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Old 03-26-2011, 08:41 PM   #1
LittleRickyII
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Default Life with Lucy: Why it Failed

This show is often included on lists of biggest bombs ever. But was it really? Okay, the critics were particularly harsh: a poll of critics at the time determined it to be the worst show on television that season. Worse than Mr. Belvedere? Worse than Perfect Strangers? Alf? I don't think so, but maybe I'm biased. Then again, the critics started attacking the show long before it went on the air, before any of them even saw it. Why, I don't know. Compared to most of what was on the air at that time, I don't think it was so bad. It was no Cheers or Cosby Show or Golden Girls, but it sure beat the heck out of Valerie and My Sister Sam and many others, in my opinion. Personal opinions aside, why did it fail? And how big a ratings disaster was it, and why?

Yes, the ratings drop was dramatic. It started out at a respectable 23rd place for the premiere episode, then dropped to 56th place a week later, 66th place the week after that. By the final broadcast, it was down to 71st place out of 76 shows. And The Ellen Burstyn Show, which followed it and got yanked off the air along with it, was in 72nd place in that eighth and final week. (Unaired episodes of The Ellen Burstyn Show were run that summer on ABC, but Life with Lucy ("LWL") never saw the light of day again on the network after November). Maybe that rapid drop is where it gets the "biggest bomb" designation. The drop in ratings may have been due to viewers setting their expectations too high, expecting it to be I Love Lucy and being disappointed that it wasn't. Certainly by that impossible standard it falls way short. Maybe that's why viewers abandoned it. But the way it's been written, one would thing this show came in and single-handedly destroyed ABC's 8:00 Saturday night time slot. But history tells a very different story.

Life with Lucy was just one in a long list of failures in that time slot on ABC.

While the ratings drop for LWL is startling, what is often overlooked is the fact that the 8:00 PM Saturday time slot is the worst place on the schedule a show would want to be. Rarely do you get a big hit at that time. A very rare exception is All in the Family in the '70s -- more about that later -- but normally, this is just a bad time slot. And what gets lost in the whole history of what happened with LWL is that ABC had been struggling with that slot for years. The last success ABC had in the Saturday 8:00 PM time period was with T.J. Hooker when it came on the air as a mid-season replacement in March 1982. It managed to squeeze into the top 30 shows that season, at 29th place, but that initial season was a very short one for T.J. Hooker -- only 5 episodes -- and after that point it never was back in the top 30 again. It's ratings slowly declined over the next few seasons until it was finally cancelled at the end of the 1984-85 season.

Hoping to change its fortunes, in the fall of 1985 ABC filled the Saturday 8:00 to 9:00 timeslot with a Miami Vice knock-off called Hollywood Beat, which starred Jack Scalia. And guess how long Hollywood Beat lasted in that time slot before being abruptly cancelled? Eight episodes total, exactly the same as LWL would a year later! Hollywood Beat premiered on September 21, 1985 and, as it couldn't get out of the bottom five in the ratings, it had its final broadcast on November 23, 1985. Hollywood Beat at least once even came in dead last in the ratings:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...ood+beat&hl=en

With Hollywood Beat cancelled, ABC moved its veteran series, The Fall Guy, into the 8:00 Saturday slot on November 30, 1985. But that show only lasted there five weeks before it was taken away. By its second week in that slot, The Fall Guy was in 72nd place. And after the January 4, 1986 broadcast, it was abruptly moved to another night and replaced later that month by the new series, The Redd Foxx Show. And how did The Redd Foxx Show do? For its premiere on January 18, 1986 it was in 46th place for the week. And in the weeks that followed, it dropped like a rock. A couple weeks later it had dropped to 57th place, then 61st, then 65th, and ultimately, after the March 1, 1986 broadcast, it was yanked from Saturday night and moved to Friday night where it struggled for another month before being cancelled altogether.

