Next Monday [note to editors: October 15] marks the fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of "I Love Lucy." Each night that week, TV Land will run "Lucy" minimarathons (fans of the Lucy-and-Ethel-work-at-the-candy-factory episode should know that it's scheduled for Tuesday).
How in the world can something so old still be so popular?
"Lucy" is one of the best sitcoms ever. Madelyn Davis and Bob Carroll Jr., both of whom had a hand in writing every episode, recently declared in an Electronic Media article that "some of the nicest compliments come from fans who tell us how, when they are blue, they look at old 'I Love Lucy' shows and it makes them laugh and forget their troubles."
Yes, "I Love Lucy" was that kind of show. But what made it such a hit in its day was its simple, lighthearted innocence. What makes it so attractive five decades later is its perfect juxtaposition with what has become standard "entertainment" on television.
Compare "Lucy" to NBC's new comedy "Inside Schwartz." The debut episode of "Schwartz" centered on a father paying for a prostitute to spend an evening with his young-adult son, Adam, who's in bad shape as a result of breaking up with his girlfriend, whose name is, yes, Eve. Viewers also are treated to jokes about erections and masturbation and, as a bonus, a parrot mimics Eve's cries during sex with her new boyfriend.
In the second installment, Eve asks Adam for the videotape they made of their sexual frolicking so that she can destroy it, but Adam doesn't know where it is. It turns out he mistakenly lent it to their friends David and Emily. This being unreal sitcom life, David and Emily watch the tape. Later, Adam says to them, "The only thing that could possibly even the score is for you two to have sex in front of us." David replies, "I think he's right." Ha-ha.
It wasn't just comedies. Fifty years ago you watched "Mystery Theater" and "The Adventures of Ellery Queen." Today on Lucy's old network, CBS, you get "Wolf Lake." It features violence of the most graphic sort, including occultism, wherein a man washes his hands in holy water, mumbles an incantation, and tries to fatally strangle a woman. And of course there's just got to be raunchy sex: In a phone-sex conversation, a man tells his female partner, "I'm wearing the black harness, the rawhide kilt."
How far removed are we from the innocence of "I Love Lucy"?
There's the weekly, syndicated "Cheaters," which I actually haven't seen, since no station in the Washington market airs it - yet - but press reports tell you all you need to know. On "Cheaters," private detectives with hidden cameras follow persons suspected of sexually straying. This trail work usually results in an on-camera confrontation between the cheater and the cheated-on, containing, in TV Guide writer Joe Rhodes' description, "screaming and lying and lots of bleeped-out words, while the 'Cheaters' security force - big, burly off-duty lawmen who often wear cowboy hats - makes sure no one gets [his] lights punched out."
Explaining to Rhodes the origin of "Cheaters," its creator, Bobby Goldstein, first charmingly noted, "I've told so many lies about this, I don't even know which one is the truth," then related that when he was cheating on his wife a few years back, he was "wondering if [she] was [having me followed], which she wasn't...But had she been, it would have made for a great display of what I call emotional tectonics. And [then it] hit me...What a great idea for a TV show!"
Were Goldstein a mere trash-peddler, he'd be merely obnoxious. But he's worse. He's obnoxious with pretensions, claiming that "Cheaters" strikes a blow for - ready? - traditional values. The show's Goldstein-coined slogan (I'm not making this up) is "Encouraging the renewal of temperance and virtue," and in a Court TV web chat, he stated, "There is no remedy for adultery in a relationship anymore...There used to be penalties for it, but [they've] all but been abolished...The marketplace requires and demands a new mousetrap, and 'Cheaters' provides one."
"Cheaters" host Tommy Grand commented to Rhodes that "Bobby is always saying, 'Take a bullet for the show; it'll be great for ratings.' I tell him, 'I know you're gonna set that up one day. There's going to be a sniper out there somewhere.'" Grand is joking, but it's indicative of the vileness of this program that such a joke can even be made.
It's the likes of "Cheaters," and so much other rot out there, that it makes us love, and appreciate, and miss, "I Love Lucy" more than ever.