CBS is taking some heat from "I Love Lucy" fans for messing with perfection.
On Tuesday, the network announced it would air "The I Love Lucy Christmas Special," made up of commercial-free, back-to-back colorized episodes of the beloved show, on December 20.
The episodes picked include the show’s little-seen Christmas episode along with the fan favorite "Lucy's Italian Movie" (aka The One With the Grape-Stomping). According to CBS, each will be "colorized with a vintage look." Flashbacks in the "Christmas Episode" will remain in black-and-white to emphasize the time lapse, the network explained.
This isn't the first time CBS has tested the "I Love Lucy" colorized waters … but first, a little background on the rarely seen "Christmas Episode." It originally aired in December 1956 midway through the show's sixth and final season. However, due to concerns about the special’s long flashback sequences, it was not included in the syndication package.
In 1989, CBS execs tracked down the "lost" episode and dusted it off from the vault, airing it during a prime-time special in December. It attracted 29 million viewers. The network aired the "Christmas Episode" again in 1990 in color, keeping flashbacks in black-and-white, which was watched by 18.2 million viewers.
But that was before the Internet and social media.
The episode has since found a home on YouTube, where "Lucy" aficionados have blasted the colorization process in the comments. "I am not sure how I feel about colorization," begins one such critique by a fan called disneyparkjunkie. "While it is more interesting than the b&w version, it is still a little off. It looks so weird. " That was one-upped by headly66, who got right to the point: "They look like oompa loompas."
Tuesday's announcement also prompted plenty of Twitter action, including from journalists like Salon's Dan D'Addario and the Los Angeles Times's Yvonne Villarreal.
I *love* TV in December, it is all so weird! http://t.co/EfxzTtN63c
— Dan D'Addario (@DPD_) October 22, 2013
Faced with backlash from reverential fans, CBS quickly issued a statement defending the colorization as a tactic to expand the reach of the classic show.
"'I Love Lucy' has perhaps the broadest demographic appeal of any series in the history of television," Ken Ross, the executive vice president of CBS Home Entertainment, told the Los Angeles Times. "Once new generations of kids — who might not be open to trying black and white - watch it, they'll love the series. With this special broadcast, we want to give families something to enjoy together during the holiday. We think the respectful manner in which the colorization was done will bring joy to 'kids of all ages.'"
That notion of the older-skewing CBS reaching out to a younger demographic elicited a tweaking tweet from Variety wag Brian Lowry.
CBS airing "I Love Lucy" Christmas special from 1956. Great idea since most CBS viewers watched it with their kids in first run.
— Brian Lowry (@blowryontv) October 22, 2013
This is hardly the first time colorizing entertainment classics has sparked outrage. Ted Turner created quite the stir in the '80s when he announced he would release classic MGM titles — like "Casablanca" and "The Maltese Falcon" — in color. Turner argued colorization was necessary because television advertising rates for black-and-white movies were lower than those for color movies. Even "Lucy" merchandise has been colorized and peddled to collectors for years.
Still, it's no surprise the "Lucy" faithful are torn in the color vs. black-and-white debate. In 2012, the iconic sitcom was voted the Best TV Show of All Time in a survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine, beating out finalists "Seinfeld" and "M*A*S*H." The fans still love Lucy — just maybe not as much in color.
The "I Love Lucy Christmas Special," will air December 20 at 8 p.m. on CBS.