Saturday, January 19, 2013

The More Things Change

Today is Desi Arnaz Jr.'s 60th birthday.

I'm quite a few years younger than he is so I can't speak based on personal observation, but, from what I have heard, his must have been the most widely publicized birth ever.

Certainly it was the most widely publicized in TV history.

He was the son of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the stars of the popular sitcom I Love Lucy, and his mother's pregnancy was written into the series' storyline in the 1952–1953 season.

Some of the series' best episodes — my personal favorite was the one in which Lucy hired an English tutor (Hans Conried) to improve the language skills of the adults who would influence her child's early years — came from this arrangement. But be the episodes great or mediocre, there was a lot of attention paid to Lucy's pregnancy in the series.

Anyway, the episode in which Lucy gave birth to her child had been taped nearly two months before. Coincidentally, it aired on the same day that Ball gave birth to her real son — about 12 hours after Desi Arnaz Jr. was born, as a matter of fact.

News didn't travel quite as fast in 1953 as it does in 2013. There was no internet, no cable TV, no texting. In fact, broadcast news was still in its infancy at the time, and television ownership wasn't nearly as pervasive in America as it is today.

Nevertheless, the word must have spread to a certain segment of the population, but I'm sure there were those who had no idea that Ball had given birth that day.

But the publicity about the episode in which Lucy gave birth attracted great ratings 60 years ago tonight. And, whether those who were watching knew that Lucy had given birth to her actual son earlier that day, everyone was told about it as the final credits rolled.

Dwight Eisenhower, the man who was idolized by millions for leading the Allied triumph in World War II, was sworn in as president the next day, but his TV ratings paled compared to Lucy's. He got about half as many viewers as Lucy did.

What does that tell me about America and its priorities then and now?

It tells me that things probably haven't changed that much.