So with no success throughout the 1985-1986 season, ABC was counting on Life with Lucy to work a miracle for them. Of course, we now know that no miracle happened. Life with Lucy suffered the same fate as the three series that held that time period before it. And when ABC abruptly pulled Life with Lucy and The Ellen Burstyn Show after their November 15, 1986 broadcasts, where they placed 71st and 72nd place, respectively, they were replaced by Sledgehammer and Sidekicks, two shows that had been airing on Friday nights. So what happened then? Well, they performed pretty much just as Life with Lucy and The Ellen Burstyn Show had, placing 65th place or lower in the ratings. In mid February 1987, only three months after moving into the time slot, both shows were yanked by ABC and replaced with an hour-long series, Starman (based on the Jeff Bridges movie of the same name). By the time ABC yanked Starman from the 8:00 PM Saturday time slot on May 2, 1987, just a little over two months later, it was also down in the ratings cellar, at 75th place.

The next show to premiere in that time period in the fall of 1987 was Once a Hero. It did SO badly, it got yanked after only THREE episodes and was the first show cancelled that season:

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...+ratings&hl=en

So by comparison, Life with Lucy, with its 8 episodes, was a long-running series!

For several more years, ABC continued to struggle with the 8 PM Saturday time slot. In the fall of 1988 they tried George Segal in Murphy's Law. It wound up in 94th place that year. In the fall of 1989, they moved the long-running Mr. Belvedere there. It wound up in 105th place for the season. In Fall 1990, it was The Young Riders, which ended up in 70th place. In Fall 1991 they tried the long-running Who's the Boss?, which wound up in 76th place. In 1992 it was Covington Cross (85th place). In 1993, it was George (68th place). In 1994, it was The ABC Family Movie (104th place). In 1995, The Jeff Foxworthy Show (96th place). Second Noah in 1996 (#113). C-16 in 1997 (#124). America's Funniest Home Videos in 1998 (#109). The ABC Big Picture Show in 1999 (#69). The ABC Big Picture Show again in 2000 (#83). ABC Saturday Night Movie in 2001 (#99).

So as you can see, bad ratings in ABC's 8:00 Saturday night time slot have been the norm for decades. I think with LWL, ABC thought that bringing back television's biggest comedy legend, who had never failed before, was a sure bet. What they didn't consider was what it takes for a show to be a hit in that time period. If you look at history, it seems to require something that either 1) appeals to a very young audience (which LWL's competition, The Facts of Life, with its loyal viewers, did); or 2) to draw in the adult viewers, is truly unique and special. Adults traditionally go out on Saturday nights. So to bring them back home to watch television on their night out, there has to be a very compelling reason.

I alluded above to the huge success that All in the Family had for CBS in that time period in the 1970s. First of all, All in the Family didn't start out on Saturday nights. When it launched in the spring of 1971, it was on Tuesday nights. During the summer of 1971 it was on Wednesday nights and got discovered by viewers and quickly built a huge following. When it moved to Saturday nights, they followed because unique and special it was in every sense. There was nothing like it to be found anywhere on television at that time. It was the must-see show that people discussed at the water cooler. Nobody wanted to miss it. Besides, CBS built up its entire Saturday night with superb shows to make the entire night an event, one not to miss. Being at home on Saturday night watching CBS had a better guarantee of satisfactory entertainment than going out to the movies. And on no other night of the week would anyone have found anything quite like All in the Family.

That wasn't the case with LWL. This was Lucille Ball back doing what she had done throughout her entire television career, what viewers could find her doing any day of the week in reruns of I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, and Here's Lucy, which were all available at that time. While, as I said above, I don't think LWL was a bad show, I also don't think it was as good as any of her previous series. So essentially she was competing against herself. LWL did not offer anything unique to bring the adults home on a Saturday night. And the young folks who were at home were still tuning into The Facts of Life as they had been in the habit of doing for several years. There was plenty better Lucy to be seen any other day of the week, so for Lucille Ball to succeed in the Saturday 8 PM time slot, she needed to be doing something totally different than LWL, like The Golden Girls. And for LWL to have a chance at succeeding at all, it needed to be on a different night. For the reasons above, there's no way it could have ever survived on a Saturday night.

Last edited by LittleRickyII : 06-05-2011 at 10:27 PM.
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Old 03-27-2011, 02:38 AM   #2
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Default Three main reasons why "LIFE WITH LUCY" failed...

