September 24, 2012

"I Love Lucy" Still Brings in Millions for CBS

Over 50 years after the classic sitcom "I Love Lucy," which starred Lucille Ball and real-life husband Desi Arnaz, went off the air, it's still a big income generator for studio CBS.

The show brings in around $20 million to the studio annually, according to CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York recently. Reruns of the show still run on a regular basis on the cable channel TV Land.

"I Love Lucy" aired from 1951-57, and featured Ball and Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo; the couple were married for 20 years and owned a production company, Desilu Productions, together.

Moonves stressed the value of CBS' new and old content, particularly as new platforms such as Netflix and Amazon are spending heavily for product.

While TV networks make a big portion of their revenue through advertising and current series, they also make ends meet by selling shows they own to other outlets in syndication and online. Moonves noted that series like "NCIS" and "CSI," which have episodes that are self-contained and don't rely on connecting story arcs, do well in syndication, while other series with soapier storytelling do well in places like Netflix.

"The world is a beautiful place, we're going to get paid more and more and more," Moonves said.

That said, CBS is still more conservative than other programmers when it comes to selling content to online streaming services and Moonves does not plan on changing that strategy.

For example, ABC parent Walt Disney Co. recently sold the first seasons of its dramas "Revenge," "Scandal" and "Once Upon a Time" to Netflix.

CBS does not sell episodes of any series currently on its air to a streaming service out of fear that it could hurt potential rerun sales down the road.

"Syndication is still the big dog here versus the online stuff," he said. Either way, the options for continuing to make money off of old classics seem endless. 

September 20, 2012

'I Love Lucy' Voted the Best TV Show of All Time

More than 60 years after it premiered, the iconic television sitcom "I Love Lucy" nabbed top honors with TV fans in a survey conducted by ABC News and People Magazine for "Best in TV," a special edition of "20/20" that aired Tuesday night, September 18th.

Watch More News Videos at ABC

"Lucy" was voted the best show of all time, beating out finalists "Seinfeld," "M*A*S*H," "All in the Family" and "Cheers." All five finalists were comedies.

"We were not surprised Americans chose comedies as their favorites of all time," said ABC News' Barbara Walters, who hosted the special. "We all like to laugh and these shows still make us laugh today.

During a rare interview in 1977, "I Love Lucy" star Lucille Ball told Barbara Walters that she didn't think she was funny.

In a recent interview with Barbara Walters, Ball's now-adult children, Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz Jr. explained that their mother had a dry sense of humor.

She was witty, with "a Will Rogers kind of sense of humor...great humor, but not like Lucy (on the show)," Desi Arnaz Jr. said.

"My mother was a clown, and she could turn funny, brilliantly funny written things into magic...But she didn't think funny," Lucie Arnaz said.

"Best in TV" featured a countdown of winners in a number of other categories, from Favorite TV Reality Show to Favorite TV Drama to Favorite TV Mom. In addition to the categories featured on the TV Special, ABC News and People also polled Americans in several other categories like Favorite TV Soap Opera, Favorite TV Game Show, and Most Memorable TV Moment of All Time. See the finalists in these categories online at

Nominees in all categories were determined by an all-star panel of television writers, producers, actors and directors. And from the list of nominees, Americans registered more than one million online votes earlier this summer at

September 17, 2012

"Best of TV" Special to Air featuring Lucy Comedy Fest

JAMESTOWN, NY – September 14th, 2012 – The city of Jamestown, the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy, and the annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival will all be included in a segment of the two-hour Barbara Walters Special, “The Best in TV – The Greatest Shows of Our Time,” airing September 18th on ABC at 9pm EST.

The results of an online poll conducted by ABC News and People Magazine, which nearly one million people voted in, will be announced during Tuesday’s special. I Love Lucy is nominated in two different categories; Best Television Comedy of All Time and Best Television Show of All Time.

A team of producers and cameramen from ABC News and People Magazine visited Jamestown in August during this year’s Lucille Ball Festival of Comedy to record footage for the nationally televised special. A portion of the 2-hour special will feature Jamestown’s annual Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, the first-ever Lucy World Games, and footage from the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy’s dual museum attraction (Lucy Desi Museum and Desilu Studios).

“We’re excited to find out the results of the poll, and to share on national television what goes on here in Jamestown with the Queen of Comedy’s legacy,” said Journey Gunderson, executive director of the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy. “We hope it will bring even more visitors to our year-round museum attraction and to our annual comedy festival each August.”

About The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival

The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival, or “Lucy Fest,” embodies Ball’s vision for her hometown legacy: a celebration of the comedic arts held annually on the weekend closest to her birth date, August 6th. This year’s festival ran from August 1st-5th and featured performances by Paula Poundstone, Lucie Arnaz, Tammy Pescatelli, Story Pirates, Billy Gardell from CBS’s Mike & Molly, the best “Lucy, Ricky, Fred & Ethel” impersonators in the world and much more. This year’s festival was brought to you in part by YNN, the TV media sponsor of Lucy Fest 2012. Lucy Fest 2013 will be August 1-4. Additional information on the festival can be found at

According to an economic impact study conducted by Buffalo firm Paradigm Economics and commissioned by the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, the 2011 five-day festival saw 13,000 in attendance and had a direct impact of $3.6 million on Chautauqua County.

The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival is the first pillar in a four-pillar Legacy of Laughter vision for the organization, including a comedic arts education program, comedy film festival and the establishment of the first national comedy center and hall of fame.

The mission of the Lucy Desi Center for Comedy, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, is to preserve the legacy of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and enrich the world through the healing powers of love and laughter through its commitment to the development of the comedic arts.

