Life with Lucy

Last updated
Life with Lucy
Created by Bob Carroll Jr.
Madelyn Davis
Starring Lucille Ball
Gale Gordon
Ann Dusenberry
Larry Anderson
Jenny Lewis
Philip J. Amelio II
Donovan Scott
Theme music composerMartin Silvestri
Jeremy Stone
Joel Higgins
Opening theme"Every Day Is Better Than Before", sung by Eydie Gorme
Composer Allyn Ferguson
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons1
No. of episodes13 (5 unaired, a 14th never produced) (list of episodes)
Executive producers Aaron Spelling
Gary Morton
Douglas S. Cramer
Producers E. Duke Vincent
Madelyn Davis
Bob Carroll Jr.
Linda Morris
Vic Rauseo
Running time30 minutes
Production companiesLucille Ball Productions
Aaron Spelling Productions
Original network ABC
Original releaseSeptember 20 (1986-09-20) 
November 15, 1986 (1986-11-15)
Here's Lucy

Life with Lucyis an American sitcom starring Lucille Ball that aired for one season on ABC from September 20 to November 15, 1986. It is the only Lucille Ball sitcom to not air on CBS and the very last sitcom she starred in before her death in 1989. Only 8 out of the 13 episodes produced were aired before ABC cancelled the series. Unlike Ball's previous sitcoms, Life with Lucy was a failure in the ratings and poorly received by critics and viewers alike.



Ball plays a widowed grandmother who has inherited her husband's half interest in a hardware store in South Pasadena, California, the other half being owned by his business partner, widower Curtis McGibbon (played by Gale Gordon). Lucy's character insists on "helping" in the store, even though when her husband was alive, she had taken no part in the business and hence knows nothing about it. The unlikely partners are also in-laws, her daughter being married to his son, and all of them, along with their young grandchildren, live together.

Creative control and production

During the 1984–1985 television season, NBC had experienced a huge success with its Bill Cosby comeback vehicle The Cosby Show , following it up the next year with The Golden Girls , which likewise revitalized the careers of Bea Arthur and Betty White. ABC, looking to stage a similar resurgence for an older sitcom star and to boost Saturday night ratings, approached 75-year-old, five-time Emmy award winner and cultural icon Lucille Ball. Producer Aaron Spelling had been in talks with Ball and her second husband Gary Morton since 1979 about possibly doing another series; the popular success of her dramatic turn in the television film Stone Pillow had proved she was still popular with audiences. Ball was initially hesitant about returning to television, stating that she did not believe she could top the 25-year run of success she had had with I Love Lucy , The Lucy Show and Here's Lucy , especially without Vivian Vance, who was deceased. She eventually agreed, conceding she had missed having a regular project to work on daily, [1] on the condition of having total creative control.

ABC offered Ball the writers from the critical and ratings hit M*A*S*H , but Ball insisted on hiring her longtime writers Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh (credited as Madelyn Davis). Both had worked for Ball since her 1948 radio show My Favorite Husband and had written over 500 television and radio episodes for Ball, plus the occasional TV special and feature film. Ball also called in crew members who had worked for her since the days of I Love Lucy. The most notable was sound man Cam McCulloch, who joined the crew during I Love Lucy’s third season in 1954. By 1986, however, McCulloch was 77 years old and quite hard of hearing (he was still working actively in Hollywood at the time, mixing audio for WKRP in Cincinnati , Square Pegs and select episodes of Newhart ). Ball also insisted on hiring her former co-star Gale Gordon, who by that time was retired from acting and living in Palm Springs. Gordon had worked with Ball on Jack Haley's radio show and more consistently on My Favorite Husband. He was the first choice for the character of Fred Mertz and had guest starred on I Love Lucy and The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour before becoming a main cast member on The Lucy Show in its second season and acting on all six seasons of Here's Lucy .

