October 10, 2006

From I Love Lucy to YouTube

The impact of YouTube is undeniable on our culture and our ability to create and view video. But as reported from The Atlantic Monthly, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz pioneered our way to watch syndicated television many times over.

When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were bringing I Love Lucy to the airwaves in 1951, videotape didn’t exist yet. The only way to create a permanent record of a televised moment was to use a technique called kinescoping, in which a movie camera recorded off a television monitor. Since the country had yet to be linked for live broadcast, viewers in the western half of the country generally had to make do with kinescoped copies of the live productions coming out of New York. Lucy and Desi wanted to make their show in Los Angeles, where they lived, but corporate sponsors insisted that New York audiences—then the country’s largest advertising market—see higher-quality productions than kinescoping offered. The solution: have three movie cameras simultaneously record the performance on a stage in front of a studio audience, with a director stitching together the feeds into a cohesive whole. So was born the three-camera sitcom, television’s most dominant and enduring format.

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