Two of TV-viewing America's best-loved septuagenarians, Lucille Ball and Milton Berle, will be returning to the tube in half-hour situation comedies.
Ball, 74, will star in "Lucy," the tentative title of her new fall series for ABC, network entertainment president Brandon Stoddard announced Thursday. Berle will be making his sitcom debut in "Moscow and Vine," being produced for syndication by Gaylord Productions.
Aaron Spelling, one of "Lucy's" three executive producers, along with Douglas Cramer and Ball's husband Gary Morton, said Thursday that Morton originated the project. "We talked and I got very excited and I called Brandon Stoddard at ABC and he got very excited--and here we are."
The ABC deal calls for a "full series commitment," Spelling said, which means that the network has agreed to air the series without ever seeing a pilot.
Asked what kind of character Ball will be playing, Spelling said, "we're working on it." Berle, 77, begins shooting his pilot episode next week, to be directed by former child star Jackie Cooper. Berle will play an ex-vaudevillian who co-owns a music store with a young Russian emigre. That part is in the process of being cast.
Alan Courtney, president of Gaylord Television, said that "there has been a tidal wave of stations asking about the availability of the show." It will be sold individually to independent and network affiliate stations, an increasingly successful and lucrative trend in program distribution.
Berle predated Ball's emergence on television as the headliner on the "Texaco Star Theatre" on NBC beginning in 1948.
Ball in that same year was beginning her three-year stint on CBS radio in "My Favorite Husband," which she parlayed into "I Love Lucy" on the same network in 1951 in the then-new medium of television. A decade of "I Love Lucy" was followed by 12 more seasons of "The Lucille Ball Show," later retitled "The Lucy Show" and then "Here's Lucy."
Among "I Love Lucy's" many firsts for television were its filming in Hollywood rather than emanating live from New York, its use of three simultaneous cameras and a live audience, now both standard on sitcoms; and resale of reruns--eventually for airing in more than 80 countries--as a means of increasing a series' profitability.
Asked if Ball would still have appeal to today's youth-skewed sitcom audience, Spelling said, "I was over at her house the other day and I want to tell you, I've never seen such vitality in my life."