On December 24th, 1956, midway through I Love Lucy‘s sixth and final season, a special half-hour Christmas special was broadcast on CBS. Due to concerns about the special’s long flashback sequences (featuring scenes from earlier episodes) and its obvious Christmas theme, it was not included alongside the 179 regular episodes in the syndication package for I Love Lucy .
In 1989, the vice president for CBS Video was putting together Christmas-related programming for a video release, learned about the existence of the special and went hunting for it in the CBS vaults . After the original negative was found, CBS executives decided to show the special in prime time. Portions of the episode were colorized. It aired Monday, December 18th, 1989 from 8:30-9PM and drew a over 29 million viewers, beating Monday Night Football on ABC .
The special is now available on DVD in its original black-and-white format with the colorized portions included as a bonus.
EDIT: Thursday, January 22nd, 2008
The version of the I Love Lucy “Christmas Special” broadcast by CBS in December of 1989 was not colorized. But when the network showed the episode again a year later on December 10th, 1990, the segments that were not flashbacks were in color while the flashbacks (culled from earlier episodes) were in black and white. The colorized version was watched by 18.2 million viewers, still a sizable audience .