The love affair between TV Guide and Lucille Ball, and her classic series I Love Lucy, continues as the weekly magazine, celebrating 60 years of its national edition this year, recently voted the episode in which Lucy Ricardo gives birth to Little Ricky on I Love Lucy the No. 1 most riveting moment on television. Ever.
On Monday, January 19, 1953, Lucille Ball gave birth to Desi Arnaz Jr. (by C-section) on the same day the Ricardos had their blessed event. The media mania over the event caused an audience surge of 44 million viewers for that episode of the show, and put Lucy and baby Desi on the cover of TV Guide‘s first national edition, dubbing Desi Jr. Lucy’s “$50 million baby,” due to the merchandising tie-ins relating to the character of Little Ricky Ricardo and the groundbreaking popularity of the show itself.
I Love Lucy was never out of the No. 1 ratings spot after that except for one year, when it was No. 2 (a little quiz show called the The $64,000 Question took the No. 1 spot in the 1955-’56 season).
Wikipedia reports that when ”Lucy Goes to the Hospital” first aired, ”It garnered a record 71.7 rating, meaning 71.7 percent of all television households at the time were tuned in to view the program.” That surpassed the number of viewers who watched President Eisenhower’s inauguration the following morning. To this day, that I Love Lucy viewing record is surpassed only by Elvis Presley’s first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, September 9, 1956 (watched by 82.6 percent of the viewing audience).
I Love Lucy does, however, have the highest average rating for a TV show for any season. Any weekly episode from the 1953-1954 seasons was watched by anywhere from 58% to 67% of the total viewing audience. Those figures are pretty much impossible to produce these days, due to the fracturing of TV market and all the cable niche networks that have sprung up.
The accompanying pic shows the hysterically funny hysteria that results after Lucy announces, “Ricky, this is it!” even though Ricky (Desi Arnaz), and the Mertzes (Vivian Vance and William Frawley), have rehearsed getting Lucy to the hospital over and over in a calm, matter-of-fact manner. [Trivia: Look for Lucy's pal Barbara Pepper as a nurse in the hospital waiting room scenes.]
Because I Love Lucy has never been off the air since its original broadcast years (1951-1957), and because the show remains extremely popular in the United States and many countries, it is estimated that its most popular episode, and television’s most riveting moment, is the most-viewed television episode of all time. Congratulations once again, I Love Lucy! It was a boy for the Ricardos (and the Arnazes) 60 years ago, and it remains the most enduring moment in the small screen’s history, 60 years on.