I Love Lucy premiered on CBS more than 70 years ago, but time hasn’t diminished its appeal. The show starring real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz is still consistently ranked among the greatest sitcoms of all time.
“We had the unusual job of, in this doc, actually dealing with people who are very famous and very well-known and trying to figure out how to connect with them on a human level,” Poehler explained as she appeared at Deadline’s Contenders Television: Documentary + Unscripted event. “Oftentimes, it can be the other way around, which is a great documentary brings you into a world you didn’t know about and tells you why it’s important. We had almost the opposite job here, which is these big, iconic, important genius, successful people — what is their human story?”
To tell that part of the story, Poehler and her team were able to draw on the memories of Lucy and Desi’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, as well home movies and previously unheard audio tapes of Ball and Arnaz.
“It’s sort of a documentarian’s dream when you’re working with a subject and along the way they say, ‘Well, we’ve got this box of tapes in the garage or in the basement or in the closet. And it’s labeled, but we never really opened it up,’” producer Justin Wilkes said. “And then, of course, you open it up and there’s amazing material in there. That’s literally what happened in this case.”
Ball and Arnaz broke new ground in every aspect of their creative collaboration. Desi was the first Latino on television to be portrayed as a sophisticated man; Lucy dared to appear unglamorous in her outrageous comedy bits. I Love Lucy pioneered many elements of production that remain standard today.
“They created syndication and they created the rerun,” producer Jeanne Elfant Festa said. “Filming in front of a live studio audience — that in itself was massive. … They blocked and shot as if it was a staged play, which I thought was amazing. In fact, Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill explained to us that they did the rehearsal, the studio audience came in, and that was it. There were no retakes.”
Lucy and Desi began streaming on Prime Video in early March.
“The feedback I’ve gotten has been really satisfying because I think people have been really moved by the long partnership that [Lucy and Desi] had,” Poehler said. “And also, I just think that we love a love story, and I think we’ve come off of a very lonely two years [of the pandemic] where we’re really looking to feel and to laugh.”
Check back Monday for the panel video.