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When Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz created I Love Lucy, viewers fell in love with the talented performers. Although network executives were nervous about the show at first, it quickly became a hit. A few years into its run, Ball and Arnaz made another brave move, including Ball’s pregnancy in the show

The result of this decision changed the world of TV, and it is often hailed as the first time pregnancy was acknowledged on a major TV show. But it wasn’t the first time Ball was pregnant while taping I Love Lucy.

Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo, talking on the phone
Lucille Ball | CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

Pregnant for the pilot

In 1951, a pilot episode of I Love Lucy was filmed in a push to get the sitcom picked up by CBS. According to IMDb, when the show actually aired, the first episode was recreated, instead of using the pilot. The original pilot was thought to be lost, and it wasn’t seen on TV until 1990.  

The plot of the pilot was identical to the first episode, but there were a few details that were different. For example, the famous band leader’s last name in the pilot was Lopez. By the time the show was aired, that was changed to Ricardo, so he wouldn’t be mistaken for the real-life bandleader Vincent Lopez. 

Ball was her inimitable self in both the first episode and the pilot, trying to audition for Ricky’s show as a clown and keeping the audience in stitches with her antics. However, there was one big difference between the two appearances. In the pilot, she was six months pregnant with her daughter, Lucie Arnaz.

Pregnancy storyline

By the time the famous sitcom started filming, Ball had already given birth. Since the pilot episode didn’t air, viewers didn’t get a chance to see her perform while she was pregnant. But Outsider reports that a few years later, she was expecting her son, Desi Arnaz Jr. 

At the time, The National Association of Broadcasters had adopted a set of ethical standards known as The Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters. These guidelines were very strict. They didn’t allow anything that could be construed as sexual to be shown on TV. A pregnancy suggested that despite the separate beds they slept in, the Ricardos must have behaved like married people at some point.

While some executives thought that Bell’s pregnancy should have been hidden on the show, Arnaz and Ball disagreed. Eventually, they agreed to allow the character of Lucy to be pregnant. However, the word “pregnant” was never used by any of the actors. To soften the reality of the situation, they only referred to her condition as “expecting,” or “with child.”

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Despite the concern about the controversial choice, the gamble paid off. According to Ranker, the episode where Lucy has her baby aired on January 19, 1953, and it drew a huge audience of 44 million people. It was watched by 71.7 percent of all the households with a TV. President Eisenhower was inaugurated the next day, and he couldn’t compete, drawing only 67.7 percent of viewers.

Ball and Arnaz’s actual son was born the same day as the episode aired, which delighted fans. The couple didn’t know ahead of time if they were having a boy or a girl, so when the arrival of their son “followed the script” of the show, they were even happier. The taboo against pregnancy on TV was broken.

Advertisers were originally nervous about the idea of a TV show with a pregnant character. But in the end, the response was so overwhelmingly positive that it changed their minds–as well as the landscape of TV.