1) Lucy was "rusty"- she hadn't attempted a weekly situation comedy since "HERE'S LUCY" had ended production in 1974. There was also the fact that husband Gary Morton, who served as co-exeuctive producer of the series with Aaron Spelling {who never produced a successful sitcom of his own}, "connived" Lucy into doing it by first putting the "package" together with Aaron, writer/producers Madelyn Davis & Bob Carroll Jr., Gale Gordon [who was coaxed out of retirement to appear in it], Warner Bros. Television and the network, before offering it to her, knowing she wasn't going to turn down something that depended on her participation, with so many people involved. All he saw in the show was one last chance to make a little more money off his wife.
2) The bad time period it was scheduled in- ABC indeed had a string of flops on Saturdays at 8pm(et) during that latter half of the '80s {who could top NBC's "THE FACTS OF LIFE"?}.
3) Changing tastes. Viewers just weren't interested in Lucy's 1986 variation of her "slapstick with warmth" formula. Why should they watch "LIFE WITH LUCY" when they could see her- in her prime- in repeats on their local stations?

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Old 04-23-2011, 12:24 AM   #3
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Default 'Life with Lucy'

Does anyone agree with me on my statement below?????

I just got my hands on the whole series and have been enjoying it for the first time ever. I expected a really bad show from all the research I have done on the series. To my surprise, I caught myself loving this show.

I even think it is better than stale Here's Lucy. I love 80's shows and am a big fan of the era. Here's Lucy (which was a top hit), is said to be a better show. Then why am I struggling to get through a season at a time because the set is awful, styles are hideous, writing very bland, and guest stars are just themselves. To me the Unique Employment Agency doesn't even look like a business.

Life With Lucy has alot of great funny moments. The kids are excellent actors, and Lucy and Gale are tremendous. The mom (as many see as a bad actress) really isn't, that's just how her character's persona is. The dad however does exajerate his lines many times.

I have read many reviews of how Lucy shouldn't have re-arranged the hardware shop in alphabetical order because a 70 year old knows better than that.

But what the critics forget was, it is something Lucy would do. If you took Lucy Ricardo, and put her in an 80's sitcom (with a few minor twists) you get Lucy Barker in Life with Lucy.

I loved the part where Lucy rearranges the hardware shop, whips out her sax in the episode Lucy is a Sax Symbol, the messy extinguisher, the lounge chair she thought was fixed, vacuuming off a nasty womans skirt, shaking her butt while dancing to a modern rock group.

Lucille Ball was excellent and this series is way better than Here's Lucy in my opinon.

______________________________________________________________
The critics can be wrong, and also as a fan of Facts of Life, that show was lucky the critics didn't kill them like 'Life With Lucy'. Facts of Life was known as the poison pen letter to NBC and predicted by critics to make NBC go away completely. WOW!!!!!! Facts of Life ratings got better because of the bad reviews of Life With Lucy, if you research, it was the top show in the timeslot against it's competition, but was the worst rated show on NBC Saturday Nights, hurting The Golden Girls ratings and shows that followed it; which is why it ended up getting cancelled in 1988. Very ironic huh.....

Life With Lucy wasn't a bad show, i think lucille ball did a great job. If the critics would have praised the show from the get go---- I know it would have not been cancelled.

Yes, the timeslot was a huge mistake up against NBC's Facts of Life, it would have been better on a weeknight. But it's also interesting to know that not only was Facts of Life on, but you had 227 and The Golden Girls. ABC put it in a doomed timeslot and NBC was a powerhouse with Cosby as well. Alf dominated monday nights too.

The world was ready for Life With Lucy, and the critics killed the show with their nasty comments about Lucille Ball coming back to work and how she is old and should be dead. The family sitcom was huge in 1985, and it should have worked.

I disagree with alot of people, and I was prepared to hate the show, my curiosity got the better of me. And find this a classic hidden treasure.
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Visit http://www.televisionhits.com! Sites inlcuded are: Facts of Life, Facts of Life Reunion Movie, and Mama's Family!
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Old 04-23-2011, 01:15 AM   #4
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I also have Life With Lucy and I watched all the episodes and thought it was pretty good. My favorite episode is with John Ritter.
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Old 04-23-2011, 08:19 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by folbartman
Does anyone agree with me on my statement below?????

Yes, I agree with you, except that I think Here's Lucy was a better show early in its run. But it did become stale, like you say, and Life with Lucy was better. The fourth season of Here's Lucy was particularly bad (Lucille Ball's worst season ever IMO), and Life with Lucy is much, much better than that.