September 14, 2012

‘I Love Lucy’ in live musical comedy tribute on stage

As written by Hedy Weiss for the Chicago Sun Times:

Sirena Irwin stars as Lucy and Bill Mendieta plays
Ricky Ricardo in "I Love Lucy Live on Stage", 
Photo by Ed Krieger
No doubt many still remember watching the original 181 black-and-white episodes of “I Love Lucy” that were broadcast in the ’50s on CBS-TV via television sets equipped with rabbit-ear antennas.

Most of us discovered the shows somewhat later, either in reruns, DVD box sets or through YouTube snippets. Whatever the format, they retain their crazy spark of genius, generating giddy laughter and delight decade after decade. Classics of the Golden Age of television, “I Love Lucy” episodes are in many ways America’s most masterful example of the mid-20th century comedy of manners.

The truth is, there has never been a couple more antic, tempestuous and irresistible than Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball), that beautiful redhead with the irrepressible sense of mischief and thwarted ambition, and her husband, Ricky (Desi Arnaz), the dashing, heavily accented, hopelessly macho Cuban emigre and singer-bandleader.

And of course, if your dreams were invariably geared toward breaking into show business, as Lucy’s were, what better landlords could you have for your New York brownstone than a couple of droll vaudevillians like Ethel and Fred Mertz, who were played so winningly by Vivian Vance and William Frawley?

“I Love Lucy Live On Stage,” which receives its Midwest premiere Sept. 19 at the Broadway Playhouse, is a theatrical “reinvention” and musical comedy tribute to those classic shows. A hit when it opened at the Greenway Court Theatre in Los Angeles last year, it is set in 1952, in Hollywood’s Desilu Studios, and reenacts (“in full color”) the live “filming” of two episodes of the sitcom. (“I Love Lucy” was the first scripted television program to be shot on 35mm film in front of a studio audience.) And yes, you guessed it, YOU are the studio audience.

“I was born in 1957, so I grew up on the morning reruns, flipping stations between ‘Lucy’ and ‘I Married Joan’,” said Rick Sparks, the show’s director and co-adapter, with Kim Flagg. “I quickly realized how much better ‘Lucy’ was.”

The stage show grew out of Sparks’ involvement with a CBS-generated tribute tour about “Lucy” that re-created the show’s set. It contained several interactive setups, including one with the big vat from the episode in which Lucy stomped on grapes to make wine.

“It was a huge success at conventions,” said Sparks. “And I kept thinking: If only we could put real actors in this thing. Then I found out about plans for this project, I got in touch with the producers and made my pitch. Of course there was a certain audacity about trying to represent these beloved characters on stage. But the idea was never to impersonate them. We just wanted to create a love letter — a Valentine to the essence of the show, and to the whole era of television, along with the advertising that was such a part of it.” (The show features the Crystaltone Singers performing live advertising jingles in 1950s harmony style.)

As Sparks explained: “The idea for the original television show grew out of the effort of Ball and Arnaz to stay together geographically and keep their marriage intact. The powers that be at CBS initially thought the notion of this sitcom about the marriage of a dizzy redhead and her Cuban husband would challenge belief, so the two went out on a vaudeville circuit tour to test-market it, got brilliant reviews and took the idea back to CBS.”

Sparks selected two relatively unknown episodes to recreate for the live show, complete with “The Ricky Ricardo Orchestra” of the Tropicana Nightclub. In one, from 1952, Lucy, always hellbent on getting into showbiz, tries to become part of a Fine Arts Benefit and does a number called “Bamboo Tree.” In another, from 1953, she does a jitterbug.

“Lucille Ball was not only gorgeous, but she was a brilliant actress who played the totally honest intention behind the most ridiculous situations,” said Sparks. “She even brought Buster Keaton and Harpo Marx onto the set to serve as physical comedy coaches. Desi had an easy, instinctive comedic style that he picked up from people like Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.”

Sirena Irwin, who portrays Lucy in the show, confessed that she did not grow up with “Lucy” reruns.

“For a long time my family didn’t have a TV,” she said, explaining that her dad was a physicist who “dropped out” and traveled in a VW bus for awhile, and her mom was a classical pianist who toured Europe.

“So it wasn’t until I was in college that I first saw episodes of the show, and I’d never seen the iconic ‘Vitameatavegamin’ episode when I was asked to do it for my audition. What I’ve discovered since then is that the key to Lucy was her playfulness — her willingness to go anywhere with the material, doing zany, outrageous things that were nevertheless grounded in truth. And she was so free physically, so unafraid of making ugly faces at a time when female comedians were very rare. Of course playing her is still hugely intimidating to me.”

Bill Mendieta, who portrays Desi (and whose heritage is a mix of Basque, Mexican, Guatamalan and French), grew up in San Francisco — part of a large family of musical artists who loved watching classic TV and movies together. He spoke Spanish with his grandmother and has learned more Spanish from playing various roles that involved the language.

“My musical background has helped me pick up accents pretty quickly,” he said. “For Desi I listened to videos online, and to other Cubans, all of whom speak very quickly and with a particular rhythm. I also watched how Ricky delivered his songs in the show. Of course we have to make things work theatrically, and we also have to make them come from us. But with Desi, here is this musician so at home in the Cuban lifestyle, who is married to an American woman who is a little wacky. And often he’s just trying to catch up with what she’ll do next.”

It is Irwin who thinks she has the true secret to “I Love Lucy.”

“I think it’s the absolutely undying love and adoration these two people had for each other,” she said. “There may have been tension in their real-life marriage, but in their show, despite the playful antagonism, it was all about love.”

  • In previews; opens Sept. 19 and runs through Nov. 11
  • Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 17 E. Chestnut, Chicago, IL
  • Tickets, $23-$65
  • (800) 775-2000;