Gordon agreed to do the show with the promise of a full season's pay for all 22 episodes regardless of whether the show was picked up. According to cast and crew members, the then 80-year-old Gordon never once flubbed a line on the set during the 13-episode duration. Ball was reportedly paid $100,000 an episode. Ball’s husband Gary Morton, carrying the title of executive producer, negotiated for $150,000 per episode. The pilot was created and shot, all without network interference or even test screenings. ABC and producers believed Life with Lucy would be a critical and ratings success that would run for many years, just as Ball's previous shows had been.

Ball's character's surname, Barker, continued her tradition of using surnames containing the letters "ar" (as in Ricardo, Carmichael and Carter on Ball's previous sitcoms) in tribute to her ex-husband Desi Arnaz.[ citation needed ]

The show's theme song was performed by Eydie Gormé. Apparently, an alternative theme was written by Ball's daughter, Lucie Arnaz, with Cy Coleman. [2]

Ratings and cancellation

Fourteen episodes were written, thirteen filmed, but only eight aired. On the day of the last filmed (but unaired) episode, producer Aaron Spelling learned of the show's cancellation by ABC; he decided to tell Ball's husband Gary Morton, who decided not to reveal the news to her until after filming ended. The last episode to be aired, "Mother of the Bride", featured Audrey Meadows, who was offered to be cast as a regular to give the show a new direction and Ball's character a comic foil and partner, similar to the role of Vivian Vance in Ball's previous series. (This was the only Ball sitcom in which Vance, who had died in 1979, never appeared.) Meadows turned down the offer.

Life with Lucy's premiere episode on September 20 made the Nielsen's Top 25 (#23 for the week) for its week; however, subsequent episodes dropped steadily in viewership; Life with Lucy went against NBC's The Facts of Life in the same Saturday night lead off timeslot and never gained ground against it. It ranked only 73rd out of 79 shows for the season (the seventh lowest rated show on TV for the season), with a 9.0/16 rating/share. Since only 13 episodes were produced, it was not possible for the series to go into heavy rerun rotation like I Love Lucy . Nevertheless, it aired on Nick at Nite as part of a Lucille Ball-themed marathon in 1996. Episodes can also be found at the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Beverly Hills, California. Biographies of the actress reveal that she was reportedly devastated by the show's failure, and she never again attempted another series or feature film; her subsequent interviews and other TV appearances were infrequent. Ball's last public appearance was as a presenter at the 1989 Academy Awards, where she and fellow presenter Bob Hope were given a standing ovation. She died a month later, in April 1989. In a 1999 interview with the Archive of American Television, Aaron Spelling attributed the failure of the show to his decision to allow Ball to do the same type of shows she had done in the past. Spelling said that at her age, the audience were more worried for her safety than laughing at her pratfalls. He took the blame for allowing her full creative control, because he said Ball had offered to do something different if he thought that was best, but he felt her ideas were more likely to succeed. Spelling said this experience had a lot to do with his rarely producing sitcoms. [3] [4]

In July 2002, TV Guide named Life with Lucy the 26th worst TV series of all time, stating that it was "without a doubt, the saddest entry in [its] list of bad TV shows of all time". In his book What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History, author David Hofstede ranked the series at No. 21 on the list. [5]

EpisodeTitleOriginal air dateRating/ShareRank
1"One Good Grandparent Deserves Another"September 20, 198614.6/2823
2"Lucy Makes a Hit with John Ritter"September 27, 198610.1/2057
3"Lucy Among the Two-by-Fours"October 4, 198610.2/1966
4"Lucy Gets Her Wires Crossed"October 18, 198611.5/2053
5"Lucy Is a Sax Symbol"October 25, 19868.7/1562
6"Lucy Make Curtis Byte the Dust"November 1, 19868.0/1471
7"Lucy, Leagle Beagle"November 8, 19868.1/1471
8"Mother of the Bride"November 15, 19866.6/1268




Guest stars

Life with Lucy had two special guest stars, John Ritter ("Lucy Makes a Hit with John Ritter") as himself and Audrey Meadows ("Mother of the Bride") as Lucy's sister Audrey.


