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A 39-Year-Old ‘I Love Lucy’ Pilot Beats New Shows in Ratings

May 2, 1990 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ America still loves Lucy - particularly the pilot for what became CBS’ classic ″I Love Lucy″ series. No matter that the show was made during the Korean war, when Harry S. Truman was president.

By a CBS estimate, 40 million viewers saw ″I Love Lucy: The Very First Show,″ a Monday special featuring the 34-minute pilot, which Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz filmed in black and white at their own expense on March 10, 1951. Despite the years, it was the first time the show had been broadcast.

The one-hour CBS special easily trounced its modern network rivals in the ratings, according to national Nielsen estimates Tuesday. It had a 21.2 rating and got 37 percent of the audience in its time period.

In contrast, NBC’s ″Shannon’s Deal″ got a 10.7 rating and a 19 percent share of the audience. ABC’s ″Capital News″ was a distant third, averaging only a 4.8 rating and a minuscule 8 percent share of the audience.

Each ratings point represents 921,000 homes.

The special was hosted by Lucie Arnaz, the daughter of early television’s most famous couple.

Monday’s CBS special was the premiere of the ″I Love Lucy″ pilot, made on kinescope when Ball, who died last year, was five months pregnant with her daughter.

Produced by Ball and her husband for $5,000, the show was never broadcast. CBS preferred a different version, which it used as the basis for its first 26-show order for the series.

The pilot, once thought to have been lost, was rediscovered last year by former CBS Entertainment president Bud Grant, now an independent producer.

He found that a copy of it was in the posession of Joanne Perez, the widow of a vaudeville performer, Pepito the Spanish Clown, who appears in the show. Grant worked out the deal for the pilot to be shown as a CBS special.

″I Love Lucy″ ran on CBS from 1951 to 1961. Arnaz and Ball were divorced in 1960. The Cuban bandleader, credited with pioneering the use of three cameras and live studio audiences in making TV sitcoms, died in 1986.