Anniversary Post: I Love Lucy Goes to the Hospital

I Love LucyOn this day in 1953, a reported 72% households with televisions tuned into watch the I Love Lucy episode, Lucy Goes to the Hospital. It was one of those real life meets art things. Kind of. Lucy had given birth by cesarean section a few hours before the show aired. The show was actually shot two months earlier. I know if it happened today, it would be criticized for it obvious cynicism.

I’m deeply divided on the whole thing. On the one hand, social cohesion is important. It is good when a culture can share something positive like a fake birth on I Love Lucy. It seems the only time we are expected to come together now is when we go to war. On the other hand, it is really great that we can all enjoy the things that speak to us personally, without it having to be diluted to be widely appealing. According to Wikipedia “scripts for the episode were reviewed by a rabbi, a minister, and a priest in order to make sure it would not be offensive.” I love that they cared enough to not want to offend, but it seems excessive.

What’s strange to me, however, is that even with an endless range of entertainment choices, people still tend to gravitate toward the most vanilla “mass appeal” spectacles like American Idol. What’s with that? Are people by and large just that boring? I fear that they are. At the same time, I don’t want our cultural bonds to be based upon popular entertainment. This is why I think public education is important.

We should be bound together by our shared history — with absolute clarity of the good and the bad so that we don’t exclude anyone — most especially African Americans and native peoples. And we should be bound together by our responsibilities as citizens. There should be some notion of what it is to be a good citizen — and a bad one. But not only do we not have that, we don’t even have I Love Lucy — which was always a fragile reed to hang onto. But it was something.

15 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: I Love Lucy Goes to the Hospital

  1. We do have things like the Superbowl but there are not a lot of things left with the vast array of entertainment to keep being distracted. As for the reason we all seem to follow along with the mass appeal stuff-it is designed specifically to appeal to the broadest range of humans.

    Thank you marketing-for proving Bill Hicks right time and again.

    • Yes, but to appeal broadly means you lose a lot of the enjoyment from people. Everyone likes it at about a level 5 instead of some liking it at 10 and others liking it at 1. And that makes no sense.

      But I don’t think it has to do with the audience. I think it has to do with the producers. It’s like reality shows. It isn’t that people love them so much. It is rather that they are cheap to produce. There is an audience for things that would most delight me. But why even try when they know they can make cheap crap that people will watch. Also, there isn’t actually a free market in entertainment because, unlike in all the economics models, there is no such thing as perfect information — not even close. So even when there are people producing little gems of entertainment, the people who would love it don’t find out about it. Look at Firefly.

      • I don’t know-reality TV may be cheap but it is well marketed. Even with the most perfect of marketing, Firefly was not going to go very far though. It was a niche show that didn’t have much to sustain it like Buffy and Angel did.

        If it was the case, they would have brought it back like they did with Family Guy.

        • I disagree. Serenity was a huge hit. The show was brought back, just not as a television show. And the format of the show was such that they could have taken it for a long time. Even in 14 episodes, it had long story arcs and a different planet to visit each week. It was like Star Trek but better.

          • Fair enough-I didn’t remember that Serenity was a huge hit but then I didn’t watch Firefly until years after it was canceled.

            Perhaps now it would be a bigger hit then it was then since the audience is much better primed for it. There is a reason Game of Thrones has been such a phenomenon.

            • I think it would do much better today. There’s a ton of shows out there that only appeal to niche audiences (say, “Supernatural”) which have been around for a while.

              I don’t know the economics of cable very well. My guess would be cable networks are more willing to stick with niche shows now because of all the money to be made from streaming services, iTunes, etc. But I don’t know.

              One thing that bothers me — and this goes back to the original post — is that the majority of successful TV shows now (and I enjoy a couple) all seem to appeal to niche audiences only. Even a hit like GOT — if you don’t like extreme nihilism/violence, it’s not for you. The shows I enjoy, I do have to consciously turn off part of my critical sense for most of them — it’s all about how much dumb I can tolerate and of what variety. (Good-natured dumb, I will forgive a lot. Vicious mean-spirited dumb — well, the show better have a lot of other elements to recommend it.)

              • Supernatural is only around because that network has like nothing else that pulls in a decent audience.

                • Probably true. Plus fans tell me that show does a good job of reaching out to its hardcore geek base.

            • I think Firefly would have been a hit at the time if Fox had given it a little time. Only 14 episodes were made; I think only 9 were shown. This is typical.

              But I was wrong about Serenity. I just checked and it didn’t do that well. I’m sure international and DVD sales, it made money. But on its first US run, it only made about as much as it cost. And with overhead, films generally have to double their costs.

              • It is weird they didn’t give the show time. They gave it to Fringe which wasn’t as good a show. It was a good show but kind of trailed off at the end into ridiculous town. I think mainly because Joss Whedon didn’t have the kind of clout he later got.

                  • This is true-then they try to copy what becomes a surprise success and wonder why it doesn’t happen again.

                    • Basically. People (myself included) complain about yet another comic book film. But Hollywood has always been that way. There are a lot of great American filmmakers. It’s just you’ve only heard of a couple of them. And most you’d have a hard time finding their films.

                    • So far Netflix, Amazon and Hulu seem to be helping curb that problem.

                    • I’m thinking people more like Jon Jost — although I’m sure at least All The Vermeers In New York is available. But last time I checked, Netflix didn’t even have Chimes at Midnight. I had to send away to South America to get it. An excellent movie by a talented film making is Night on Earth. A comedy. Wonderful.

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