The Bizarre Effect ‘I Love Lucy’ Had on Shopping and Politics in the ’50s
I Love Lucy was wildly popular when it was on TV in the 1950s. It is still deeply beloved today. Lucy, played by Lucille Ball, took audiences by storm week after week as the absurd character got herself into all sorts of hi-jinx.
The show was so adored that it even effected stores and politics at the height of its popularity. Here’s how.
Lucille Ball says ‘I Love Lucy’ was so successful because of the show’s writers, not her
Ball was, of course, the face of the show. There would be no I Love Lucy if it weren’t for Ball. Still, the actor says the show owed it’s success, mostly, to the writers.
“I am not funny,” Ball told Rolling Stone Magazine in 1983. “My writers were funny. My directors were funny. The situations were funny. . . . What I am is brave. I have never been scared. Not when I did movies, certainly not when I was a model and not when I did I Love Lucy.”
‘I Love Lucy’s unprecedented popularity
I Love Lucy premiered on CBS on Oct. 15, 1951. And television was never the same. The 30-minute comedy followed the lives of Lucy and her musician husband, Ricky Ricardo (played by her then-husband, Desi Arnaz).
The show had the biggest television audience of its time, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“A phenomenal 40 million viewers watched the antics each week as Lucy would always try to outwit Ricky,” wrote the Times writer Roxane Arnold in 1989. “With their best friends and landlords, Fred and Ethel Mertz, played by veterans William Frawley and Vivian Vance as the perfect foils, the Ricardos found themselves mired in situations that frequently were rowdy and always ridiculous.”
How ‘I Love Lucy’ effected shopping and politics
I Love Lucy‘s fan base was so devoted and so vast, the rest of the world was put on hold every Monday night between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Because nobody was shopping late Monday evenings anymore, stores adjusted. In Chicago, the Marshall Field department store posted a sign for their customers that read: “We Love Lucy, too, so from now on we will be open Thursday night instead of Monday.”
The show didn’t just affect shopping habits. I Love Lucy fans didn’t like being interrupted, even by politics. When presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson showed up during an episode with a political message, he was met with a heap of angry mail.
‘I Love Lucy’ endures
It’s been 69 years since I Love Lucy premiered. Still today the sitcom lives on.
On Facebook, almost two million people make up the I Love Lucy community page where fans regularly share their favorite moments. The show continues to stream and show on cable television. It is syndicated in dozens of languages. According to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, 40 million Americans still watch I Love Lucy each year.
So why is I Love Lucy still so popular after all of these years? Humor changes. The definition of “good TV” changes. How does Lucy Ricardo endure? Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, told Good Morning America in 2019 that she and her younger brother often hear this from fans:
“Watching that show got us through some really tough times.”