No.TitleDirected byWritten byOriginal air dateProd.
1"One Good Grandparent Deserves Another"Peter BaldwinBob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn DavisSeptember 20, 1986 (1986-09-20)101

Curtis McGibbon (Gale Gordon) has just returned home from his Hawaiian vacation with the idea of moving in with his son, Ted (Larry Anderson). He arrives to learn that Ted's mother-in-law, Lucille "Lucy" Barker (Lucille Ball), Curtis's business partner is deciding to move in with her daughter, Margo (Ann Dusenberry) who happens to be married to Ted. So now, Curtis doesn't just have to deal with the stress of working with Lucy, he has to live with her too.

Guest-Starring: Ruth Kobart as Mrs. Finley
2"Lucy Makes a Hit with John Ritter"Peter BaldwinBob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn DavisSeptember 27, 1986 (1986-09-27)104

John Ritter happens to be in town doing a play. He stops by the hardware store to buy some door-handles for the set. Lucy tries to be helpful, but ends up being hurtful. She ends up inadvertently injuring his hands and his foot. Lucy then insists that Ritter stay at the house with them. But when John Ritter's co-star and leading lady drops out of the play, Lucy rushes to his aid by joining the cast as John's co-star.

Special Guest Star: John Ritter as himself
Guest Stars: Ruth Buzzi as Mrs. Wilcox, Greg Mullavey as Randy, Sally Kemp as Mary
3"Lucy Among the Two-by-Fours"Marc DanielsLinda Morris & Vic RauseoOctober 4, 1986 (1986-10-04)106

Lucy's old flame (and a business prospect for Curtis) comes to the store one day. After a date with her old flame, Lucy decides she doesn't share the same feelings he has for her.

Guest Stars: Peter Graves as Ben Marshall
4"Lucy Gets Her Wires Crossed"Peter BaldwinLinda Morris & Vic RauseoOctober 18, 1986 (1986-10-18)103

One day, a talk-show host (guest star Dick Gautier) comes to the Hardware store, Lucy talks him into inviting Curtis on the show for a "Mr. Fix-It" segment. Curtis ends up allowing Lucy to do the segment with him after urging from grandchild Becky (Jenny Lewis). Lucy tries to glue a lamp together, but ends up gluing herself to Curtis.

Guest Stars: Kellie Martin as Patty
5"Lucy Is a Sax Symbol"Peter BaldwinArthur Marx & Robert FisherOctober 25, 1986 (1986-10-25)105
Lucy finds her old saxophone while trying to look for things for a garage sale. She then encourages Becky to take up playing it. However, Becky finds playing the saxophone unsatisfying, as does Curtis.
6"Lucy Make Curtis Byte the Dust"Marc DanielsArthur Marx & Robert FisherNovember 1, 1986 (1986-11-01)108

Lucy and Curtis buy a computer to help organize the books at the shop. When she uses it to order some un-returnable merchandise, Lucy tries to get to the bank to stop the check from arriving at the bank — and accidentally informs them that Curtis had died.

Guest Stars: Dave Madden as Stanley Bigelow
7"Lucy, Leagle Beagle"Marc DanielsRichard Albrecht & Casey KellerNovember 8, 1986 (1986-11-08)110

While trying to pass off her grandson Kevin's teddy bear as her own during a clean-up sale (to avoid Kevin from being taunted by friends), Lucy sticks it in a bag. The bag is then purchased with the teddy bear in it, so Lucy starts putting reward posters around town. When a woman finally comes back for the reward, she begins to ask for a lot more than the $50.00 that Lucille is offering.

Guest-Starring: Dena Dietrich as Hilda Loomis, Allan Rich as Judge
8"Mother of the Bride"Bruce BilsonLinda Morris & Vic RauseoNovember 15, 1986 (1986-11-15)112

Lucy's sister Audrey (Audrey Meadows) comes to town to see Margo and Ted renew their vows. Sister Lucy's excitement is diminished when Audrey begins to make all the wedding arrangements, which results in a cake fight between the sisters.

