The Quick 10: 10 Television Firsts

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Today marks the anniversary of the day Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky on national T.V. This may not be a big deal these days, but in 1953, the word "pregnant" wasn't even supposed to be uttered on the airwaves for fear of offending someone. Of course, as the saying goes, there's a first time for everything - and here are 10 of them.

lucy1. First birth. We'll start with Little Ricky's debut, of course. I Love Lucy was a national phenomenon, so when Lucille Ball became pregnant in real life, it was immediately written into the storyline and achieved the series' highest ratings ever. On January 19, 1953, Little Ricky appeared for the first time on the show - just 12 hours after the real-life Lucy gave birth via Caesarian section to Desi Arnaz, Jr. The episode received higher ratings than Eisenhower's inauguration the next day and Queen Elizabeth II's coronation six months later. Lucy never was referred to as "pregnant," though - merely "expecting."

2. First toilet. Sort of. Even though networks had decided to allow a television birth more than four years earlier, apparently a toilet on television was just still too risque. In a 1957 episode of Leave it to Beaver, Wally and the Beav ordered an alligator from the back of a comic book. They decided to keep it in the toilet tank because simply keeping it in the bathtub would surely scare the crap out of the next person to hop in the shower, who would then make the kids get rid of it. The problem? The network refused to allow the toilet to be shown on T.V. It was basically impossible to shoot the episode without showing the toilet - it was kind of the whole point of the plot - but eventually a compromise was reached. The toilet tank would be shown, but the bowl would remain a mystery.

3. First gay couple. You may not remember the show Hot l Baltimore - it's one-season run was hardly memorable. Based on an off-Broadway show by the same name, this Norman Lear production featured the first openly gay couple to appear on the small screen. It also featured a couple of main characters who were prostitutes. These elements, which were quite controversial in the early "˜70s, also makes the Hot l Baltimore...

4. ...the first program to require a "mature themes" warning at the beginning of the opening credits. Perhaps the public wasn't ready for such mature themes during primetime, because the show was canceled after just 13 episodes. In case you're curious, that's "Hotel Baltimore" not "Hot Eye Baltimore." The name indicated a neon hotel sign with a burnt-out letter.

5. First married couple to share a bed. This happened a lot sooner than most of us think - after years of seeing Rob and Laura Petrie retire to their respective single beds at the end of the night during the "˜60s it seems like we didn't actually see a real-life couple hit the hay together until several years later on The Munsters and Bewitched. However, the first couple to share a bed happened nearly 20 years before on the early sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny. In 1947, the married title couple hopped into the same bed in their New York apartment. Why the networks shied away from such normal married behavior for the next 20 years is a mystery to most of us - as far as we know, there was no public outcry against Mary Kay and Johnny for sharing the sheets... especially since the pair were married in real-life.

shatner6. First interracial kiss. Score one for the Shat - on November 22, 1968, William Shatner and Nichelle Nichols locked lips on Star Trek. Pathetically, some stations in the South refused to air the episode.
7. First uncensored usage of the word "shit." As far as we know, that occurred on the October 14, 1999 episode of Chicago Hope. Mark Harmon used it when he uttered the classic phrase "Shit happens."

8. First commercial. Commercials have been around since nearly the beginning.The first one appeared during a Dodgers and Phillies game on July 1, 1941 - it was a 10-second ad for Bulova watches. The first marketing company to use the brilliant idea of advertising toys on T.V. did so for Mr. Potato head in 1952.

9. First religious service. Likewise, religion on T.V. is hardly a new invention. The first-ever televised service took place on March 24, 1940, and showed the Protestant Easter Services on NBC in New York. An hour later, the Roman Catholic Easter Services aired on the same network.

10. First abortion. The first illegal abortion occurred on Another World in 1964, when a character's boyfriend talked her into aborting their baby. The character later killed her boyfriend. One of the most famous instances of abortion discussed on television, however, happened just two months before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. The controversial topic was approached by Maude in a two-part episode in 1972. When Bea Arthur's title character found herself pregnant at the age of 47, she and her husband decided against keeping the baby. Response was mixed, and many stations ended up dropping the show entirely.

What T.V. firsts do you remember?

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January 19, 2010 - 10:42am
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