How 'I Love Lucy' Dominated Ratings From Its Start

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz backstage on the "I Love Lucy" set in 1951.
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz backstage on the "I Love Lucy" set in 1951.
 CBS Photo Archive/Getty Images

When I Love Lucy debuted Oct. 15, 1951, The Hollywood Reporter said it was the rare TV show that fulfills "in its own particular niche every promise of the often harassed new medium" and should "bounce to the top of the ratings heap."

And bounce it did: Within six months, the CBS sitcom starring real-life spouses Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz was America's No. 1 show, with about 11 million families tuning in every week -- and that was when there were only 15 million TV sets in the country.

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It was television's most-watched show for four of its six seasons, peaking with the Jan. 19, 1953, episode in which Lucy gives birth to Little Ricky; it received an unprecedented 71.7 rating with a 92 share.

During its run, the show and its cast garnered 24 Emmy nominations and five wins, with two of them going to Ball, who would have turned 100 on Aug. 6 (she died in 1989).

When she received her third Emmy in 1967 for her follow-up sitcom The Lucy Show, Ball joked in her acceptance speech that "the last time I got it, I thought they gave it to me because I had a baby."          

 

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