Feminism in "The Lucy Show"

Finding the Feminism in 1960s Sitcoms

Desi Arnaz kissing Lucille Ball on the cheek

CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images

Sitcom Title: The Lucy Show

Years Aired: 1962–1968

Stars: Lucille Ball, Vivian Vance, Gale Gordon, Mary Jane Croft, many celebrities who guest-starred as themselves

Feminist focus? Women, particularly Lucille Ball, can tell a complete story without husbands.

The feminism in The Lucy Show comes from the fact that it was a sitcom focused on a woman, and that woman didn't always act in ways considered "ladylike." Lucille Ball played a widow, Lucy Carmichael, and Vivian Vance, for part of the show’s run, played her divorced best friend, Vivian Bagley. Notably, the main characters were women without husbands. Sure, the male characters included a banker in charge of Lucy’s trust fund and a recurring-role boyfriend, but shows that revolved around a woman without a husband were not common before The Lucy Show.

Who Loves Lucy This Time?

Lucille Ball was already a famous, extremely talented actress and comedian when The Lucy Show began. During the 1950s she had starred with then-husband Desi Arnaz on I Love Lucy, one of the most popular TV shows of all time, where she and Vivian Vance engaged in countless antics as Lucy and Ethel. In the 1960s, the comic duo reunited on The Lucy Show as Lucy and Vivian. Vivian was the first long-running divorced woman on primetime television.

The original title of the series was to be The Lucille Ball Show, but that was rejected by CBS. Vivian Vance insisted that her character name be Vivian, tried of being called Ethel from her time with I Love Lucy.

Not a World Without Men

Finding a little feminism in The Lucy Show does not mean there were no men. Lucy and Vivian did interact with plenty of male characters, including men they dated. However, the 1960s were an interesting time in TV history—a decade that saw inventive plot lines, experimentation outside the nuclear family model and the shift from black and white to color TV, among other developments. Here was Lucille Ball, proving again that a woman could carry a show. Gone were the I Love Lucy plots that so often revolved around tricking or hiding something from the husbands.

Successful Women

The Lucy Show was a top-ten ratings success as the women brought laughs to millions. Years later, Lucille Ball was asked why newer sitcoms weren’t as good as her classic sitcoms, despite a wider range of material. Lucille Ball answered that they were "trying to make comedy out of reality—and who would want to listen to that?”

While she may have rejected abortion and social unrest as sitcom material, Lucille Ball in many ways IS the feminism of The Lucy Show. She was a powerful woman in Hollywood who could do anything she wanted, for years, and who responded to the women’s liberation movement with a voice and viewpoint that were unique, decidedly brave and already liberated.

Production Company and Series Evolution

Desi Arnaz, Lucille Ball's husband until 1960, ran Desilu Productions until 1963 when Ball bought his shares and became the first female CEO of any major television production corporation. 

Arnaz, despite the divorce, was instrumental in talking the networks into taking on the new show. Arnaz was the executive producer of fifteen of the first thirty episodes.

In 1963, Arnaz resigned as head of Desilu Productions. Lucille Ball became President of the company, and Arnaz was also replaced as executive producer of The Lucy Show.  The show was filmed the next season in color rather than black and white, though it was broadcast in black and white until 1965. Cast changes introduced Gale Gordon and lost several male characters. (Gale Gordon had appeared on radio with Lucille Ball in a show My Favorite Husband that evolved into I Love Lucy, and had been offered the role on I Love Lucy of Fred Mertz.)

In 1965, differences over pay, commuting, and creative control led to a split between Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance, and Vance left the series. She appeared at the end of the run for some guest appearances.

By 1966, the children of Lucy Carmichael, her trust fund, and much of the previous history of the show had disappeared, and she played the part as a Los Angeles based single woman. When Vivian returned as a married woman for a few guest appearances, their children were not mentioned.

Lucille Ball founded Lucille Ball Productions in 1967, during the life of The Lucy Show.  Her new husband, Gary Morton, was executive producer of The Lucy Show from 1967 on.

Even the sixth season of the show was very popular, ranked #2 in the Nielsen ratings.

She ended the series after the sixth season, and began a new show, Here's Lucy, with her children Lucie Arnaz and Desi Arnaz, Jr., playing key roles.

Pregnancy on Television

Lucille Ball, in her original series I Love Lucy (1951–1957) with her husband Desi Arnaz, had broken ground when, against the advice of the television network and ad agencies, her real-life pregnancy was integrated into the show. For the seven episodes with her pregnant, the censorship code of the time forbid the use of the term "pregnant" and instead permitted "expecting" (or, in Desi's Cuban accent, "spectin").

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Napikoski, Linda. "Feminism in "The Lucy Show"." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-lucy-show-3529016. Napikoski, Linda. (2020, August 25). Feminism in "The Lucy Show". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/the-lucy-show-3529016 Napikoski, Linda. "Feminism in "The Lucy Show"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/the-lucy-show-3529016 (accessed September 23, 2021).