Saturday, December 21, 2013

I HATE LUCY in color

The next time CBS wants to show a colorized version of I LOVE LUCY in primetime, I implore to show anything else – even another HAWAII FIVE-O episode.

Last night CBS aired two classic I LOVE LUCY episodes but colorized them. They looked absolutely ghoulish. I think the whole idea of colorizing black and white is reprehensible anyway, but since Ted Turner first adopted this nasty practice some twenty years ago you’d think the technology would improve.

Instead, the process looks worse. Gray sets, day-glo orange hair for Lucy, creepy skin tones, and muted colors for the clothing. What makes it even more unconscionable is that color home movies exist of the filming of I LOVE LUCY. They had the ability to match actual colors and either didn’t bother to or their technology was so bad they couldn’t pull it off.  (Note:  earlier this year I featured that home movie.  You can find it here.)
Don’t fuck with I LOVE LUCY. It’s a classic. It’s a time piece. It’s supposed to be in black-and-white. Its lack of color has not stopped younger generations from enjoying it just fine… for fifty years.

What’s next? Painting the statue of David? Showing STEAMBOAT WILLIE in 3D? Attaching arms to Venus de Milo?

I admire the fact that CBS wanted to show two episodes of I LOVE LUCY in primetime – even though it was on a Friday night (TV’s graveyard shift). I LOVE LUCY was instrumental in the success of CBS television. But at least have the respect to show it in its intended form. Have enough faith in the product and artistry that you can air it in its original form.

I turned it off after ten minutes. And next year I’ll do the same if they show LASSIE and digitally add clothing to the dog. Or AMOS & ANDY if they digitally make all the characters white.

CBS, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.

Last weekend to Xmas shop.  My new book MUST KILL TV is a  great stocking stuffer for anyone who loves to laugh.  Paperback is only $8.99 -- perfect for co-workers, friends, and ex-lovers you've always wanted to kill.   Here's where you go.    If you buy it you will guarantee that somebody has a Merry Christmas.  That somebody is me.   Thanks much.

48 comments:

Terrence Moss said...

I feel the EXACT same way. It's great that CBS showed "I Love Lucy" in prime -- but ridiculous that they did it in COLOR.

It's very NBC. And CBS is making some very NBC-like moves of late. More networks should pull out these classics on Friday and Saturday nights. But without the colorization.

I can't imagine that it would cost them much if anything at all or that smaller advertisers wouldn't clamor for it.

Money for the networks. Nostalgia for the audience.

Brian O. said...

Clearly Day-glo orange was pandering to the Katy Perry crowd.
You should've watched more than ten minutes. Later on they twerked stomping grapes to hip-hop mambo.

unkystan said...

MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!

Barry Traylor said...

They did this for all those morons that want to see Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon or Citizen Kane in color.

Sarah said...

I did watch the whole Christmas episode because it was an episode that I had never seen before. I really wish it had not been colorized. I'm 25 and I've known that colorizing black and white movies is a bad idea for 15 years. But that might be because I Love Lucy was my favorite show as a child and Casablanca is my favorite movie. I can not speak for other 25 year olds. Maybe they loved I Love Lucy in color.

Anyway, my favorite part of the Christmas episode was the flashbacks to when Lucy went into labor. It's something I've seen a dozen times but laughed like it was the first time. It just goes to show that good comedy is timeless.

peabody nobis said...

Right on, Ken! I can't stand watching episodes of "The Andy Griffith Show" in color, and those were originally filmed in color. The show just lost it's charm, along with Don Knotts and producer Aaron Ruben.
Colorizing "I Love Lucy" is just blasphemous. I suppose they felt that young people wouldn't watch a B&W show, but they would have been better off not showing it at all.

Dan Ball said...

I like what Columbia did when they colorized Three Stooges about five years ago. They provided both the colorized and B&W versions. Watching colorized anything is definitely a study in how not to color something.

You're exactly right, though, Ken. In 20 years, this should've improved. We can make pretty much anything look realistic from scratch with today's CGI, but we can't get colorization right? I bet an all-CG reproduction of Lucy would've NAILED the B&W OR color perfectly, but they still can't color the source material properly.

