple modeled the soundstage for their new series after a theater, with an open fourth wall facing an audience. They also elected to shoot episodes in sequence, much like a play, and to utilize a three-camera system to capture the action from multiple angles simultaneously, so that scenes would not have to be reset and reshot countless times – all for the benefit of the viewers present. Incredibly, sitcoms are still utilizing these same techniques today, 70 years later!
Even more radical was the couple’s exclusion of kinescope. Not familiar with the term? You have Arnaz and Ball to thank for that! Prior to “Lucy,” shows were typically broadcast live on the East Coast while concurrently being recorded via kinescope – essentially a camera pointed at and taping a video monitor as it aired the feed. That kinescope recording was then later broadcast to other areas around the United States. As explained by The Take, “The result was a grainy, fuzzy, and distorted picture which looked quite poor. As this was the only method of documentation available to stations of the time, this is the format from which many programs would be rebroadcast to locales outside the reach of the originating station’s antenna.” Desi convinced CBS to instead shoot “Lucy” on high-quality 35mm film, agreeing to a large pay cut to make up for the difference in cost but, in turn, securing full ownership rights to all episodes. The move paved the way for syndication, as it allowed shows to be rebroadcast in their original format time and time again. Yes, that’s right – you have the duo to thank for the creation of the rerun, too!