How The I Love Lucy Christmas Special Was Recovered

CBS aired a special half-hour I Love Lucy Christmas special on December 24th, 1956, midway through the sitcom’s sixth and final season. 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 [1].

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 [2]. 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 [3].

The I Love Lucy Christmas special is now available on DVD in its original black-and-white format with the colorized portions included as a bonus.

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009 Update: I was mistaken about the version of “Christmas Special” broadcast by CBS in December 1989. It was not colorized. When the network showed the episode again a year later on December 10th, 1990, however, the segments that were not flashbacks were in color. All of the flashbacks remained in black and white. The colorized version was watched by 18.2 million viewers [4].


1 Shales, Tom. “Lucy, Lost and Found; On CBS, a Rediscovered Christmas Episodes.” Washington Post. 18 Dec. 1989: D1.
2 Ibid.
3 “A special ‘Lucy’ Christmas.” USA Today. 28 Dec. 1989: 3D.
4 Donlon, Brian. “St. Nick Can’t Lick TV Lull.” USA Today. 19 Dec. 1990: 03.D.

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11 Replies to “How The I Love Lucy Christmas Special Was Recovered”

  1. The “Christmas Special” was indeed a “flashback” episode in a holiday setting: as the Ricardos trim their Christmas tree with the Mertzes’ help, they recall those special moments that happened during Lucy’s pregnancy (excerpts of episodes from December 1952- January 1953). Because of the “flashback” inserts, the episode was not filmed before a live studio audience, and a “laugh track” was used. Lucy herself said the episode was never meant to be a part of the regular series, and that it a “Christmas gift” to viewers who wanted “a chance to see [highlights of] the baby shows again”. General Foods’ Sanka coffee was the evening’s sponsor, with an “alternate sponsor’s” message from Procter & Gamble’s Lilt at the end.

  2. As an “alternative” to Tom Shales’ review listed above, I would like to share with you one of the most vitrolic and mean-spirited reviews from the time the “‘I LOVE LUCY’ CHRISTMAS SPECIAL” was first rebroadcast on CBS in December 1989. This review {“hatchet job” is more like it} was written by one of the most snotty, cynical, whiny and “hip” TV critics I came to loathe in the eight years his column was published in the ASBURY PARK PRESS: Robert Strauss, who, happily, isn’t writing ANY TV review columns these days…at least, those I KNOW about. His “snarky” attitude permeated almost everything he wrote about TV between 1988 and 1996 (he claimed he got advice on writing his column from one of the “best” in the business, David “Mr. Teleliteracy” Bianculli, who wrote for the NEW YORK POST when Strauss started his column, and affiliated with the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS when Strauss was let go from the PRESS for budgetary reasons [thank god], after Gannett bought the paper; Bianculli himself was dismissed from the NEWS almost two years ago, and concentrates on his website, which shall remain nameless). Strauss just didn’t care about the fact this special “LUCY” episode hadn’t been seen in 33 years, he attacked it for all the wrong reasons- even his picture printed at the top of his column reflected the jerk he appeared to be…and WAS.

    I offer this to you as an example that being “hip” in an effort to reach a “younger demographic” doesn’t necessarily mean a better reviewer…or a better understanding of the subject the reviewer is covering. I warn you- you’re not going to like Strauss’ attitude…..

    Monday, December 18, 1989

    TELEVISION- Robert Strauss

    Love’s labors lost on this Lucy

    It’s that time of year when the networks bring out the old chestnuts for our nostalgic viewing pleasure, and tonight that old chestnut-roaster of a network, CBS, plucks what it believes is a tenderly ripe one off the tree.

    Instead of a hip, with-it and Nielsen-disaster comedy, “The Famous Teddy Z” at 8:30 tonight, you’ll be able to see that evergreen, predictable ratings-winner, “I Love Lucy”.

    It’s not just any old Lucy, mind you, but “The I Love Lucy Christmas Special”, which CBS is touting as the “lost Lucy tape”.

    Frankly, it should have stayed lost. The worst “Famous Teddy Z” thus far was better than this.

    CBS said that it found the Christmas show originally broadcast on Dec. 24, 1956, “after extensive research”. When the entire run of “I Love Lucy” was sold into syndication back in the late 1950’s, this particular show was held back, presumably either because it might be shown out of season or because it contained flashbacks that would have spoiled other shows in the syndication package.

    The only thing that is spoiled tonight is that “I Love Lucy” was not only an extremely popular show- it is still the only show to retire while being No. 1 in the ratings- but an extremely creative and funny one.

    “The I Love Lucy Christmas Special” is only crassly sentimental, silly and poorly done. No doubt Lucille Ball whined to Desi Arnaz, “I need a slow week. Let’s do an easy Christmas thing and you pick out some stuff we did a few years back.”

    “Wheech wonz do wee do?”, wheezed Desi in mock Spanglish.

    “I don’t care. How about trying the least humorous ones and see if we can get laughs this time around”, giggled Lucy maniacally.

    Since “The I Love Lucy Christmas Special” is one of the first prime-time Christmas retrospectives, it may be a classic lab case for why such things should be trashed forever.

    The show starts with Lucy and Ricky Ricardo (Miss Ball and Arnaz) trying to get Little Ricky (not Desi Arnaz, Jr. as some believe, but a now unknown named Keith Thibodeaux) to sleep so he doesn’t see “Santa” decorate the tree and put the presents under it. The yawns start early.

    After Ricky gets to bed, landlords Fred and Ethel Mertz (William Frawley and Vivian Vance) trundle in with the tree, and as the four decorate it, they say those magic TV words, “Remember when?”. Poof! An old segment appears.

    You see the night Lucy told Ricky that she was pregnant right there during his act in the Tropicana night club (Dec. 8, 1952). You see Lucy singing far off key as the four try a barbershop routine of “Sweet Adeline” at the club (Dec. 22, 1952). You see Lucy being rushed off to the hospital for Little Ricky’s birth (Jan. 19, 1953).

    What you don’t see is why they chose such unfunny spots when they could have chosen any of a hundred slam-your-knee and convulse-in-belly-laughter shows that made “I Love Lucy” such a hit.

    The reason, as it almost always has been with network entertainment, was money. Though it was not the height in humor and talent, the short time Lucy’s pregnancy was on the tube (Hmmm, how could Ricky not know Lucy was expecting on Dec. 8 if she gave birth on Jan. 19th?) was the most popular and profitable of the show’s run. Young adults, the greatest segment of TV owners, were also in the midst of booming out babies. Cute was a more important attribute than really humourous in Babyland.

    Though still extremely popular in 1956, Lucy and Desi knew the show no longer gaining a new audience. The Christmas show was there mostly for those slightly-older young adults to remember their first Christmases with their “how-did-they-get-so-big” kids.

    One of CBS’ problems in the ratings is that it is still catering to those young adults of 1952. They may look at tonight’s special and remember good times, but those young-‘uns seeing Lucy for the first time will see this feeble compliation and wonder what all the fuss was about.

    1. Barry the reviewer was not nice, but he was, in some part, accurate. Lucy, perhaps because it has been shown to death (I’m talking about “I Love”) does not hold up well, and I feel that with the exception of a handful of episodes, “ILL” is not that funny anymore. Look after 60+ years of being on television, tape, DVD, internet, all the time, the old girl is showing her age. Of course being old is not a bad thing as such. The Marx Brother’s holds up well, as do Laurel and Hardy Jack Benny, and lots of other early comics. But, and I may be very alone in this, I don’t laugh at Lucy anymore. It saddens me, because at one time she was indeed the queen of television.

      One other thing, the reviewer said that Lucy was syndicated in the late 50’s. I’m pretty sure it was 1967, after she finished her daytime run on CBS.

      Very Good to see you around these parts, oh master of television! :>)


      1. Anyone who doesn’t still laugh at the antics of Lucy a) doesn’t know comedy and b) has no valid opinion on anything related to television.

      2. Strauss wasn’t that great about “TV history”, Joe…and he really didn’t care about “dates”. He believed “ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS” started out as a Saturday morning cartoon, when it was actually scheduled on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons on ABC from 1959 through ’61.

      3. Sorry, but I completely DISAGREE with you. I’ve watched I Love Lucy my whole life, and still find it as funny as it ever was.

  4. Just to give you an idea how much Robert Strauss was more in love with his own prose than the shows he was supposed to review, one of his last concerned the premiere of “3rd ROCK FROM THE SUN” in early 1996. Strauss sneered at it, and concluded, “Buy some old tapes of ‘My Favorite Martian’ instead”. The series lasted for over five seasons, long after Strauss had vanished from the pages of the ASBURY PARK PRESS. He’s currently part of the “Creative Writing” staff at the University Of Pennsylvania. If you find yourself assigned to one of his classes, demand to have your tuition refunded! {Or, at least, request another instructor.}

  5. I’m quite sure that Robert Strauss was more interested in showing off his prowess at creative writing than reviewing the TV shows he was supposed to be writing about. That’s why he later taught “Non-Fiction Creative Writing” at the University of Pennsylvania. To my knowledge, he was the ONLY TV critic in print who dismissed the 1956 “Christmas special”.

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