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Life With Lucy aired from September until November 1986 on ABC.
Probably One of the most widely anticipated new series-and most embarrassing flop- of the 1986 season was this ill-conceived comedy that marked the return of Lucille Ball to series television after 12 years.
In order for her to even consider doing the show, ABC had to pay Ms. Ball a huge salary, give her complete creative control, guarantee her a time slot on the fall schedule and it was to have no pilot testing before preview audiences... What ABC ended up with was a rehash of the Lucy shows of years prior - only this time, with a 75 year old star.
Lucy was cast as Lucy Barker, a free-spirited Grandmother whose husband Sam had died, leaving her half interest in M&B Hardware in South Pasadena, California. Lucy decided to move in and help run the place, but her idea of "help" (like arranging all the merchandise in alphabetical order!) was not appreciated by her late husband's partner, crabby old Curtis McGibbon (played by Ms Ball's longtime foil Gale Gordon, then 80 )
To complicate the situation, Lucy's daughter Margo ( Ann Dusenberry)was married to McGibbon's son Ted ( Larry Anderson), a law student. All of them, including Lucy's young grandchildren Becky and Kevin( Jenny Lewis, Philip J. Amelio ll), lived in the building together. With one bathroom. Leonard ( Donovan Scott), was an employee at the store.
There was plenty of slapstick comedy and sight gags and Lucy celebrity chasing as in days of old; Ms. Ball was in great shape for her age, but unfortunately the scripts were not... The series was cancelled after only two months never to be seen again.
A Review from The New York Times
TV REVIEWS; LUCILLE BALL RETURNS IN ABC COMEDY SERIES
By JOHN J. O'CONNOR
Published: September 22, 1986
TWO children are squealing happily that Grandma is coming. The door opens and, as the studio audience cheers warmly, Lucille Ball bursts in, lugging a large plant, its big green leaves smartly setting off the star's bright orange hair. Explaining that the plant is sick, she promptly screws her face into an impersonation of a dreaded spider mite.
Lucy's back. Thirty-five years ago, in 1951, she became a superstar in the classic comedy series ''I Love Lucy.'' In the 1960's, she was a businesswoman and mother of grown children in ''The Lucy Show.'' Now, in ''Life With Lucy,'' on ABC Saturdays at 8 P.M., she is playing what the network hopes will be ''a free-spirited grandmother who thinks life holds lots of excitment no matter what age you are.'' This past Saturday's premiere, not made available for advance reviewing, suggests that even Lucy's beloved wackiness has its limits.
The hitch, of course, is that age does, and should, make a difference. Young Lucy Ricardo was an inspired clown whose antics, from modified pratfalls to stomping on grapes in a wine vat, required extraordinary energy. Created and produced by Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll Jr., veteran collaborators with Ms. Ball, ''Life With Lucy'' tries to pretend that time has stood still. Lucy is given bits and routines that are clearly designed to trigger memories of past bits and routines. The results come uneasily close to the spectacle of a great entertainer, who doesn't have to prove anything, trying too hard to show that she can still be the life of the party.
The plot has a widowed Lucy moving in with her daughter, Margo (Ann Dusenberry), Margo's law-student husband, Ted (Larry Anderson), and their two children. Ted's father, Curtis, was the partner of Lucy's husband in a hardware business, and he now strongly resents having to work with the widow. Worse, not wanting his grandchildren under her influence, he, too, decides to move in with the family, making this still another multigenerational television unit. Carefully buttressing remembrances of things past, blustery Curtis is played by Gale Gordon, Ms. Ball's devoted foil during the decade of ''The Lucy Show.''
At the hardware store, the stars are given opportunities for some physical comedy. However, when Lucy rides a rolling store ladder into Curtis's nose, viewers are more likely to wince than giggle. When the person slipping on a banana peel turns out to be elderly, the threat of a truly serious injury overwhelms the joke. The premiere, directed by Peter Baldwin, also featured a mishap with an ''industrial-sized fire extinguisher'' that left the performers awash in a sea of foam. The effort was misspent, especially as the cameras didn't even bother to disguise the fact that another offstage machine was supplying the suds.
