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12 Unaired Pilots of Popular TV Shows

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Typically, the introduction to a new television series comes via its pilot episode. But the first episode that audiences see isn't necessarily the first episode that was made. Whether it was a case of networks tweaking the content, showrunners changing the cast, or something else entirely, here are 12 pilots that never made it to air.

1. Sherlock

In 2009, TV producers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat produced a 55-minute pilot of a modern-day version of Sherlock Holmes to gauge the interest level in a new TV series starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular detective and Martin Freeman as his assistant, Doctor John Watson. The BBC loved it, but wanted to expand the pilot to 90 minutes, with plans to air three 90-minute episodes in 2010. The writers expanded the script and the crew and stars re-shot the action, but most of the unaired pilot's dialogue was retained in Sherlock's first official episode, "A Study in Pink," a loose adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. The unaired pilot is a bonus feature on the Sherlock Season One DVD set.

2. Gilligan's Island

Between 1964 and 1981, Gilligan's Island aired 98 episodes over three seasons plus countless made-for-TV movies and spinoffs—but its original TV pilot was never shown on broadcast television. The show's creator, Sherwood Schwartz, made the pilot episode, "Marooned," to sell CBS on a new sitcom. Network executives loved Gilligan's Island, but wanted different actors in some of the key roles.

Russell Johnson (The Professor), Tina Louise (Ginger), and Dawn Wells (Mary Ann) weren't featured in the pilot episode; instead, John Gabriel played a high school teacher; Kit Smythe and Nancy McCarthy—who played Ginger and Bunny, respectively—were secretaries, not a movie star and/or farm girl. Bob Denver, Alan Hale Jr., Jim Backus, and Natalie Schafer still appeared in the original pilot episode as Gilligan, The Skipper, and Thurston and Lovey Howell. Elements of the original TV pilot were used as flashback sequences in Gilligan's Island's first episode, "Two on a Raft," which aired on CBS on September 26, 1964.

Another notable difference between the pilot and the first official episode was its theme song, which wasn't the memorable "The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle." Instead, Star Wars film composer John Williams wrote a Calypso-style song that was used to tell the story of how the tourists were shipwrecked on a deserted island.

"Marooned" is a bonus feature on the Gilligan's Island Season One DVD set.

3. Game of Thrones

In 2009, two years before it premiered on HBO, TV producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss acquired the TV rights to George R.R. Martin's Game of Thrones book series. Benioff and Weiss worked with director Tom McCarthy to make a pilot episode for HBO, which the premium cable network never aired because Benioff and Weiss felt that it was disjointed. Benioff and Weiss ditched McCarthy and hired TV veteran Timothy Van Patten to direct another pilot for HBO.

"I just didn’t feel connected to it," McCarthy told The A.V. Club in 2011. "It felt like more of it was [Van Patten's] than mine in terms of what you see on the screen now, and I think if you would talk to [Benioff and Weiss], they would say I was helpful in a lot of the process, but it certainly doesn’t feel like mine."

Benioff and Weiss re-wrote the script and re-cast a few of the key roles, including Catelyn Stark and Daenerys Targaryen. Originally, Jennifer Ehle and Tamzin Merchant played Catelyn and Daenerys before Michelle Fairley and Emilia Clarke were re-cast in the roles, respectively. The revamped Game of Thrones pilot, which reportedly cost between $5 and $10 million to produce, aired on HBO in 2011.   

4. The Big Bang Theory

CBS passed on the original pilot for The Big Bang Theory, but liked the idea enough to order another version of the pilot from producers Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady. The pair kept the sitcom's main concept, but tweaked its characters and changed its cast.

Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons still played Leonard and Sheldon, respectively, but producers ditched the two female leads: Gilda, a scientist colleague played by Iris Bahr, and Katie, "a street-hardened, tough-as-nails woman with a vulnerable interior," played by Amanda Walsh. Instead, a new character named Penny—Sheldon and Leonard's neighbor, played by Kaley Cuoco—was added. The original unaired pilot was also darker in tone, with Sheldon being more libidinous than how he's portrayed on the TV show now.

Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" was originally used as The Big Bang Theory's theme song, until it was replaced by one from Barenaked Ladies.

5. The Munsters

TV producers Allan Burns and Chris Hayward made a 14-minute pilot episode of The Munsters to pitch CBS on a new family sitcom. The network liked the pilot, but wanted to re-cast some of its actors before the series went to air. Yvonne De Carlo replaced Joan Marshall as the Munsters' matriarch (whose name is Phoebe in the original pilot, but changed to Lily when it was reworked). Network executives felt that her character looked too much like Morticia Addams from NBC's The Addams Family, the TV show CBS was trying to ape with The Munsters. Butch Patrick replaced actor Nate "Happy" Derman as Eddie Munster.

The Munsters' unaired TV pilot featured a different opening credit sequence and theme song, which was bouncier than the cool surf rock theme that stuck. And unlike the rest of the series, it was in color, which CBS ultimately felt was too garish and gaudy. The pilot never aired, but the footage was repurposed and ran as "My Fair Munster," the second episode of the first season. 

6. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

In 1996, 20th Century Fox and Joss Whedon produced a TV pilot for an adaptation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which Fox used to pitch networks on the new teen drama; the show ended up on The WB, bringing a lot of attention to the new network and quickly becoming its highest rated TV show. But before that happened, some changes had to be made: The logo was different; the name of the school changed from Berryman to Sunnydale; and the sets got a significant upgrade. But most notably, Riff Regan, who was originally cast to play Willow Rosenberg, was replaced by Alyson Hannigan. Stephen Tobolowsky played Principal Flutie in the pilot episode, too (he was replaced by Ken Lerner). The first official episode, "Welcome to the Hellmouth," aired on March 10, 1997. 

7. All in the Family

In 1968, TV writer and producer Norman Lear acquired the remake rights to the British sitcom Till Death Us Do Part with the hope of adapting it for American audiences. Originally, Lear titled the series Justice For All. It starred Carroll O'Connor and Jean Stapleton as Archie and Edith Justice (not Bunker), while Kelly Jean Peters and Tim McIntire played Gloria and Richard, her husband. ABC passed on Justice For All, but liked the premise enough to order a second pilot from Lear.

The following year, Lear re-tooled Justice For All with a new pilot called Those Were the Days. He kept O'Connor and Stapleton as Archie and Edith Justice, while Candice Azzara and Chip Oliver played Gloria and her husband, now named Dickie. ABC passed on the sitcom again and never aired either pilot.

Lear took the pilot for Those Were the Days to CBS, who had expressed interest in developing Till Death Us Do Part before Lear acquired the rights. The network loved it and immediately ordered 13 episodes. O'Connor and Stapleton stayed on as Archie and Edith (now) Bunker, while Sally Struthers and Rob Reiner were cast to play Gloria and Michael (a.k.a. Meathead) Stivic. Lear also changed its title again, to All in the Family, before CBS aired the first episode titled "Meet The Bunkers" on January 12, 1971.   

8. Family Guy

In 1998, Seth MacFarlane created a seven-minute pilot to pitch Fox on his new animated comedy. While the animation was crude, Fox loved the pilot and ordered Family Guy for the following year's fall TV schedule. A number of the pilot's jokes and story elements were recycled for the first official episode "Death Has a Shadow." Lacey Chabert voiced Meg Griffin throughout the show's first season, but was eventually replaced with Mila Kunis for contractual reasons.

9. Desperate Housewives

The original TV pilot of Desperate Housewives never aired because ABC was unhappy with the primetime soap opera's cast. Originally, Sheryl Lee played the role of Mary Alice Young, the TV show's deceased narrator. But producers decided to replace Lee with Brenda Strong. If Lee had remained on Desperate Housewives, it would've been the second time she played a dead character on a popular TV series on ABC, as she is perhaps best known for playing Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks.

Additionally, Michael Reilly Burke originally played the character of Rex Van De Camp, while Kyle Searles played John Rowland. Steven Culp and Jesse Metcalfe were re-cast in the roles, respectively.

10. Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar: The Last Airbender creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko made a short concept pilot as a way to pitch the animated series to Nickelodeon. DiMartino and Konietzko worked with Korean animation studio Tin House to make the pilot episode in 2003. While the animation was crude, the pilot included several elements that would become staples of the series, including its mythology, character design, music, and a few of its voice actors.

Dante Basco, Jack DeSena, and Mae Whitman appeared in the pilot, but her character's name was Kya instead Katara. Voice actor Mitchel Musso played Aang instead of Zach Tyler Eisen, who voiced the young Avatar in the animated series. Nickelodeon picked up Avatar: The Last Airbender for a three-season run in 2005.

11. 30 Rock

NBC wanted to re-tool the TV pilot for 30 Rock before ordering the comedy to series. Network executives didn't like Rachel Dratch in the role of Jenna DeCarlo, so 30 Rock's creator Tina Fey and producer Lorne Michaels re-cast the role with Jane Krakowski, whose name was changed to Jenna Maroney. Fey and Michaels re-shot the pilot and NBC ordered more episodes of 30 Rock for the 2006 fall TV season. Dratch appeared in the new pilot, as cat wrangler Greta Johanssen, and continued to portray different characters throughout 30 Rock's seven-season run.

12. Star Trek

Gene Roddenberry made a pilot for Star Trek titled "The Cage" in 1965, but NBC passed on it. Network executives believed that Star Trek's pilot episode was "too slow" and "too intellectual [with] not enough action." "The Cage" was produced by Desilu, whose owner, Lucille Ball, urged NBC to order another TV pilot because she believed in Roddenberry and Star Trek. A second pilot, called "Where No Man Has Gone Before," was made, and NBC ordered Star Trek to series.

While a new version and structure of "Where No Man Has Gone Before" aired in September 1966, "The Cage" and the original version of the second TV pilot remained unaired. "The Cage" also featured different characters and cast, most notably Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) instead of Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner). In fact, the only character that appeared in both pilot episodes was Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy). Actor Majel Barrett also appeared in the original pilot episode, but her role on Star Trek was downgraded from series regular to recurring. Footage from "The Cage" was re-purposed and used in the two-part episode "The Menagerie" during season one. 

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Check Out These 10 Fun Facts About Supermarket Sweep
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Lifetime Television

Thanks to a recent deleted SNL scene in which host Melissa McCarthy lost her mind on a segment of Supermarket Sweep, we started reminiscing about the heart-pumping, family-friendly game show back in early 2016. Back in the day, you couldn’t watch the show—which debuted in 1965—without fantasizing about reenacting it at your local grocery store. On it, pairs of contestants would race through supermarket aisles, attempting to pack their carts full of the most valuable items, in between quiz-style segments. Revivals of the series stopped filming in 2003, but there's good news for fans who can't let the dream of appearing on the game show die: Deadline reports that it's about to make a television comeback. Relive the high of Supermarket Sweep with these fun facts about the game show.

1. THE MEAT WAS FAKE.

In a special for Great Big Story, former host David Ruprecht confirmed, “All the meat was fake.” Former contestant Mike Futia reaffirmed the fact to The A.V. Club saying, “Everything that was meat, cheese—all that was fake because they’d get the meat juices on their sweaters. And that’s not telegenic, so they wanted to get rid of that.”

2. A LOT OF THE FOOD WAS EXPIRED.

“We shot for about five months every year and they used the same food over and over again,” Ruprecht admitted to Great Big Story. “A lot of the food, having been thrown in and out of the carts for three, four months had gotten pretty beaten up.”

3. WINNERS DIDN’T GET TO KEEP THE FOOD.

Given what Ruprecht said above, contestants were probably thankful that they didn’t get to keep the food. And according to Great Big Story, they didn’t get to keep their sweatshirts either. “They got $5000 but they didn’t get their sweatshirts,” said Ruprecht.

4. BEAUTY PRODUCTS COULD WIN YOU THE GAME.

Pro tip: Heading for the beauty aisle instead of the meat freezer could very well have won you the game. “Those who [used this strategy] won,” Ruprecht told Great Big Story. “Instead of five hams and five turkeys that load up your cart, you ... get five hair colorings ... get five of all these expensive health and beauty products. With one cart, you could beat everybody.”

