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Life With Lucy is an ABC network sitcom created by Bob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn Davis, starring Lucille Ball in the lead role.
The show premiered on September 20, 1986, but was critically panned & flopped in the ratings and ended on November 15, 1986 after only 8 episodes aired.
Set in South Pasadena, California, "Life With Lucy" was about free-spirited grandmother Lucy Barker who inherits her late husband Sam's half-interest in a hardware store with (the other half of the store being owned by his partner, Curtis McGibbon) & she decides to move in and help run the store.
Lucy also lived with her daughter, Margo, who was married to Curtis's son, Ted (who was a law student) and her two grandchildren, Becky & Kevin.
- Lucille Ball as Lucy Barker
- Gale Gordon as Curtis McGibbon
- Ann Dusenberry as Margo Barker McGibbon
- Larry Anderson as Ted McGibbon
- Jenny Lewis as Becky McGibbon
- Philip J. Amelio II as Kevin McGibbon
- Donovan Scott as Leonard Stoner
- Kellie Martin as Patty
- Brandon Call as Max
During the 1984-85 television season, NBC had experienced a huge success with its Bill Cosby comeback vehicle "The Cosby Show" and ABC, looking to stage a similar resurgence for an old sitcom star and to boost Saturday night ratings, decided to try for the greatest sitcom star of all time: then 75-year-old four-time Emmy award winner and cultural icon Lucille Ball.
TV production giant Aaron Spelling had been talking with Ball and her second husband Gary Morton since 1979 about possibly doing another series. Ball was hesitant, but she was given complete control over the series.
ABC offered Lucille Ball the writers from the huge hit "M*A*S*H", but she insisted on her longtime writers Bob Carrol Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Martin Davis (who had been writing for Ball since her 1947 radio show "My Favorite Husband").
They had written over 500 television and radio episodes for Ball (plus the occasional TV special and feature film. Ball called in crew members who had been working for her since the days of "I Love Lucy".
The most notable around the set was sound man Cam McCulloch (who had worked on I Love Lucy" starting with its third season and by 1986, was 77 years old and quite hard of hearing). She also insisted on coaxing four-time Emmy nominee and sitcom veteran Gale Gordon out of Palm Springs retirement.
Gale Gordon had worked with Lucille Ball on Jack Haley's radio show and more consistently on "My Favorite Husband". He was the first choice for the character of Fred Mertz and had guest starred on "I Love Lucy" and "The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour" before becoming a main cast member on "The Lucy Show" in its second season and acting on all six seasons of "Here's Lucy."
Gale Gordon was only drawn to the show with the promise of a full season's pay for all 22 episodes regardless of whether the show lasted. According to cast and crew members, the then 80-year-old Gordon never once flubbed a line on the set during the 13-episode duration.
Lucille Ball was allegedly paid $100,000 an episode and husband Gary Morton, carrying the title of Executive Producer, negotiated for $150,000 an episode.
The pilot was sent through without network interference or even test screenings. Many people involved believed the show would be a ratings smash, award winner and run for many years just as Ball had proven for nearly 25 years in the past.
Ratings & Cancellation
Fourteen episodes of "Life With Lucy" were written, thirteen of them filmed, but only eight of them aired.
On the day of the last filmed (but unaired) episode, producer Aaron Spelling learned of the show's cancellation by ABC; he decided to tell Lucille Ball's husband Gary Morton, who decided not to reveal the news to her until after filming had ended.
The last episode to be aired, "Mother of the Bride" featured Audrey Meadows, who was offered to be cast as a regular to give the show a new direction and Lucille's character a comic foil and partner which was similar to the role previously played by Vivian Vance in Lucy's previous series. (This was the only "Lucy" sitcom in which Vance, who had died in 1979, never appeared), but Meadows turned down the offer.
The premiere episode of "Life With Lucy" which aired September 20, 1986 made the Nielsen's Top 25 (#23 for the week) for its week; however, subsequent episodes dropped steadily in viewership; the show went against NBC's "The Facts of Life" in the same Saturday night lead-off timeslot and never gained ground against it.
It ranked only 73rd out of 79 shows for the season (the seventh-lowest rated show on TV for the season), with a 9.0/16 rating/share.
The short-lived show was never syndicated, nor was it ever released on home video; it briefly aired on Nick at Nite as part of a Lucille Ball-themed marathon in 1996, but otherwise, it has never been rerun (although episodes can be found on YouTube as well as the five unaired episodes and at The Paley Center For Media in New York City and Beverly Hills, California).
Biographies of the actress reveal that Lucille Ball was reportedly devastated by the show's failure & never again attempted another series or feature film; her subsequent interviews and other TV appearances were extremely infrequent.
Her last public appearance was as a presenter on the 1989 Academy Awards telecast in which she and fellow presenter, Bob Hope were given a standing ovation. She died a month later in April of 1989.
In a 1999 interview with the Archive of American Television, Aaron Spelling took full responsibility for the show's failure, blaming it on the decision to give Lucille Ball creative control.
In July 2002, TV Guide named "Life With Lucy" the 26th worst TV series of all time, stating, in their words, that it was, "without a doubt, the saddest entry in [their] list of bad TV shows of all time".
In his book "What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History", author David Hofstede ranked the series at #21 on the list.