''Life With Lucy'' is almost frantically determined to demonstrate that the old gags and routines still work best. Unfortunately, despite the familiar faces, they worked better the first time around. It is time for fresh ideas that can take advantage of different but still formidable talents.
An Article from The LA Times
You Can't Go Home Again, Lucy
October 03, 1986|HOWARD ROSENBERG
Getting that deja vu feeling again? Seeing double? Hearing echoes?
No wonder. What you see on TV is what you got.
It's bad enough that TV's pirates far outnumber its creators, that rip-offs are as much a part of the business as ratings. It's bad enough that hot characters and formats are cloned in duplicate and triplicate, with touch-ups to mask the copying. On ABC these days, Lucille Ball is even cloning herself.
Now something even mustier is occurring.
More and more, producers are reaching deep into TV's archives and resorting to remakes of old--and mostly crummy--series to feed a growing appetite for first-run off-network programming. Nostalgia is blowing across TV in large, stale gusts.
Sterile and squeaky clean, "The New Gidget" premiered this season in syndication. And WTBS cable has inherited from the Disney Channel a newer version of "The New Leave It to Beaver," a feeble attempt to retool a TV classic.
"The New Monkees" is on the way, too. And being discussed are possible remakes of "Lassie" (maybe this time Lassie will be a Chihuahua), "My Favorite Martian" and the snotty "Dennis the Menace," which was an insult to Hank Ketchum's comic strip.
Proving that you needn't have lived long to get reborn in first-run syndication, meanwhile, are current revivals of these short-term, relatively recent network series: "Mama's Family," "9 to 5," "It's a Living" and "What's Happening!" whose updated title is "What's Happening Now!" Still nothing, unfortunately.
Why TV's nostalgia upsurge, mirrored also in movie versions of such famed series as "Perry Mason," "Mayberry RFD," "Gilligan's Island" and "I Dream of Jeannie"?
For one thing, the industry encourages safety and familiarity, not new vistas.
For another, cable and independent stations are increasingly demanding first-run programs, and remaking old series is easier than originating new ones. It's the industry's equivalent of painting by the numbers and a fair measure (as if you needed another one) of TV's creative doldrums.
And finally, there seems to be a desire by many Americans to flee the threatening present and embrace the past and its so-called traditional values.
Our memories are selective, so we recall only the good times and ignore the pain. In TV terms, that means thinking of "Gidget," which mercifully lasted only the 1965-66 season on ABC, and recalling surfers and and innocence, not Vietnam. It means watching reruns of "I Love Lucy" from the 1950s and seeing slapsticking, not the malicious blacklisting and Red tainting that briefly victimized even Lucille Ball herself.
For most, though, traveling backward is a journey to be avoided.
Ball should be learning that in her return to series TV as a zany, flighty grandmother on her new "Life With Lucy" sitcom (at 8 p.m. Saturdays on ABC) that has settled near the bottom of the Nielsen ratings.
She is her own nostalgia wave, straddling TV's past as the heroine of the fabled "I Love Lucy" and also its present, because that comedy is still the world's most internationally syndicated series, giving Ball such an enormous following that she may possess the globe's most familiar face.
Ball had TV afterlives, yet none as successful as "I Love Lucy," which ran on CBS from Oct. 15, 1951, to only June 24, 1957.
That's right, less than six years. "Laverne and Shirley" lasted longer. So did "The Jeffersons," "Diff'rent Strokes," "Green Acres" and "Hogan's Heroes."
"I Love Lucy" was a first-run series almost four years less than "The Beverly Hillbillies" and only slightly longer than "Mr. Ed."
Although five years and eight months are a lucrative run for any series, "I Love Lucy" is such a revered and re-run classic that you'd think it had lasted a decade.