5. FOR CONTESTANTS, PERSONALITY WAS KEY.

Supermarket Sweep was a TV show, after all, and vibrant personalities have always made for good television. “When we were going through the process, they put you in a room with a few other people and ask you sample questions,” former contestant Mike Futia recalled to The A.V. Club. “And you could sense it was because they wanted to see if you were slouching and things like that ... I felt pretty confident that we’d get the callback to have a taping.”

6. WINNING DURING THE TAPING DIDN’T GUARANTEE YOU’D ACTUALLY COLLECT YOUR WINNINGS.

“It was a syndicated show,” Mike Futia explained to The A.V. Club, “so they taped all the episodes, and you didn’t even know if you were going to get the money if you won unless it aired, which could be six months later, because they then had to sell it.” On the bright side: Even if you didn’t collect, at least you could always say you played Supermarket Sweep.

7. SHOOTING DAYS LASTED 12 TO 14 HOURS.

Most of that time consisted of waiting around. “We literally got in a room when we got called back for the actual taping, and they said, ‘Be prepared to be here. It could be a 12- to 14-hour day because there are three pairs of people on each show,’” Futia explained to The A.V. Club. “That day, I want to say they were taping something like eight shows. So you had 48 people just in a room, and the first thing they tape is your introduction where you run down to the camera and everybody gets introduced to [host] David Ruprecht ... Then they call you back and you tape the first segment.”

8. CONTESTANTS WORE DICKEYS.

Talk about dated fashion: “By winning, we didn’t get to keep the sweaters because we got paid,” Futia recalled to The A.V. Club. “But if you lost, your consolation prize was that you got to keep the sweater—but you didn’t get to keep the dickey.”

9. CONTESTANTS GOT TO MAP OUT THEIR ROUTES.

To prevent contestants from looking like chickens running around with their heads cut off, the show allowed them some time to strategize. “When you’re taping the show before the …  Supermarket Sweep round, you get about 10 minutes or so to walk around the supermarket so you can see the prices,” Futia told The A.V. Club. “Everything has a price on it, so ... you map out what you’re going to do. And it’s the weirdest things that were expensive, like hoses.”

10. THE “SUPERMARKET” WAS REALLY, REALLY SMALL.

“A little bit bigger than a bodega in the city” was how Futia described the supermarket set that was built for the 1990s revival of the series. “It’s very tiny. It looks huge, but it’s small. Even in the aisles, you had to be careful if you and your cameraman were running and another group was coming down that aisle. You had to make sure you were all the way to the side or there could have been an accident.”

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20 Things You Might Not Have Known About I Love Lucy
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When I Love Lucy premiered on October 15, 1951, no one could have predicted that it would become one of television’s most beloved and enduring programs of all time. But a combination of innovative filming techniques, the dogged perfectionism of star Lucille Ball, top-notch writing, the “can do” attitude of the production staff, and the business savvy of Desi Arnaz, I Love Lucy topped the Nielsen ratings for four out of its six seasons and picked up a handful of Emmys along the way. And even though the show’s main stars couldn’t stay married to one another (Lucy and Desi divorced in 1960, after 20 years of marriage), they remained the best of friends. As Desi would proclaim until his dying day, “I Love Lucy was never just a title.”

1. CBS DIDN’T THINK AMERICANS WOULD BUY THAT LUCY WAS MARRIED TO A “FOREIGN” MAN.

When CBS approached Lucille Ball with the offer of turning her popular radio show My Favorite Husband into a television show, she was agreeable with one condition: that her real-life husband, Desi Arnaz, would be cast in the role of her spouse (played on the radio by Richard Denning). The network balked—there was no way that American viewers would accept average housewife Liz Cooper (her character’s name on the radio series) being married to a “foreign” man with an indecipherable accent. Never mind the fact that Lucy and Desi had been married more than a decade; such a “mixed” marriage was unbelievable.

