Five years after her groundbreaking1 I Love Lucy series ended, Lucille Ball started another run on television, playing essentially the same character. Although her next two series would never achieve the status of her earlier work, the new Lucy would remain on the airwaves longer than the Ricardos, and garner impressive ratings throughout the 1960s.
The Lucy Show first aired on October 1, 1962. Ball took her inspiration from Irene Kampen’s 1961 novel Life Without George, which concerned the adventures of two divorced women sharing a home with their children, and forced to take on roles and chores traditionally left to men. Vivian Vance, Ethel Mertz on I Love Lucy, took the role of Vivian Bagley, Lucy’s housemate. Candy Moore and Jimmy Garrett played Lucy’s teenage daughter and young son; Ralph Hart played Viv’s son.
For the time, the idea could have been radical: a household headed by two divorced women. Indeed, industry insiders dubbed it The Van Dykes. The reality proved otherwise; Lucy was always about conventional comedy and commercial success. While Vance’s character was divorced, Ball—here called Lucy Carmichael—was expressly a widow. Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz had recently divorced in real life, and she knew audiences would be sensitive to the issue. Networks would also have been uncomfortable with a divorcee as a heroine. It’s worth noting that Lucy and Desi’s relationship remained amicable, and, at her request, he produced part of The Lucy Show’s first season.
The show’s approach to comedy was also traditional. Comedy has frequently focussed on underdogs, youth and other second-class citizens bound in by convention and laws, who must connive and scheme to achieve their ends—and succeed or fail depending on the potential for failure or success to be funny. On I Love Lucy and The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour Ball’s character had done just that, plotting her way around the objections of her husband in a world where traditional gender roles were unchallenged. Since the women of The Lucy Show lacked spouses, many episodes provided ersatz husbands. In the first two seasons, a pre-Laugh-In Dick Martin played the hapless eligible bachelor around whom Lucy and Viv’s elaborate plots frequently revolved.
After three seasons, Vance left to spend more time at her home in Connecticut. Her character would continue to make guest appearances for the remainder of the show’s run. Ann Sothern appeared for a season as Lucy’s new best friend, before Mary Jane Croft, who had appeared as "Betty Ramsey" on I Love Lucy, took over the sidekick role. By then, however, the show had moved in an entirely different direction.
In its second season, Gale Gordon appeared as the manager of the bank, who handled the trust fund left by the late Mr. Carmichael. The quick-tempered tightwad (a character not unlike The Beverly Hillbillies’ Mr. Drysdale) named Mr. Mooney, became far more involved in the day-to-day life of his client than any trust manager would want or be permitted to, and the show increasingly mined the potential of that relationship. The comic chemistry between Gordon and Ball won over audiences. Much of the broad, vaudevillean comedy of the show seems dated now, but it’s hard not to appreciate the manner in which this pair play off each other, a cross-gendered Abbott and Costello.
In 1966, the show was retooled to reflect the success of the Mr. Mooney episodes. The kids vanished (they would occasionally be referenced), and Lucy moved to Los Angeles, where she became secretary to the recently-transferred Mooney. The Lucy Show hit its stride in these final seasons, and most people remember the show in this incarnation. It was broad, silly, and entirely implausible, but none of it seemed out of place in an era when idiotcoms such as Gilligan’s Island ruled the airwaves.
In 1968 Desilu Studios was sold to Paramount. Rather than have anyone else run her show, Lucille Ball cancelled her series, leaving Paramount with Desilu’s other offering, the then-faltering Star Trek. Lucy appeared on television the next season, once more in control, and in a variation of the show, called Here's Lucy.
1. I Love Lucy helped establish the format of the family sitcom, it presented American television’s first on-air pregnancy, and it created the three-camera approach to filming still used by sitcoms.
Robin Carnahan. "SOS, Missouri: Wolfner Library (It’s a Family Affair)." http://www.sos.mo.gov/wolfner/bibliographies/familyaffair.asp
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"The Lucy Show." Episode Guides. http://epguides.com/LucyShow/