If you’re watching CBS tonight (Friday) and you notice the I Love Lucy episode is in colour, don’t tough that dial!
Since there haven’t been any dials on TV screens in 25 years, that should be easy. The good news is that CBS is broadcasting another fully restored and digitized episode from the 1951-’57 series and the colourization works beautifully.
The hour-long special features the series one and only “Christmas Episode” — shown the past six years in colour on CBS — and the newly colorized “Paris at Last.” Again, CBS has edited two episodes together, ditching the second episode’s main title sequence and nipping, tucking and speeding up other scenes in spots to match today’s short attention spans and longer commercial breaks. Those of us who fuss over classic television and collect old TV episodes in their original 16mm format will holler like Fred Mertz at these arbitrary editing calls but, the way I see it, anything that brings great comedy to life for a new generation of viewers is better than keeping Ball’s legacy locked away in a vault.
In “Paris at Last,” the Ricardos and Mertzes are shown arriving in the French capital. (In reality, they never left their Desilu Studio in Southern California.) There Lucy encounters a sidewalk artist who sells multiple copies of the same “original” oil painting. Not long after, she gets conned by a con man in a money exchange. Later, she goes to a fancy French restaurant and unwittingly orders a plate of snails. As Lucy would say, “Eeewww!”
The moral of the story for American audiences — don’t trust the French.
The episode was originally broadcast on Feb. 27, 1956. The half-hour comedy was No. 1 in North America for four of its six seasons and was never out of the Top 3.
What makes these episodes so enjoyable 65 or so years later is the care taken to render them in colours that precisely match the time period. Art directors studied films of the ’50s to find just the right hues. Technicolor just had a different look in films such as “Giant” or “High Society” or other features released in 1956. Research was also done to source exactly what clothes and fabrics Ball, producer/hubby Desi Arnaz and co-stars Vivian Vance and William Frawley were wearing at the time.
CBS has done the same colour trick the past few years with episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Colour didn’t really kick in until the 1966 broadcast season. Doing these shows right costs money, so kudos to CBS for taking such care with these classics.
The I Love Lucy Christmas Special airs Friday night at 8 p.m. on CBS.