2. LUCY AND DESI HAD TO TAKE THEIR SHOW ON THE ROAD TO CONVINCE THE NETWORK BRASS.

Arnaz had a successful career touring the country with his rhumba band, which was one of the reasons Lucille wanted him to get cast as her TV husband—to keep him off the road and close to home. In an effort to show the network (and potential sponsors) that they could work together as a comedy team, they crafted a sort of vaudevillian skit that was inserted into the middle of performances by the Desi Arnaz Orchestra during a tour in the summer of 1950. The audiences roared over Lucille’s antics and her interaction with Desi as she interrupted his band’s concert confusedly, cello in hand, thinking she had an audition scheduled. The “Professor” skit not only convinced the network powers that be that the couple could, in fact, be convincing as husband and wife—it also was such a hit that it was incorporated into episode six of I Love Lucy’s first season.

3. THE SHOW BROKE GROUND IN SEVERAL WAYS, SIMPLY BECAUSE THE ARNAZES WOULDN’T MOVE TO NEW YORK.

Lucille and Desi wanted to work in Los Angeles, near their home and their new baby daughter Lucie. But in 1951 the majority of television shows were broadcast from New York, and that’s where sponsor Philip Morris wanted their show to originate as well. In those days the U.S. wasn’t wired for television from coast-to-coast; shows broadcast live could only be transmitted so far. As a result, such shows were preserved on kinescopes (a movie camera aimed at a TV monitor that recorded the show in negligible quality) and shipped to distant stations.

Philip Morris objected to I Love Lucy being performed in California and the kinescopes sent to New York; their biggest cigarette market was up and down the east coast and they wanted the best TV picture quality for that area. Desi Arnaz suggested that the show be filmed with three cameras, like a stage play, which would provide the same quality picture for every market. But multi-cameras had never been used on a situation comedy before, and there were many obstacles involved, not the least of which was accommodating a live studio audience (Desi knew that Lucille worked best when she got immediate audience feedback).

Desi hired legendary cinematographer Karl Freund to help solve the dilemma, and along with writer-producer Jess Oppenheimer and director Marc Daniels, they built a set, and the necessary filming equipment was strategically placed. CBS balked at the additional expense involved in this undertaking, so Arnaz struck a deal: he and Lucille would take a large cut in their salaries and their company, Desilu Productions, would retain ownership of the films in exchange. The enduring high quality of the 35 millimeter film was part of the reason that I Love Lucy became so popular in rerun syndication, and Desilu’s 100 percent ownership of the series made Lucille and Desi the first millionaire TV stars.

4. ONLY LUCY WAS ALLOWED TO MAKE FUN OF RICKY’S FRACTURED ENGLISH.

After a few episodes were filmed, it became an unwritten rule that only Lucy would ever poke fun at her husband’s pronunciation problems. The writers had allowed other characters to make remarks, but in each case the “joke” was met with stony silence from the studio audience. For some reason, it seemed cruel when anyone other than Lucy “mucked” Ricky’s English.

5. SMOKING WAS REQUIRED ON-CAMERA.

I Love Lucy almost never made it to the air because CBS had trouble securing a sponsor for the show. Finally tobacco giant Philip Morris signed on at the 11th hour. As a result, lots of smoking was featured in each episode, and the name “Philip Morris” was worked into the dialogue whenever plausible. There was, however, one small problem: Lucille Ball was a Chesterfield girl. She eventually overcame this little hurdle by having a stagehand stuff any on-camera Philip Morris packs full of Chesterfield cigarettes.

6. WILLIAM FRAWLEY WAS FAR FROM THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY FRED MERTZ.

Lucille Ball was eager to have Gale Gordon, whom she’d worked with on her My Favorite Husband radio show, play crusty neighbor and landlord Fred Mertz. But Gordon, who had a steady gig at the time on the Our Miss Brooks radio program, asked for more money than Desilu had to offer. Character actor William Frawley knew Ball in passing (they’d met back in the 1940s) and phoned her personally when he read about her upcoming TV show in the trade papers to inquire if there might be a part for him. CBS and Philip Morris were wary of hiring Frawley, who had a reputation for being a heavy drinker. But Arnaz (no stranger to the bottle himself) thought that Frawley was just curmudgeonly enough to bring Fred Mertz to life. He met Frawley for lunch at Nickodell’s on Melrose Avenue and offered him the role with the proviso that if he missed work for any reason other than legitimate illness, he’d be written out of the show.

