When We All Loved Lucy

“OK, do you know Vitameatavegamin?” I asked.

“The ‘Lucy’ episode?'” she answered.

Yeah, the Lucy episode. The one that aired originally 34 years before she was born. The one that aired a year and a half before my mom was born. That Lucy episode.

What does it say about the reach of a television show when someone who was born around the time Knight Rider went off the air is familiar with a Lucy episode that aired 60 years ago next month?

Over two-thirds of the people watching television on May 5, 1952 watched “Lucy Does A TV Commercial.” How many of the other third, or of the people who weren’t watching that night, or of the people who weren’t even born yet, have seen the episode since, there’s no telling. Short answer — a lot.

Enough that it’s an American cultural touchstone, something that we as a nation share in common.

And, really, that’s not uncommon for televisions series, until a certain point.

That point, of course, is the tipping point for the increasing prevalence of cable and the fragmentation of the American television viewing audience. Today, there are several timeslots in which multiple “big” series air, shows that each have their own loyal following.

Television has gone from becoming a uniting thing to a dividing thing. Gone are the days in which you can take for granted that an episode of a particular show is something that everyone shares. Instead, it becomes a cool thing when you find someone that likes the same series you do. It’s not a common unifier, it’s the foundation for cliques. It’s no longer a part of the culture, it’s the basis of subcultures.

At least we all can still share the cinema. For now.