From the Editor: Taking time out for a golden moment

Oct 1, 2001  •  Post A Comment

One of the questions we debated here at EM last week was the appropriateness of running our long-planned commemoration of the 50th anniversary of “I Love Lucy” in light of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. Many in our industry are having debates of a similar kind. At the Sept. 25 Hollywood Radio & Television Society luncheon featuring executives from the entertainment divisions of the six major broadcast networks, Gail Berman, Fox’s entertainment president, said that program developers are always facing the challenge of getting “on the bandwagon of where the country is going.” And while she didn’t know if “the events of the past two weeks have influenced whether that goes in escapist direction, people are always going to be interested in good storytelling.”
That night, Americans voted overwhelmingly, with their remote controls, to tune in to escapist fare, particularly sitcoms. “Frasier” and “Spin City,” both airing during the 9 p.m. hour, were watched by more than 32 million viewers. Earlier that evening, “That ’70s Show” won its time period in adults 18 to 49, adults 18 to 34 and teens. And the debut of the new sitcom “Undeclared,” airing immediately after `”70s,” ranked No. 1 in its time period in adults 18 to 34, men 18 to 49 and teens.
Does the appetite for these shows diminish the importance of what happened on Sept. 11? Does it diminish our sorrow or our anger? Of course not. As my former colleague and current TV commentator at the San Francisco Chronicle, John Carman, told me last week, “We can’t look at everything through this one event.” Mr. Carman, who is also wrestling with the question of what is appropriate TV fare these days (see Page 9), didn’t have a problem with the networks going back to regular programming last week, and he agrees with our decision to go ahead and publish our “Lucy” tribute. “I think a celebration of `Lucy’s’ 50th anniversary is not inappropriate at this time,” he said.
Though only a focus group of one, EM appreciates Mr. Carman’s vote of confidence in our decision.
For the past two weeks, our pages have been devoted almost exclusively to chronicling TV coverage of the terrorist attack, and our in-depth reporting on this continuing story is the subject of a number of pieces in this issue.
But our charge is to cover the entire business of TV. The 50th anniversary of “I Love Lucy” is a TV milestone. Covering this milestone does not diminish the important news coverage we also do. Amazingly, “I Love Lucy” is still prospering on the air-both on Nick at Nite (though the show moves in two weeks to Nick at Nite’s TV Land) and on U.S. TV stations, where it is currently licensed in 43 markets, according to Paramount Television Distribution.
Furthermore, we think we bring something unique and worthwhile to this event. Our “Lucy” coverage is anchored by an insightful, illuminating essay by EM’s managing editor, Tom Gilbert, who is also the co-author of “Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.” Like “I Love Lucy,” this book has had a remarkable run-a 12th edition has just been released to coincide with the show’s anniversary.
Supplementing Mr. Gilbert’s piece are essays by writers one usually associates with publications such as Vanity Fair or The New Yorker, authors such as Susan Sontag, Jane Smiley and Oscar Hijuelos. Clearly the draw for these people was a desire to share their thoughts about one of the most influential and beloved American icons of the last century, and one that endures.
Which seems to us a most appropriate reason to run this special section.