I know my post above is long, but I'm trying to take people through a bit of the history of ABC's 8:00 PM Saturday night time slot and show that there was absolutely nothing unique about the performance of Life with Lucy in that time slot. These claims that Life with Lucy is one of the biggest bombs in history are bogus. For at least twenty years EVERYTHING ABC put in that time slot bombed . . . EVERYTHING, just as badly or even WORSE than Life with Lucy. There was NOTHING unusual about Life with Lucy's ratings in that time slot, they were just unusual for Lucille Ball.

Everything ABC put in that slot got yanked after just two or three months (or less). One show (the one that debuted there a year after Life with Lucy) got yanked after just three weeks! ABC tried everything there: veteran superstars like Redd Foxx, fresh new stars like Jeff Foxworthy, veteran series like Who's the Boss? and America's Funniest Home Videos, a new show based on a popular movie (Starman), and much more, but all with the same result: they all bombed badly. In some cases, they showed some mercy and would move a show out of that time period and to a better place on ABC's schedule, for example America's Funniest Home Videos, which is still on the air nearly 13 years after ABC moved it to a better slot. It's too bad ABC didn't show Life with Lucy the same mercy.
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Old 04-23-2011, 10:02 AM   #6
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Default I agree

I read both your articles above Little Ricky, and I totally agree with you. The timeslot made Life With Lucy an Epic Failure.

The show was killed by the critics, and it is bogus, like you said to rate it one of the worst shows ever. Here's Lucy is starting to get boring to me as I am enjoying MPI's DVD releases and never seen them before. There are a handful of episodes that are good, the rest, yuck. If Here's Lucy was on TV Land, they would pull the plug because in today's world, it's a stale sitcom, Life with Lucy i think would do well, although only 13 episodes.

Life with Lucy has that 80's sitcom feel, Family problems, it's not all slapstick and there are dramatic and touching moments, which is what 80's sitcoms did.

If Lucille Ball was alive today, lets' say she's not 100, and she wanted to do a sitcom like 'life with lucy'. I think the audience would embrace it. We as a society are so nostalgic, even more so now, that many years have passed, and DVD sets kind of killed I Love Lucy in reruns. I think she would have her own successful sitcom.

The critics should be ashamed of themselves for driving lucy into depression. I saw her Joan Rivers guest appearance, how sad is that she went home crying after reading the reviews, and she thought no one liked her anymore.

I love Facts of Life and Life With Lucy -- and let me tell you, the critics hate both of those shows. lol. They still should have put it behind their most successful sitcom on the network, maybe Who's the Boss? or Growing Pains And a better theme would have helped.
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Old 04-23-2011, 10:13 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by folbartman
I love Facts of Life and Life With Lucy -- and let me tell you, the critics hate both of those shows. lol. They still should have put it behind their most successful sitcom on the network, maybe Who's the Boss? or Growing Pains And a better theme would have helped.

That would have been a great lineup. And here's an irony about Who's the Boss? and that time slot. In the 1990-91 season, Who's the Boss? was ranked #19 in the ratings. Pretty solid. Then for the 1991-92 season, ABC moved Who's the Boss? to Life with Lucy's old time slot where, like every other show ABC put in that time slot, it dropped like a rock to 76th place. That time slot was obviously death row for any show on ABC.

Yes, I've seen that Joan Rivers interview you mention (it's on Youtube). When Lucy talked about the reviews making her cry, I'm sure this one by some Bill Anderson guy must have been one of the ones she was referring to, which was published a month-and-a-half before the debut of Life with Lucy. I can remember reading this at the time and was shocked anyone would write such a thing, much less publish it. This was before anyone had even seen the show. It was just downright cruel.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...pathetic&hl=en
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Old 04-23-2011, 11:42 AM   #8
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Bill Anderson butchered her from the start. He already made assumpitions about Lucy before giving her a chance, he wanted to ridicule the queen of comedy. So sick.




Quote:
Originally Posted by LittleRickyII
That would have been a great lineup. And here's an irony about Who's the Boss? and that time slot. In the 1990-91 season, Who's the Boss? was ranked #19 in the ratings. Pretty solid. Then for the 1991-92 season, ABC moved Who's the Boss? to Life with Lucy's old time slot where, like every other show ABC put in that time slot, it dropped like a rock to 76th place. That time slot was obviously death row for any show on ABC.