7. DORIS ZIFFEL WAS ALMOST ETHEL MERTZ.

Lucille had worked with Bea Benaderet in radio and wanted her to play Ethel Mertz. But Benaderet had just signed on to play Blanche Morton on the TV version of The Burns and Allen Show and was unavailable. Barbara Pepper was a personal friend of Ball’s, and the two had worked in films together, so she was the next serious consideration for the role. Pepper was the right age and body type to play Ethel, but she was also a known alcoholic and the network nixed her after Frawley was hired; two heavy drinkers in the main cast was too risky. I Love Lucy had already gone into early rehearsals by the time director Marc Daniels saw Vivian Vance performing in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse and recommended her to Arnaz. Pepper did play background characters on several I Love Lucy episodes and would go on to land the role of Doris Ziffel on Green Acres.

8. THE “MERTZES” DESPISED ONE ANOTHER OFF-CAMERA.

Vivian Vance was 22 years younger than her TV husband and resented having such an “old poop” play her spouse. Frawley responded in kind, referring to her variously as “that sack of doorknobs” or just plain “b*tch.” But all that animosity was strictly behind the scenes and known mostly only to the series’ writers and directors. Frawley and Vance were savvy enough to not jeopardize their jobs on TV’s most successful show by openly airing their mutual hostility. Even co-workers like Keith Thibodeaux (Little Ricky, a.k.a. Richard Keith) and Roy Rowan (the show’s announcer), who were on the set daily, had no idea that things were less than cuddly between the two actors until years after I Love Lucy ceased production.

9. DESI ARNAZ HAD LIFTS IN HIS SHOES (AND HIS LOVESEAT).

Arnaz listed his height as 5’11” in most official biographies, but those who worked with him knew that in reality he was 5’9” and wore four-inch lifts in his shoes. Lucille Ball stood 5’7” in her stocking feet, and when she wore heels she seemed to tower over her husband. Desi Arnaz Jr. would later explain to an interviewer that his father “was a Cuban with a Latin male’s pride,” which is why it was important to him to be taller than his wife. A dual-purpose, subtle additional cushion (undetectable by the viewing audience) was added to the Ricardos’ loveseat so that Ricky would be taller than Lucy while seated, and would also give him the extra boost needed to gracefully rise from a sitting position up onto his elevator shoes.

10. ARNAZ FLATLY REJECTED A SCENE THAT INVOLVED RICKY CHEATING ON HIS TAXES.

Desi Arnaz was an unabashed believer in the American Dream and was very patriotic when it came to his adopted homeland. Desi was 17 years old when Fulgencio Batista overthrew the Cuban government and the Arnaz family fled to Miami with little more than the clothes they were wearing. The family lived in a warehouse with some other refugees and Desi got a job cleaning birdcages for a man whole sold canaries to pet stores. As he said during his acceptance speech on Ed Sullivan’s Toast of the Town in 1954, “From cleaning canary cages to this night in New York is a long ways. And I don’t think there’s any other country in the world that could give you that opportunity.” So when a scene in original script in the episode “Lucy Tells the Truth” called for Ricky to fudge some numbers on his income tax return, Arnaz refused to play it and asked the writers to remove it. He didn’t want the audience to think that Ricky would cheat the U.S. government.

11. THE CANDY LADY WAS A BIG DIPPER IN REAL LIFE.

“Job Switching” (often referred to as “The Candy Factory Episode”) has long been a fan favorite, particularly the scene where Lucy and Ethel are stuffing their faces and clothing with chocolates while trying to keep up with a speedy conveyor belt. The previous scene featured Lucy hand-dipping chocolates with a real-life dipper that stage manager Herb Browar found at See’s Candies on Santa Monica Boulevard.

