As far as funny wholesome sitcoms go, I Love Lucy, which starred Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, was the forerunner and perhaps the best loved of them all – and boy was it funny.
Pioneer US comedy about a dizzy New York housewife, her fiery bandleader husband and her long-suffering neighbours.
Why was it so good?
The zany, motor mouth antics of goofy redhead Lucille Ball. The series ran in America from 1951 to 1961. Often repeated, it was one of the first big global TV successes.
How did it begin?
Ambitious actress Lucille Ball made more than 80 films – including Ziegfeld Follies – before she shot to international fame in I Love Lucy with husband Desi Arnaz in 1951. Cuban-born bandleader Desi, whom she wed in 1940 after they met on the set of Too Many Girls, urged her to try TV. Although worried about Desi’s Spanish accent, bosses at US TV station CBS decided to take a gamble on the couple.
What was it about?
It grew from Lucille Ball’s US radio show My Favourite Husband. In it rubber-faced Lucille was Lucy Ricardo, while her real-life husband Desi Arnaz was Ricky Ricardo. Shot on film in front of a studio audience, it was an instant hit with US viewers. It explored universal themes such as the tensions of married life, the clash between career and home and the meaning of friendship and loyalty.
Didn’t it make Lucille Ball very rich?
US TV chiefs decided to risk running the show for one series, but cleverly Lucille took a wage cut in return for full ownership rights. She and husband Desi Arnaz made it with their company Desilu Productions and scooped a fortune as it ran for 10 years and was syndicated worldwide. She sold the company for $17m (£12m) in 1967 after buying out Desi’s share of the business.
Was Lucille Ball like Lucy?
Far from it – behind the goofy housewife image she was a hard-headed businesswoman. Her image as a caring mother has also taken a knock. Her daughter Lucie says living with Lucille and Desi Arnaz wasn’t comical. She says she was often in the middle of physical and verbal abuse. She adds her mother once feared she’d killed Desi when she knocked him out.
Why did it end?
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz’s divorce in 1961 finally put paid to it. However, the show is still being repeated around the world and it’s estimated that it’s always been on air somewhere since it began in 1951. Ball couldn’t top the series, although she tried with The Lucy Show which she co-produced with second husband Gary Morton, and Here’s Lucy, which ran until 1972.
What happened to Lucille Ball?
Her company Desilu Productions went on to make the original Star Trek and Mission: Impossible before she sold it. She died aged 77 of heart disease in 1989, but her fans have never forgotten her.
Red hair, slapstick, Desi Arnaz’s broad Spanish accent.
Lucille Ball was US TV’s comedy queen of the ’50s and ’60s.
What’s this old hat, black and white programme which is totally unfunny?
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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