In 1948, Lucille Ball was in a radio comedy called "My Favorite Husband", largely so she didn't have to travel very much. Also, she wanted to shore up her shaky marriage with the famous Cuban band leader, Desi Arnaz (he wasn't her husband on the radio).
Lucy insisted that Desi be cast as her husband, and CBS executives were appalled, from Bill Paley
on down to the advertisers. Lucy remained adamant, and Paley gave in. Lucy understood what the execs did not, that viewers would more than get it that Desi was her husband in real life, even though the character names were Lucy and Ricky Ricardo.
Lucy cast herself as an ordinary housewife who longed to be a star. Ricky wanted nothing more than a noral life with a normal marriage. The Philip Morris Company became the sponsor, and the first episode aired on 15 October 1951. The executives at Philip Morris were not thrilled with the first episode, but were persuaded to give the show some time, and it wasn't long before "I Love Lucy" was in the Nielsen Top 10.
Lucy insisted that her show be shot in front of a live studio audience, knowing that she played incredibly well performing live. Lucy appealed to all age groups, with children seeing Lucy as a childlike adult. To everyone's surprise, Desi was a great straight-man to Lucy, but Desi was the kind of straight-man that got laughs. Rounding out the primary cast was Vivian Vance as Ethel and Bill Frawley as Fred, Lucy and Ricky's screwball neighbors.
By 7 April 1952, 10.6 million households were watching "I Love Lucy", the first time that so many Americans watched the same TV show. By 1954, as many as 50 million watched certain episodes. The show became so popular that it lifted the entire TV industry to new heights; for example, during 1954 TV became the largest advertising medium in the world. During the first few years of "I Love Lucy", the show was set in a city, but after ratings slipped a bit, all four characters moved to the suburbs in Westport, Connecticut.
#1 show on television.