Amanda Milligan had never seen I Love Lucy (she watched wrestling on Monday nights), but Browar hired her anyway; he thought her deadpan expression would make her the perfect straight woman for Lucille to react to. During rehearsals Lucille was worried that the scene just wasn’t going to be funny on film because Milligan seemed hesitant to hit her in the face as the script specified. When the cameras were rolling, Milligan hauled off and smacked Lucille so hard that Ball feared her nose had been broken. Despite her pain and ringing ears Ball didn’t call for a “cut” because she did not want to have to do another take! During a break in filming Lucille asked Milligan “So, how do you like working in show business?” An unsmiling Milligan, who’d spent eight hours per day for the past 30 years putting swirls on chocolates, replied, “I’ve never been so bored in my life.”

12. LUCILLE WAS TOO STRESSED TO APPRECIATE THE HUMOR IN ONE OF HER MOST POPULAR EPISODES.

Another fan favorite was, interestingly, not one of Ball’s favorite episodes. It wasn’t until “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” was voted tops in many viewer polls over the years that she acknowledged that it was a funny episode. During filming, she was too nervous and worried about messing up her lines (imagine having to say “Vitameatavegamin” that many times during a spiel) to appreciate the humor.

Ball was many things, including a great physical comedienne, but one thing she was not was an improviser or extemporaneous speaker. Every slurred word of her drunken Vitameatavegamin pitch was in the script. Lucille even came up with a backup plan, lest she forget her lines: she had script supervisor Maury Thompson made up and placed off-side in front of her podium holding up her lines (there were no cue cards on the I Love Lucy set), much like a real commercial setting.

By the way, that stuff Lucy was pouring onto the spoon was apple pectin.

13. BECAUSE THE SHOW WAS FILMED IN FRONT OF AN AUDIENCE, THEY HESITATED TO YELL “CUT” AND RESHOOT SCENES.

As a result, the occasional blooper was left in and sort of papered-over. One classic example occurred in “Redecorating the Mertz’s Apartment,” at the breakfast table when Lucy is musing aloud about how to repair both the Mertz’s marriage and their tacky apartment. See how Desi saves the scene after she mistakenly says “paint the furniture and reupholster the old furniture:”

14. LUCILLE’S PREGNANCY CREATED PANIC BEHIND THE SCENES.

During season two, Ball discovered that she was pregnant. While the Arnazes were overjoyed (Lucille had previously suffered three miscarriages before giving birth to daughter Lucie in July 1951), they were also concerned about the fate of their hit series. Other than the late 1940s sitcom Mary Kay and Johnny (which also starred a real-life married couple), a visibly pregnant female had never starred on a TV series. It would be impossible to conceal Lucille’s condition because, as Desi told the network, “she got as big as a house when she was carrying Lucie.”

Eventually, the network agreed to write Ball’s pregnancy into the show, and Desi hired a local Catholic priest, a minister, and a rabbi to sit in while each episode was filmed to determine whether there was anything objectionable. CBS deemed that the word “pregnant” was vulgar, so it was replaced with “expecting” (or, as Ricky pronounced it, “‘spectin’”). The scene at the Tropicana, where Lucy finally breaks the news to Ricky, was genuinely emotional for the actors, who both started crying and Desi had to be prompted “sing the baby song!” Director William Asher reshot that scene, but decided that the raw emotion in the original take made for a more poignant moment and used it.

15. LITTLE RICKY AND DESI ARNAZ JR. WERE BORN ON THE SAME DAY.

The Arnazes already knew that Lucille would give birth via Caesarian section when her time came (as that was how Lucie had been delivered), and Ball’s obstetrician regularly scheduled all his C-sections on Mondays. As luck would have it, I Love Lucy aired on Monday nights, so with the pregnancy episodes timed just so, Ball went to the hospital the same night that Lucy Ricardo did.

What the Arnazes did not know in advance, however, was the gender of their pending bundle of joy. I Love Lucy head writer Jess Oppenheimer had decided that the Ricardos would have a boy, so when Desi Arnaz Jr. was born, Desi Sr. joyfully called Jess to announce proudly, “Lucy followed your script! Ain’t she something?!” (By the way, a record-breaking 71.7 percent of American televisions were tuned in that Monday night to see the Ricardo baby, which topped the number of folks who watched Dwight D. Eisenhower get sworn in as President the following day.)

