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How Has TV Treated Skiing? Not Well.

Skiing was a handy punching bag when television searched for laughs. 
By Jeff Blumenfeld

It was one of the most famous broken legs in modern American history. 

When comedian Lucille Ball suffered a leg fracture during a skiing accident in Aspen in December 1971, the mishap gave new meaning to the Hollywood term “break a leg.” Rather than cancel the fifth season of Here’s Lucy, the accident was written into the script, with the funny redhead performing in a wheelchair and full-leg cast. The first episode, “Lucy’s Big Break,” aired September 11, 1972 on CBS-TV.

It was the beginning of the end for Ball’s brilliant form of slapstick comedy. Sure, there were small gags that Ball could safely perform without further injuring her leg, but according to Geoffrey Mark Fidelman, author of The Lucy Book (Renaissance Books, 1999), this was the point where the Lucy character was “finally allowed to age.” In an effort to turn lemons into lemonade, publicists for the show pitched the media on printing x-rays of her fractured leg, adding insult to injury. 

While we can all name our favorite ski scenes in Hollywood theatrical films—yes, we’re looking at you, James Bond—it was television that entertained us most in the pre-Internet era. From time to time this “vast wasteland,” as a former FCC chairman called it, would focus its gimlet eye on skiing, often giving the sport a black eye...

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