Yes, I've seen that Joan Rivers interview you mention (it's on Youtube). When Lucy talked about the reviews making her cry, I'm sure this one by some Bill Anderson guy must have been one of the ones she was referring to, which was published a month-and-a-half before the debut of Life with Lucy. I can remember reading this at the time and was shocked anyone would write such a thing, much less publish it. This was before anyone had even seen the show. It was just downright cruel.

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id...pathetic&hl=en
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Old 04-24-2011, 10:26 AM   #9
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That Saturday at 8PM death slot killed a lot of long running shows over the years. Besides the shows already mentioned, 'The Donna Reed Show', 'Bewitched' and 'The Partridge Family' were also sent there to die. So who knows, by placing 'Life with Lucy' there, maybe they thought the show was already DOA.

If I were in charge of casting 'Life with Lucy' and could choose whoever I wanted, I would have cast Lucie Arnaz and John Ritter as Lucy's daughter and son-in-law.
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Old 04-24-2011, 10:43 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by old grouch
That Saturday at 8PM death slot killed a lot of long running shows over the years. Besides the shows already mentioned, 'The Donna Reed Show', 'Bewitched' and 'The Partridge Family' were also sent there to die. So who knows, by placing 'Life with Lucy' there, maybe they thought the show was already DOA.

If I were in charge of casting 'Life with Lucy' and could choose whoever I wanted, I would have cast Lucie Arnaz and John Ritter as Lucy's daughter and son-in-law.
All in the Family must have been the exception to the Saturday at 8:PM death rule!
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Old 04-24-2011, 11:15 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by markway895
All in the Family must have been the exception to the Saturday at 8:PM death rule!

Yes, I mentioned All in the Family in my original post at the top and explained my theory about why it succeeded at that time. Of course, that was also CBS. It was ABC that perennially failed to gain any traction in that Saturday night hour.


Quote:
Originally Posted by folbartman
Bill Anderson butchered her from the start. He already made assumpitions about Lucy before giving her a chance, he wanted to ridicule the queen of comedy. So sick.

Do you know who this Bill Anderson person is? I'm unfamiliar with him, other than the mean article he wrote about Lucille Ball. Maybe he's the real loser.


Quote:
Originally Posted by old grouch
If I were in charge of casting 'Life with Lucy' and could choose whoever I wanted, I would have cast Lucie Arnaz and John Ritter as Lucy's daughter and son-in-law.

I like that casting idea, but at the time Lucie Arnaz was trying hard to establish a unique career identity and would get annoyed when interviewers would start talking to her about her mother rather than her own career. As for John Ritter, he was fresh off of Three's Company and its successor, Three's a Crowd. I can't imagine him taking a supporting role in any show at that point. He was an A-list celebrity.
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Old 06-07-2011, 05:01 PM   #12
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Hello Everyone -

My newest post at my blog, Classic TV Corner (at Jack Myers' Mediabistro.com) is about Life With Lucy. And I was made aware of this topic here at the "I Love Lucy" forum, and I thought to post the link.

You will find that link below, along with a link to The Classic TV Preservation Society, for which I serve as Founder and Executive Director.

Many thanks,

Herbie J Pilato

http://www.mediabizbloggers.com/herb...-J-Pilato.html


www.classicTVPS.blogspot.com
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Old 07-13-2011, 12:43 AM   #13
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I believe Life with Lucy aired opposite The Golden Girls on Sat. nights in 1986. It got killed.
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Old 07-13-2011, 09:05 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by lucyandethel
I believe Life with Lucy aired opposite The Golden Girls on Sat. nights in 1986. It got killed.

No, it aired opposite The Facts of Life. They were both on at 8:00 PM. The Golden Girls wasn't on until 9:00. Check my post at the top. I give almost 20 years of ratings history for that 8:00 Saturday time slot on ABC. The ratings Life with Lucy got were NORMALfor ABC in that time slot. Everything failed for ABC, not just LWL.
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Old 07-14-2011, 02:59 AM   #15
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There's no way they would have put Lucy up against The Golden Girls in the same time slot. Betty White and Bea Arthur were personal friends of hers and I don't think Lucy would have stood for that.
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