The screenshot you posted looks like a bad Warhol ripoff.

You know if CBS showed Star Trek, they'd get killer numbers. They'd never do it because they hate Star Trek against all conscionable business sense.

Scooter Schechtman said...

And to make amends they're going to show a black and white version of "Fantasia". (from Johnny Carson monologue)

Mike McCann said...

Why not let I LOVE LUCY be seen in the best possible b&w print? I watch JACK BENNY and PERRY MASON on Me and Antenna TV and the remastered copies "pop." They're not contemporary shows. They represent the 1950s and early '60s -- and are fine as they were. In fact, PERRY MASON, especially the early seasons (when Ray Collins, not Bill Tallman was Raymond Burr's real rival) is about as close as TV came to creating film noir. Brilliant shows, craftfully filmed. It fits the haunting, mysterious mood.

Hopefully, future generations can see these shows as intended.

Leave the classics alone.

AlaskaRay said...

I might be wrong, but I'm starting to think you didn't like it very much.

Ray

Cap'n Bob said...

When I worked, I worked with a lot of young people and nearly all of them said they wouldn't watch a b&w movie or TV show, period. Quality was not a factor. I'm sure this prejudice is what colorization is all about.

MikeFab said...

My wife is an "I Love Lucy" addict, and she also turned it off after a few minutes. Modern technology like color enhancement and high-def conversion works well on some things on the tube, but not on everything. My brother has a new big screen high-def TV. He likes to watch old Westerns, but the high-def conversion is over-the-top. They give you that weird "Soap Opera" visual feel. I don't think the original directors wanted their work to look like that.

RareWaves said...

Admittedly, I've fantasized about seeing The Wizard Of Oz with the "real" scenes in color and the "fantasy" scenes in black and white.

Steve B. said...

The "I Love Lucy" special topped the night with a 1.4 in the 18-49 demo, so I guess someone wanted to see it in color.

BTW, I thought it was interesting and refreshing to see the eps in color. It certainly wasn't funnier, but just an interesting way to see the shows we know so well in a new way.

Jonathan said...

MikeFab,
The soap opera feel isn't from hi-def conversion. It's an evil setting on your brother's TV that he can change. The manufacturers have invented a "smoothing" feature that makes live and taped programs look sharper but it makes film look all wrong. They are so proud of this technology, they have started making it the default setting. All the manufacturers call it something different, but if your brother goes into his video settings, he can turn it off.

Jerry Bachman said...

I agree, especially about not matching it to the source material, but still grateful to see Lucy in prime time -- and with good ratings. Sends a message that sadly, most likely will either be ignored because no ambitious, agenda-driven exec can lay claim to the show.

At least it wasn't a "re-imagining" of with Sofia Vergara as saucy nightclub entertainer Riqui, Matthew Broderick as star-struck husband Lou C. Ricardo, with Rosie O'Donnell and K.D. Lang as Freida and Ethel, the two talented landladies.

chalmers said...

From that screen capture and Lucy's hair color, I thought it was a rerun of the Heat Miser/Snow Miser Christmas special.

Hamid said...

A TV channel in the UK is showing MASH reruns. I tuned in to watch. Unfortunately they're showing them with the laugh track! Bad, bad, bad! Ironically, the channel's called True Entertainment.

DwWashburn said...

I will admit that Sony did a great job of colorizing about a dozen of the Three Stooges shorts. They were natural looking and beautiful (or as beautiful as the Stooges could be).

I don't condemn colorization with a blanket brush. There is some good usages of colorization out there. But most are either washed out or garish.

Johnny Walker said...

Is that first image for real? If so: What... the... f...?

Jeffrey Mark said...

God forbid CBS decides to colorize the Dick Van Dyke Show next year. It would be hideous for certain.

Barry Traylor said...

Dan Ball said:

You know if CBS showed Star Trek, they'd get killer numbers. They'd never do it because they hate Star Trek against all conscionable business sense.

Someone might correct me if I am wrong but Star Trek was in color when it first aired.

cadavra said...

"They did this for all those morons that want to see Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon or Citizen Kane in color."

