It looks like December 2013 brought with it the arrival of two new holiday season traditions on the broadcast networks: Lavish live musical extravaganzas on NBC (last year “The Sound of Music,” this year “Peter Pan”) and, on CBS, repurposed repeats of sixty-something-year-old episodes of the timeless comedy “I Love Lucy” (arguably the best and most successful scripted television series of all time).
Last year, CBS presented back-to-back episodes of two “I Love Lucy” classics placed together as a one-hour Christmas special. Both were colorized, to the consternation of purists, who rightfully complained that the original black and white versions had held up so well since they were first seen in the Fifties that they made the show as enduring and successful as it has been. But the reality is that younger viewers aren’t used to black and white television in any capacity and tend to turn away from it. (I have seen this happen right in front of me.) So there was a certain method to CBS’ madness.
The first “Lucy” classic in the holiday special was “The Christmas Episode,” which debuted 58 years ago on December 24, 1956 and which many “Lucy” fans (including myself) had never seen, because it wasn’t included in the syndication packages that have kept “I Love Lucy” at the forefront of popular entertainment for dozens of years. It was followed by one of the series best-known episodes, “Lucy’s Italian Movie,” which first aired on April 16, 1956 during the arc when Lucy and Ricky Ricardo and their friends Fred and Ethel Mertz traveled through Europe. It’s the one in which Lucy is offered a part in an Italian movie, visits a vineyard to prepare for the role and tries her hand at stomping grapes, with disastrous results.
Tonight in a special Christmas Eve telecast CBS will bring “Lucy” back to primetime once again, with a repeat of “The Christmas Episode” and a different episode after it – one featuring a scene that may be even better known than Lucy’s grape-stomping fiasco. It’s titled “Job Switching,” and it’s the one in which Lucy and Ethel take jobs on the assembly line at Kramer’s Kandy Kitchen, where they try their hardest to wrap individual chocolates as hundreds of them speed by on a conveyor belt. (Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance proved to be a dynamic comedy duo and masters of physical comedy throughout the run of “I Love Lucy,” but never more so than in this sequence.) “Job Switching” was first telecast on September 15, 1952. It was the opening episode of the second season of “I Love Lucy.”
In case you missed it last year, “The Christmas Episode” features multiple flashbacks from previous episodes (all from the second season of the series) as the Ricardos and the Mertzes reminisce about their lives while decorating the Ricardos’ tree. (Happily, the flashbacks are not colorized … or at least they weren’t last year.) Most of the half-hour is quite charming, but the ending is really weird.
“I Love Lucy” ran on CBS from 1951-57 and has remained in domestic and global syndication ever since. Given the fact that most of the people reading this column weren’t even born when “Lucy” reached its series finale, and that many of us can recall dozens of episodes of the show, to assert that it has maintained extraordinary power throughout the more than five decades since it ended is something of an understatement.
Here’s hoping CBS continues to showcase “I Love Lucy” episodes during the Christmas season for years to come. I would like to see the network have similar holiday fun with other family friendly series from its past, especially “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Petticoat Junction” and one of my all-time favorites, “Green Acres,” three silly shows that kids used to love and just might learn to love all over again.
ABC, for that matter, ought to consider trying something like this as well, perhaps with popular Christmas themed episodes from “Bewitched” (“A Vision of Sugar Plums,” which premiered on December 24, 1964), “The Brady Bunch” (“The Voice of Christmas,” first telecast December 19, 1969) and “The Partridge Family” (“Don’t Bring Your Guns to Town, Santa,” first seen on December 11, 1971) paired with each other, or with others from each series. I realize ownership might be an issue with these series, but surely that can be dealt with, right? When it comes to matters of the media, these days just about anything is possible. Why shouldn’t the broadcast networks do whatever it takes to consistently celebrate their massive histories and create vital new traditions in the process?
Ed Martin is the Editor of MediaBizBloggers and the television and video critic for the Myers Business Network. Follow him on Twitter at @PlanetEd.
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