So you wonder why Lucille Ball in her mid-70s would agree to do a series for ABC (she couldn't need money or fame) that would have her competing with Lucille Ball of the 1950s. It's a match she was bound to lose.
The appealing thing about "Life With Lucy" is that it depicts an older woman as eager, energetic and sexual. Lucy Barker--her name for this series--is ABC's Golden Girl.
The positive count stops there, however.
A co-production by Ball and nostalgia-nick Aaron Spelling, "Life With Lucy" mistakenly replants Ball in the same comedic turf she occupied as the disaster-prone wife of Ricky Ricardo and neighbor of Fred and Ethel Mertz.
She should have known. You can't go back.
"I Love Lucy" writers Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Davis have returned for this series. Oh, Ball doesn't play quite as broadly as she did, and the character is externally changed. Beneath all that, however, pounds the heart of Lucy Ricardo.
This time Ball is a widow who has joined her daughter and son-in-law and their young children living in a house also occupied by Curtis McGibbon, who is played by Gale Gordon, Ball's second banana on "The Lucy Show" and "Here's Lucy." Curtis is the pompous, argumentative father of Lucy's son-in-law and was also the business partner of her late husband.
The ever-clashing Lucy and Curtis now operate a hardware store together. A hardware store: lots of places to fall, lots of items to drop.
Lucy does stupid things and then forgets the things she does. And is this woman zany or what? On the premiere, she drove Curtis up a wall by alphabetizing the store's inventory, then she accidentally shredded his tie in a pasta maker. Ba-ba-lu!
On the second show, abetted by that master of physical comedy John Ritter portraying himself, Lucy Barker was starstruck--wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment--the way Lucy Ricardo was when movie stars visited "I Love Lucy."
Ritter came into the store to make a purchase and left nearly crippled after being accidentally hammered on the foot by Lucy--twice. Later, she accidentally smeared food across his face and nearly choked him by ramming a carrot down his throat before filling in for his leading lady in a play.
Memo to Lucy: It just doesn't work anymore.
Like the first half hour, this one huffed and puffed, but was rarely funny. People don't automatically run out of talent once they start drawing Social Security (Ball has obviously retained her gifts), so the answer lies in changing the character, not only the environment.
On Saturday night's third episode, Lucy dates an old flame played by Peter Graves, who takes her to an unfinished house he's building where they dance romantically before falling through the floor.
You half expect Ricky, Fred and Ethel to appear. But, of course, that's the other show.
An Article from The Chicago Tribune published at the time of Lucy's Death
We Loved Lucy, But Not Always
May 01, 1989|By Bob Greene.
The emotional outpouring that followed the death of Lucille Ball last week was undoubtedly heartfelt. But the press-and the public-should admit that there was an uncomfortable measure of hypocrisy in their collective cry of
``We Loved Lucy.``
You don`t have to go back too many years to understand this. In 1986, at the age of 75, Lucille Ball returned to television with a weekly series called ``Life With Lucy.`` It was well known in the entertainment industry that Ball loved to work-that few things made her happier. People who met her were always telling her that TV just wasn`t the same without Lucy.
So she came back. And why not? The reruns of the original ``I Love Lucy`` show had been airing for 30 years. America adored her. It would be a triumphant return.
In the obituaries last week, the ``Life With Lucy`` show was mentioned briefly, if at all. No wonder. Yes, we all ``loved Lucy``-the Lucy of memory. Here, though, is a sampling of what America`s newspapers had to say in 1986 about ``Life With Lucy.``
- The Washington Post-An ``embarrassment.``
- The Associated Press-``Embarrassingly silly . . . sad. . . . How could she do this to herself? . . . (Lucy is) a parody of herself.``
- The Chicago Tribune-``How bad is `Life With Lucy`? . . . So awful that the producers should be hauled in front of the World Court. That bad.``
- The Los Angeles Times-``Memo to Lucy: It just doesn`t work anymore.``
- The Charlotte Observer-``Ball`s program is a wheezing, creaking evocation of a style of television comedy that has long since gone out of style. . . . (A convincing argument can be made that) Lucille Ball doesn`t belong on television anymore.``,
- The Dallas Morning News-``Dead meat.``
- The Richmond Times-Dispatch-``Dumb.``
The reviews go on and on. And the viewing public was no kinder to Lucy than were the critics. ``Life With Lucy`` consistently ranked among the five least-watched shows on network television.