There's no such animal. Kids don't watch them because they're in B&W. They don't watch them because they're OLD.

BTW, Ken, I'm surprised you didn't mention an ever greater outrage: In those days, episodes ran 26 minutes, so at least five minutes of each half-hour were cut out to make room for more commercials.

D. McEwan said...

I watched. What a mess. First off, the colorizing was awful. They HAVE improved colorizing more than this. It looked like they colorized it 20 years ago. They must have gone with a slipshod cheap version. It can and has been done considerably better.

Then there was the fact that the Christmas episode was a clip show and they didn't bother to colorize the clips. That was a money-saver. Do YOU remember your own past in black & white?

There are occasions when colorization is appropriate. Ray Harryhausen supervised the colorization of three of his own early movies, It Came From Beneath the Sea, Earth vs the Flying Saucers and 20,000,000 Miles From Earth. He stated that those movies being B&W was not an artistic choice, but done for budgetary reasons. He'd have shot them in color if he could have, so he was simply making his own work conform to his own original visiion. Also, the colorization of those films was light-years beyond the anemic colorizing on I Love Lucy last night.

I have a colorized version of the 1971 Doctor Who story The Daemons. It was originally shot in color but no color prints were known still to exist, so in that case, colorization was restoration. Also, the colorization was done considerably better. (And they'd bother to, whenever possible, reproduce the real, original colors. Same with the Harryhausen movies.)

I'm reminded of what Jeff Goldblum says to Richard Attenborough in Jurassic Park: [I'm paraphrasing from memory, because crossing the room to put in the DVD is such bother] "You were so carried away by the fact that you could that you didn't stop to consider whether you should."

In October, I went and saw The Wizard of Oz in Imax 3-D. What a terrific blunder that was! First off, when you take a movie that was shot in 35mm, and we're talking 1938 35mm, what you get when you blow it up to Imax, which requries 65mm or 70mm, what you get are horribly grainy images. There's not enough visual information in the 35mm frames to blow up to Imax. Low-Def.

The ads said that the 3-D makes you feel like you're there. Well, this was right. The retro-fitted 3-D Wizard of Oz did make you feel you were there (In a very-grainy universe), only not in Oz. It put you right into a 1938 MGM soundstage. Suddenly the sets looked small and cramped. Only the poppyfield set looked spacious. The 2-D painted backdrops screamed their two-dimensionality at you. Peter Jackson's 48 fps, widescreen, real 3-D Hobbit movies are friggin' amazing looking, like the screens are open windows to another, larger world. (The 48 fps puts normal 24 fps 3-D into the trash heap.) The Wizard of Oz in over-blown-up retrofitted 3-D took you to a MGM soundstage.

They were so excited that they could that they didn't stop to consider if they should.

They shouldn't.

Ralph C. said...

It's like putting Whistler's Mother in a BarcaLounger...with a remote...and she'd be watching the colorized "I Love Lucy"!!!

D. McEwan said...

"cadavra said...
'They did this for all those morons that want to see Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon or Citizen Kane in color.'

There's no such animal. Kids don't watch them because they're in B&W. They don't watch them because they're OLD."


Sorry, Cadav, but not always right about that. Certainly there are a goodly number of young folks who won't watch anything that is older than they are, but I've also met more than a few young people who will happily watch old movies and TV shows, as long as they are in color, but who categorically refuse to watch anything that is in black & white. They avoid it like the plague, as though B&W offends their eyes somehow, as though it is unhealthy or dangerous. One wonders what the hell these poor benighted dopes are so afraid of. One pities them, but also can not avoid feelings of contempt for them as well.

The next generation said...

Black and white:
Between the ages of 7 and 10, my daughter loved "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "King Kong." Big fan of Buster Keaton and the Marx Brothers. She liked "The Bicycle Thief," "Some Like It Hot," and "Night of the Hunter," and she laughed a lot at "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek." She was okay on "A Hard Day's Night," "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Dr. Strangelove." But she got bored and walked out on "Casablanca," "It's a Wonderful Life," and "Citizen Kane." More recently (age 13) she sat through "Les Enfants du Paradis," and was satisfied with it, but is dying to see "Anchorman 2." I don't think there's a template for this stuff.

fred nerk said...