16. LUCILLE TRULY SUFFERED FOR THAT ICONIC GRAPE-STOMPING EPISODE.

“Lucy’s Italian Movie” faced a variety of obstacles. First was getting a vineyard to donate the necessary grapes for stomping. The company that ultimately agreed did so with the proviso that it must be mentioned in the script that foot-pressing was an outmoded method of making wine in Italy. Next was the local extra cast to wrestle Lucille in the grape vat; Teresa Tirelli didn’t speak any English and an interpreter had to explain the scene to her. Apparently something was lost in the translation because Tirelli didn’t grasp that this was supposed to be a filmed-from-the-waist-up fake fight and she literally held Lucille’s head under the grape mush until the star very nearly drowned. And even though the show was broadcast in black and white, Ball, Arnaz, and the production staff were sticklers for detail so a formula for a purplish/blue dye had to be worked out that would properly tint Lucille’s flesh and hair without irritating her skin or reacting with the chemicals used to keep her permed locks that famous henna color for that final scene.

17. LUCILLE EXASPERATED GUEST STAR HARPO MARX.

Ball was a long-time admirer of Harpo Marx, but when it came to actually working with him, she was unprepared for his “never the same way twice” approach to his comedy routines. In the Hollywood episode where she was required to mirror his moves, she insisted on incessant rehearsals to get the bit just right. But Harpo’s attitude was “I’ve done this bit for 35 years, why do I need so much rehearsal?” In the end, this was one of the few instances where the scene was re-shot several times after the studio audience had left and was later pieced together by editor Dann Cahn.

18. THE LONGEST LAUGH ON THE SHOW LASTED 65 SECONDS.

When Lucy hid dozens of eggs and then danced the tango with Ricky (resulting in the inevitable blouse full of scrambled yolks), the audience roared for so long that ultimately some of the laughter had to be edited out in the final film. Neither Ball nor Vance had used eggs during rehearsals so that their onscreen reactions would be more genuine when the shells cracked and the albumen slimed its way down their flesh.

19. ARNAZ REQUIRED AS MUCH REALISM AS POSSIBLE, NO MATTER THE COST OR DIFFICULTY.

No matter how wacky the situation, Arnaz tried hard to maintain some veracity, thinking that that the audience would believe it (and thus find it more humorous) if the actors believed it. So when a scene in “Pioneer Women” required an eight-foot-long loaf of bread to pop out of the oven, the producers found a New York bakery willing to bake one. (It was rye bread, by the way, and when filming was finished it was cut up and served to the audience.) Likewise, in “Deep Sea Fishing” when Ricky and Fred entered into a bet with Lucy and Ethel to see who could catch the biggest fish, two 100-plus pound tunas were purchased at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, packed in ice into child-sized coffins and air-shipped to Hollywood.

20. THE “UH-OH” LADY HEARD IN THE STUDIO AUDIENCE WAS LUCILLE’S MOM.

Quite often when Lucy Ricardo was stepping into a precarious situation, a woman in the audience could be heard uttering “uh-oh.” That was Dede Ball, who attended every taping and tended to get wrapped up in the proceedings. I Love Lucy sound engineer Glen Glenn was the co-founder of Glen Glenn Sound, and in the 1960s and ‘70s his company was one of the leading providers of laugh tracks, or canned laughter, to TV sitcoms. Many of the yuks used in their recordings were culled from I Love Lucy and The Red Skelton Show, which is why Dede’s “uh-oh” could be heard years later on shows she’d never seen, much less been in attendance.

Additional Sources:
A Book, by Desi Arnaz The Lucy Book, by Geoffrey Mark Fidelman Meet the Mertzes, by Ron Edelman and Audrey Kupferberg The “I Love Lucy” Book, by Bart Andrews Lucy & Ricky & Fred & Ethel: The Story of I Love Lucy, by Bart Andrews Laughs, Luck….and Lucy, by Jess Oppenheimer

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