Special Guest Star: Audrey Meadows as Audrey
Guest Star: Jacque Lynn Colton as Cousin Florence
9"Lucy and the Guard Goose"Peter BaldwinBob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn DavisUnaired102

The hardware shop is robbed when Lucy foolishly leaves the key in plain sight. She then decides the shop should be guarded by a goose. But the goose never gets a chance to scare the thieves because it is too busy scaring the owners.

Guest-Starring: Lou Cutell as Charlie Zellman and Charles Levin as Sgt. Green
10"Lucy and Curtis Up a Tree"Marc DanielsBob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn DavisUnaired107
Margo and Ted are very worried that Curtis and Lucy are spoiling their children. This situation isn't helped out when Curtis decides to build Kevin a tree house, which causes a fight between the couple. While working on the treehouse, Lucy and Curtis decide to relieve Ted and Margo's burden by arguing over who will move out—and Kevin walks off the ladder, leaving the two of them trapped.
11"Lucy's Green Thumb"Marc DanielsMark TuttleUnaired109
Lucy makes health shakes for the family and they show their appreciation by pouring them into an ailing plant. When the plant shoots up overnight, Curtis thinks he has a million dollar plant growing supplement—but Lucy can't seem to remember what she put into it.
12"Breaking Up Is Hard to Do"Peter BaldwinStory by: Laura Levine
Teleplay by: Richard Albrecht & Casey Keller
Curtis sells Lucy his share of the shop so he can retire. Lucy goes all-out for a solo-ownership celebration and winds up nearly broke. So she interviews candidates to take over Curtis's position before finally settling on Curtis—who found retirement less satisfying than he expected.
13"World's Greatest Grandma"Bruce BilsonStory by: Mel Sherer & Steve Granat
Teleplay by: Bob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn Davis

Lucy is jealous that everyone else in the family has a trophy to boast about. Becky encourages Lucy to join a talent show and win the trophy as the grand prize. After trying singing, dancing, telling jokes, and doing magic, Lucy settles on reciting a song. But when she loses, the grandkids give her a trophy for being the "World's Greatest Grandma".

Guest Star: Kellie Martin as Patty
14"Twas the Flight Before Christmas"Bruce BilsonLinda Morris & Vic RauseoUnproduced114

The family goes to a friend's cabin in Colorado, but become stranded on the plane in Denver and discover that Christmas is more than presents, but about spending time with your family.

This episode was never produced, but a first draft of the script exists.

Home media

In September 2018, Time-Life released a DVD, Lucy: The Ultimate Collection, that included 4 episodes of Life with Lucy (which had never before been released to home media), as well as 32 episodes of I Love Lucy , 2 episodes of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour , 24 episodes of The Lucy Show , and 14 episodes of Here's Lucy , plus a wide variety of bonus features. [6] [7]

On July 26, 2019, CBS/Paramount announced the release of all thirteen episodes on a separate Life with Lucy - The Complete Series DVD set, including the final five episodes that were produced but never aired. The set was released on October 8, 2019. [8]

In Australia, Life With Lucy - The Complete Series was released on April 1, 2020 and distributed by Shock Entertainment.

TitleFormatEp #DiscsRegion 1 (USA)Region 2 (UK)Region 4 (Australia)Special FeaturesDistributors
Life with Lucy: The Complete SeriesDVD1328 October 2019N/A1 April 2020Hour Magazine segments (5:00, 5:07, 4:59): host Gary Collins interviews Lucille Ball (and Gale Gordon in the first of three segments) in which she extols her co-star as vital to her return to television. She acknowledges the poor reviews the show had received, but she has confidence that her loyal audience will continue with the show.

ABC promos (0:30): four vintage spot ads for selected episodes in montage.

Entertainment Tonight segments (4:12): two brief interviews in montage with Lucy before the show’s premiere.


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