Tuned In: CBS airs newly colorized 'I Love Lucy' episodes

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Viewers can decide for themselves whether it's a welcome return to prime time or a cheap, easy advertising dollar cash grab, but give CBS points for thinking outside the box.

The network has dusted off two episodes of "I Love Lucy," which CBS aired in prime time 1951-57, colorized them (mostly) and cobbled them together for a one-hour "I Love Lucy Christmas Special" (8 p.m. Friday, KDKA-TV).

The first half-hour is Christmas-themed; the second half-hour is "Lucy's Italian Movie," from 1956, with the famous grape stomp scene.

"I Love Lucy Christmas Special'
When: 8 p.m. Friday, CBS.
Starring: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz.

Purists will object to the colorization, but that feels like a dated complaint from the 1980s when Ted Turner was colorizing everything he could. Still, Lucy's bright red hair is a distracting Carrot Top hue at first sight, and there's a weird, alien-like ridge that appears between her eyebrows. Otherwise the colorization looks fairly accurate.

Only a portion of the first half-hour, "Christmas Episode," is colorized. Three flashback scenes -- Ricky (Desi Arnaz) preparing Fred (William Frawley) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) for Lucy (Lucille Ball) to give birth to Little Ricky (Keith Thibodeaux) among them -- remain in black and white "to emphasize the time lapse," according to CBS, a convention that also conveniently saves money on colorization costs.

"Christmas Episode" originally aired as a regular episode of "I Love Lucy" in 1956, but it wasn't included in rebroadcasts or syndication packages, presumably because it's a clip show with new material surrounding flashback clips.

A colorized "Christmas Episode" has aired before in CBS prime time (in 1990), but what airs this week is a newly colorized version that uses "improved colorization technology," according to CBS. The colorization on "Lucy's Italian Movie" is entirely new.

The merits of colorization are an aesthetic and ethical argument, but what probably matters to more viewers is the entertainment value of the show. On that score, the "I Love Lucy Christmas Special" delivers.

Younger viewers may see a lot of the jokes as cliches -- Lucy insists Fred trim branches from her Christmas tree, eventually almost nothing is left of the tree -- but "Lucy" and other sitcoms of its era set the template that hundreds of other TV comedies have followed. Few succeed as well as the terrific cast of this classic series.


TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.

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