October 15, 1951 – The first episode of I Love Lucy, an American television sitcom starring Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley, airs on the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
I Love Lucy was the most watched show in the United States in four of its six seasons, and was the first to end its run at the top of the Nielsen ratings (an accomplishment later matched only by The Andy Griffith Show in 1968 and Seinfeld in 1998). The show is still syndicated in dozens of languages across the world and remains popular with an American audience of 40 million each year.
Originally set in an apartment building in New York City, I Love Lucy centers on Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and her singer/bandleader husband Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz), along with their best friends and landlords Fred Mertz (William Frawley) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance). During the second season, Lucy and Ricky have a son named Ricky Ricardo, Jr. (“Little Ricky”), whose birth was timed to coincide with Ball’s real-life delivery of her son Desi Arnaz Jr.
Lucy is naïve and ambitious, with an undeserved zeal for stardom and a knack for getting herself and her husband into trouble whenever Lucy yearns to make it in show business. The Ricardos’ best friends, Fred and Ethel, are former vaudevillians and this only strengthens Lucy’s resolve to prove herself as a performer. Unfortunately, she has few marketable performance skills. She does not seem to be able to carry a tune or play anything other than off-key renditions of songs such as “Glow Worm” on the saxophone, and many of her performances devolve into disaster.
The show provided Ball ample opportunity to display her considerable skill at clowning and physical comedy. Character development was not a major focus of early sitcoms, so little was offered about her life before the show. Lucy’s husband, Ricky Ricardo, is an up-and-coming Cuban American singer and bandleader with an excitable personality. His patience is frequently tested by his wife’s antics. When exasperated, he often reverts to speaking rapidly in Spanish. As with Lucy, not much is revealed about his past or family.
I Love Lucy aired Mondays from 9 to 9:30 PM ET on CBS during its entire first run. Unlike most television shows, which often rerun after a brief hiatus, I Love Lucy has never stopped airing on television from the date of its initial broadcast. As of June 2012, it airs on TV Land, Hallmark Channel and Me-TV networks, and scores of television stations in the U.S. and around the world.
The U.S. Postal Service has adored Lucille Ball and her television sitcom as much as her fans, having printed 3 separate issues commemorating them: a 33-cent stamp in 1999, a 34-cent stamp in 2001 and a 44-cent stamp in 2009: