Television Obscurities Website: “I Love Lucy” Unaired Pilot Episode (2008)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

In March of 1951, a 34-minute pilot episode for a proposed I Love Lucy series was filmed in an attempt to sell the series to CBS and potential sponsors. It worked, but the pilot itself was never broadcast. Instead, its storyline was worked into an episode that was shown on November 19th, 1951 during I Love Lucy’s first season [1]. Although I Love Lucy would air for six years and reign atop the Nielsen charts, the pilot episode was eventually forgotten.

In the early 1980s, the Museum of Broadcasting (now the Paley Center for Media, formerly the Museum of Television & Radio) began actively searching for the pilot episode. At the time, the curator of museum’s television collection, Ronald C. Simon, explained that during the 1970s all traces of the pilot had disappeared; not even Desi Arnaz or Lucille Ball owned or knew where to find a copy [2].

Then, in December of 1989, a film print was found under the bed of a the late Pepito Pérez, who had appeared in the pilot as a clown way back in 1951. Reportedly, Pepito’s widow, Joanne Pérez, had read about the long-lost pilot in TV Guide, recalled that her husband had been given a copy, and checked under their bed [3]. CBS aired an hour-long special built around the pilot on Monday, April 30th, 1990. It tied for first in the week’s ratings with a 21.2/37 rating. Over 30 million viewers tuned in [4].

Updated Friday, February 20th, 2009

S.A.K. has informed me in the comment section that portions of the above story are incorrect. A print of the unaired pilot was given to Pepito Pérez by Desi Arnez. It was never “lost” and certainly was never kept under anyone’s bed. It was even shown by Pepito and his wife, Joanne, to people taking their dance classes. Television historians and fans of I Love Lucy owe both Pepito and Joanne a debt of gratitude for hanging on to the print and later making it available.

1 Shales, Tom. “Love That ‘Lost’ Lucy.” Washington Post. 30 Apr. 1990: B1.
2 “Broadcasting Museum Seeks TV’s Self-History.” 43.
3 Richmond, Ray. “Long-Lost Lucy TV Pilot Airs Tonight.” Toronto Star. 30 Apr. 1990: B4.
4 “Nielsens: NBC Barely Sweeping by CBS.” USA Today. 9 May 1990: 3D.

This entry was posted on Saturday, December 20th, 2008 at 10:18PM and is filed under I Love LucyTV’s Lost & Found



Wednesday, May 13, 2009 – 06:32 PM

Direct Family

This is Mariví Escobar from Spain. My aunt Joanne sent also a copy of this video to be shown it to the family in Spain. My niece Helena Escobar, who is a well-known clown too now in Catalonia, owns it now.

February 20, 2009 – 2:12 PM

S. A. K.

This article has incorrect facts. I originally read about the search for the pilot episide in the TV Guide and called Joanne (a long time dear friend and personal dance instructor). Joanne stated that Desi had said that he wanted Pepito to keep it, not ever give it to anyone. Desi GAVE it to Pepito after he was done with it. It was not under Pepito’s bed. It was on a shelf in Pepito’s closet. Joanne kept a very neat and clean house. She did not store anything under beds. When I first took dancing from Pepito and Joanne, Pepito showed the classes the “pilot” numerous times. It was a fun time. Pepito and Joanne were very special people. Everyone seems to get the “Pilot” story wrong.

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