It has often been said that every minute of the day, somewhere in the world, someone is watching ``I Love Lucy.`` That`s a nice thought-38 years after the first episode, the show is still a hit.
But when ``Life With Lucy`` got off to its unsteady start in 1986, do you know how long the network bosses waited before pulling the plug on the show?
That`s right-the most honored woman in the history of television was given nine weeks to prove herself again. When she couldn`t do it, she was yanked off the air.
What`s the lesson here? Certainly it is not that writers have an obligation to give a pass to a performer based on the performer`s previous record. Critics are in the business of rendering judgment, no matter how harsh, and no one is supposed to be accorded special favor.
Is the lesson that viewers have an obligation to watch something they don`t really like? Obviously not; the world doesn`t work that way.
Should networks keep airing shows that draw scant ratings? Dream on.
No, the lesson here-and it is a melancholy one-is that America did, indeed, love Lucy. But the Lucy that America loved was the Lucy preserved on black-and-white film-the Lucy who performed from 1951 to 1957, during the original run of ``I Love Lucy.``
Most people never met Lucille Ball. To them, she was an image on their television screens-an image that was forever fresh and forever young. It mattered little that the real Lucille Ball was a human being-a woman in her 70s who longed to work and to make people happy. That is the one thing she desired. At the age of 75, she tried-she auditioned, as it were. We all turned her down.
When that happened, one of her friends said that she had failed because
``People wanted to see the Lucy they knew.`` Lucille Ball-the human being, not the electronic image-was no longer that woman. She couldn`t help it.
We loved Lucy, all right. We just had no time for Lucille.
To read some more articles about Life with Lucy go to http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=uXQdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=u2IEAAAAIBAJ&dq=life%20with%20lucy&pg=5149%2C4186108 and http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=Og1XAAAAIBAJ&sjid=Ye8DAAAAIBAJ&dq=life%20with%20lucy&pg=5984%2C2530728 and http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=YrJdAAAAIBAJ&sjid=wl0NAAAAIBAJ&dq=life%20with%20lucy&pg=818%2C953133 and http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=GBNQAAAAIBAJ&sjid=RwgEAAAAIBAJ&dq=life%20with%20lucy&pg=5395%2C4558205 and http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=_1JeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=C2ENAAAAIBAJ&dq=life%20with%20lucy&pg=6682%2C2890725 and http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=rs8yAAAAIBAJ&sjid=laYEAAAAIBAJ&dq=life%20with%20lucy&pg=1242%2C5721804
To watch some clips from Life with Lucy go to http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=life+with+lucy+episodes&aq=f
For a Page dedicated to Life with Lucy go to http://nostalgiacentral.com/television/tv-by-decade/tv-shows-1980s/life-lucy/
For The Lucy Lounge go to http://www.lucylounge.com/
For The Gale Gordon Archive go to http://www.gale-gordon.com/
For more on Lucille Ball go to http://www.museum.tv/eotv/balllucille.htm
For an article on Life With Lucy 25 years later go to https://www.mediavillage.com/article/life-with-lucy-25-years-later-this-show-and-its-star-lucille-ball-deserved-more-respect-herbie-j-pilato/
For some Life with Lucy-related interview videos at the Archive of American Television go to https://interviews.televisionacademy.com/shows/life-lucy
For another review of Life With Lucy go to https://web.archive.org/web/20071013034905/http://www.teletronic.co.uk/lifewithlucy.htm
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Keywords: Life with Lucy Cast (Links Updated 7/19/18)