Time for your medicine Mr McEwan.

Tim said...

Neither of those LUCY episodes aired last night was newly colorized, despite what many sources claimed. The Christmas show aired on CBS in black and white in 1989 and in colorized form in 1990. Two other episodes, "Lucy's Italian Movie" and "Lucy Goes to Scotland," were colorized a few years later as an experiment that went no further.

I'm glad they did well, ratings-wise, but I just hate colorization.

As someone mentioned, both episodes were edited. I noticed chunks missing out of both shows.

Brighter news: Season 1 of I LOVE LUCY is set to debut on Blu-ray in April, along with season 1 of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and the "classic 39" HONEYMOONERS!

RCP said...

It's a shame you turned it off after 10 minutes, Ken - the best part of the hour was Lucy in the wine vat in the last quarter. Lucy said herself that she didn't know what was funny (though she was very funny complaining about her uncomfortable chair on Merv Griffin once), be that as it may, once she's doing physical comedy it's always a joy to watch.

The coloring was pretty awful - it looked like they'd poured cream of tomato soup over Lucy's head, and the novelty of it wore off after 30 seconds.

RCP said...

D. McEwan said...

"The retro-fitted 3-D Wizard of Oz did make you feel you were there (In a very-grainy universe), only not in Oz. It put you right into a 1938 MGM soundstage."

I agree, and it was a distraction throughout. For me, however, the novelty of seeing it on an actual movie screen for the first time went a long way toward compensating for its technical failings. Actually, I was more distracted by a photo I'd seen a few days before of Judy reading a newspaper during a lunch break from WOZ - beside her are three munchkins taking a cigarette break. That was an image I also tried to push away along with the flimsy backdrops.

Len said...

To make matters worse, they redid the closing credits and even edited the content for time. Since I know the "Grape Vat" episode by heart, I noticed several gag lines were missing. Beyond the circus-like colorization, that fact is even more shameful

VP81955 said...

Ken, you probably are aware of this and just wrote it as a one-liner, but the initial colorization "pioneer" was not Ted Turner, but Hal Roach. His 1937 classic "Topper," with Constance Bennett, Cary Grant and Roland Young, was the first movie to get the treatment. (Grant was still alive at the time, and IIRC, wasn't publicly opposed to the process.)

I say this because Turner is still maligned for colorization after lo these many years, when in reality his firm at the time colorized relatively few films; most movies that got the treatment had it performed by other firms. Turner should really be remembered for his work in film preservation, as his company helped preserve and restore thousands of movies in the MGM, Warners and RKO libraries -- movies that provided the basis for the original TNT channel and later led the way to Turner Classic Movies after TNT was converted to other uses. Fans of classic Hollywood owe Ted plenty, even after he sold Turner Broadcasting to TimeWarner some years back. Learn more about Ted's film preservation achievements at http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com/438472.html

Jim said...

Refusing to watch Black and White films isn't just a young person thing. My mother hates them too, and she's just turned 80. I'm not sure why. Maybe she just sees them as another bit of the crap side of the past.

D. McEwan said...

RCP, yes, just seeing Wizard of Oz on a big screen if you never have before is a great experience. For me, well, I've seen it in theaters several times before. In fact, the very first time I ever saw it was in a theater, before it had ever been on TV.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

While we're getting rid of colorization (other than for film restoration and preservation) can we get rid of dubbing, too?

The problem with colorization, I've always thought, is that intuitively we know the colors don't look right - because when you were filming for black and white you doubtless picked items and colors for the *way they were going to look in black and white*. So you might well pick stuff in colors you would never use in color because they were luminous in a certain wway in monochrome. So when the research department gets all excited about figuring out what colors were in style etc they are probably choosing the wrong colors for the actual items. And I think on some level we can see this.

wg

Wayne said...

How bad did colorized Lucy do in the ratings?

Mike said...

@Wayne: The LUCY Christmas special was the evening's top-rated program with adults 18-49.

