On the Ball

Views and Reviews

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TV LAND's Restored
I Love Lucy Shows: A Mixed Blessing

An Opinion by Stuart Shostak

A few weeks ago, TV Land announced that when I Love Lucy joined its schedule on October 15th, the network would be showing the programs in a way that had not been done in over 45 years: with the original animated opening titles and middle-act breaks restored! How great! Not since the original CBS Network run in the 1950s had this footage -- featuring "Lucy" and "Ricky" stick figures (see art, above) -- been included in any official presentation of the series.

Years ago, as Lucy's former film archivist, I was fortunate enough to find all of the original broadcasts -- commercials and all -- in Lucy's film vault, and she allowed me to make copies for my personal collection. With CBS' permission, I was later able to share some of these tapes with fans at our annual Loving Lucy convention, both in the weekend screening rooms and within our Friday night opening ceremonies. Fans always loved seeing this rare footage, so when TV Land made its announcement, I was thrilled that the now-traditional "script heart" opening (photo right) -- added in the mid-1950s when the show was first sold to Canada -- would be replaced by the original animations.

I knew, of course, there would be potential problems: most of the animated openings featured "Lucy" and "Ricky" stick-figures popping out of one sponsor's product or another. (Early on it was a package of Philip Morris cigarettes, later such things as a can of Fluffo shortening.) I was told, however, that through the magic of computer graphics, the network would be able to replace the products with other things -- a 1950s style television set, for example, would go in for the original cigarette package…

Like Lucy fans everywhere, I anxiously awaited the series premiere on TV Land this past Monday night… I am sorry to report that what we got was not exactly what we had been promised!

Did TV Land replace the script-heart, as they said they would? Yes…

Did they restore the original animations? Well, yes… and no.

The animations TV Land has been showing this week are indeed taken from the original broadcasts, but they have been reconfigured in ways that seem calculated to meet the cable network's own needs. Some of the "restored" animated openings, for example, were not the openings at all -- but the original middle-break animations. Not only has the network added their own TV Land logo (i.e., "TV Land presents Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz," etc.), but they have jettisoned the original opening music in favor of the soundtrack from the script-heart version.

Furthermore, it seems that TV Land is using only about 6 or 7 different animations, when there were at least 13 different ones produced over the years. During the first three seasons, Desilu changed the animations every six weeks or so, and by the fifth year, it had started to use a generic opening cartoon of Lucy and Ricky carving the show title on a tree, or bringing a large cup of Sanka coffee center stage.

As mentioned above, I realize the references to the show's original sponsors had to be masked for TV Land's showings, but the editors should have stopped with that… the original openings should still open the shows, the act breaks should lead into a middle commercial, etc. Instead we have what I call new "fake main titles."

Yes, TV Land should be commended for attempting this project in the first place. But what they have produced, at least in this purist archivist's opinion, is neither fish nor fowl. They have "repurposed" the original animations in ways that promotes TV Land over the show, and in a sense, pats themselves on the back. They seem to be saying, "Hey, look at what we did," and doing it in a way that makes sure the network is the only one that can ever use the shows in this new format.

What is even more confusing to me is the fact that on most of the shows they left the traditional heart (over the satin background) at the very close of the show, leading into the end credits. On only one episode screened this week did they do what Desilu did in the last two seasons -- close the show on a still shot of the two stick-figures kissing (inside a heart carved on the aforementioned tree).

Also, must we be treated to "We'll Be Right Back" written at the start of every break? When the shows originally aired, the screen simply went to white or black when a billboard or sign ended an animated segment. Now it's as if we are watching a Saturday morning cartoon show, designed by some genius to let "us kids" know that a commercial is coming up, but the show itself will resume in a moment…

What is even more distressing is that when the show begins its regular run on October 22, TV Land will show the same time-compressed, edited versions that Nick-at-Nite has been showing the past several years -- only now they will include these new fake titles and repurposed animations…

Looks like the only place one can go to appreciate I Love Lucy the way it was originally meant to be seen is Columbia House Home Video, which is issuing the shows on both VHS tape and DVD.

Hmm… Maybe the heart wasn't so bad after all!


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Stuart Shostak is a life-long Lucy fan. He has been a member of We Love Lucy since 1977, when he was introduced to the organization by his friend, I Love Lucy-writer, Bob Schiller. Stuart subsequently became Lucille Ball and Gary Morton's film archivist, and is now president/owner of Shokus Video. For the past six years he has been co-producer and video editor for our Loving Lucy Conventions. For many years he authored a regular column, "Viewer's Viewpoint," in our club publications.




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