“I Love Lucy” — and Desi Arnaz in particular — is often credited with the invention of the multi-camera shooting style in front of a live audience that the vast majority of sitcoms have adopted until the last few years. This isn’t entirely true. According to a piece written by the LA Times back in 1991, this system of shooting was created by Al Simon and Karl Freund, who first used three cameras to shoot the game show “Truth or Consequences” in front of a live audience. And even before that, Jerry Fairbanks utilized three cameras for the show “Public Prosecutor” back in 1947, though that was done without an audience.
Simon and Freund were recruited to work on “I Love Lucy,” and they brought their three-camera system along with them. Being that “Truth of Consequences” was a game show, “I Love Lucy” can take the credit for being the first multi-cam sitcom with a live audience. Thanks to that show’s popularity and quality, that multi-cam system was no longer a test to see if it worked for the situation comedy. It became a defining characteristic for the form forever, one that creators now choose to embrace or turn away from.
To us in the present, the multi-cam sitcom is old hat. Whether we’re watching “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Seinfeld,” “The Jeffersons,” or “Frasier,” the form is second nature, and because of that second nature, we have seen an explosion of single-camera sitcoms in the last decade or so. At a certain point, I know that pendulum is going to swing back the other way, and more people are going to try and recapture what makes the multi-cam such a terrific style for the sitcom. And we have “I Love Lucy” to thank for that.