D. McEwan said...

"Tim's" revelation that this colorizing was done 23 years ago makes sense. It explains why the anemic colorizing looked so bad, so inferior to the colorizing one sees done now. Thank you, Tim, for clearing that up.

It did kill in the ratings but I wouldn't put much stock in that. It was a Friday (TV Death Zone) in a week of mostly network repeats anyway, and massively hyped. What else was on? Not much. Add in the morbid-curiosity factor, and yes, great ratings this once. I suspect a lot of those viewers would not be back for more.

Rob in Toronto said...

This is hardly the first time CBS has run the Christmas special ( as Tim points out it first ran in 1989 )and it has garnered huge ratings every time, regardless of the night it runs. Where has everybody been ?

Anonymous said...

I agree: I hate colorization. Even the ZORRO episodes looked fake when Disney did it for that series.

IF you plan to buy the DVD they promoted, it comes with BOTH color and B&W versions, for the purists (which is most of us).

NORM (anonymous as I'm out of town and don't have my GOGGLE account info to log in.

McAlvie said...

Put me on the list of haters for this whole idea. They knew they were filming in b&w, and they used it. There are shades and shadows in these old films that are part of the art itself. That's why so many professional photographers often choose b&w even today. Colorize it, and you lose the mood, the atmosphere. I knew I would hate what they were doing to Lucy, so I didn't even bother watching.

As for young people not wanting to watch b&w, that might be true of some, but it's also true of some that they wouldn't watch Casablanca anyway because it takes place before they were born, it's not vulgar enough, and Ingrid Bergman wears too many clothes. In the meantime, if they ever are exposed to these films it should be the way there were intended to be viewed. That's the only way they'll ever understand why they are classics in the first place.

Mike said...

Perhaps I'm in the minority, but I thought the colorization was pretty well-done. I too noticed the cuts for time (didn't see the grape-stomping episode, but did notice the edits in the Christmas show), but for the most part, it was well done.

And just a minor correction: While CBS did indeed air the Christmas episode in color in 1990, and for a few years thereafter, it was slightly different from what we saw last Friday. And, in my opinion, worse. Friday's version looked much more natural.

Here's the one from 1990:
http://youtu.be/347B7eBba9c

Wayne said...

If you missed hating it on Dec 20, CBS is showing it again Dec 25 Christmas Day at 8. This may be the world's quickest Lucy rerun.

D. McEwan said...

Hmm. New Doctor Who special or a Lucy repeat I just saw and loathed?

Who's on first once again.

warewolfboy said...

Actually to be fair to everyone,this new one was done with an 1080p HD transfer. The one everyone is thinking of is the 1990 version with brown walls. The new version was colourised digitally by legend films(now legend3D)while the old one was done on analogue. And I actually like colourisation as it gives a new life to films like the ray harryhausen films and the single fireball xl5 episode. I would never think of course of colourising orson welle's films as that would ruin the cinematography of them. But for sci fi,family and musicals I'm fine with it.

Blogger said...

The producers behind the colorized Lucy episodes claimed they were "improving" the look by changing the hues to present a more "Technicolor" approach. Not only was this not a plus, but it stands as an insult to the classic Technicolor process. It could more accurately be called Trashycolor.

BillFinkRI said...

Sorry - this is pretty late(r) to be posting here, on this subject but I just found this site Googlin' how did they colorize it.

It's too bad most here feel the color was bad. I did want to point out that if everyone had bad color(s) perhaps it's due to a brand of TV not known for their calibration. I do agree B&W is great stuff - (and "timeless" as mentioned above) but I have to admit - the color to me looked great - then again, I feel my TV brand, as mentioned in one fairly reputable tech mag as "The Best TV Picture Ever!" - recreated the colors quite well. (I don't know the policy of this site but seems every time I mention a brand-name, the post gets kicked back.)

Be certain your TV's are _well_ calibrated for proper color. Maybe before discussing how bad the colors appeared to you.

Back to my original objective here, does anyone know of/about the technology they used? Certainly this technology (looked to me!) to be MUCH better than those movies they colorized from the 40's and 50's. (Those, the colors jump all over the picture and never stay (evenly) with the subject(s).)