• 'I Love Lucy' ran from 1951 to 1957. (MARY EVANS PICTURE LIBRARY)
A New Zealand man didn't like seeing a heavily pregnant sports presenter on TV, calling her "embarrassing and an eyesore". But all the fuss over pregnant women on TV goes back to the days of 'I Love Lucy'.
By
Melissa Matheson

18 Jan 2016 - 5:28 PM  UPDATED 18 Jan 2016 - 6:09 PM

When Lucille Ball wove her real-life pregnancy into the script of ‘I Love Lucy’ there was one word the network bosses deemed too vulgar for TV - "pregnant".

It was 1952, the show had already been on the air for a year, and broken major ground by featuring a mixed-race couple. But saying the word "pregnant" was a step too far.

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“Expecting” was the go-to phrase. Even the episode’s title, ‘Lucy Is Enceinte’, borrowed the French word for pregnant.

When Lucy gave birth to her son Ricky on the show, 44 million viewers tuned in – or 72 per cent of all USA homes that had a TV at the time.

Today, re-runs of 'I Love Lucy' are watched by around 40 million Americans each year.

Some of the lines might seem a little old to modern audiences, but if you happened to be reading New Zealand’s January 2016 ‘TV Guide’, you would be forgiven for thinking it was 1952 all over again.

You see, 69-year-old father of three John Rook was so angered at seeing a pregnant sports presenter on TVNZ that he penned a letter to ‘TV Guide’ calling her "embarrassing and an eyesore".

"Who is responsible for allowing a sports reporter in a very pregnant state to remain on screen?" he wrote.

"I have no problem seeing pregnant women in normal situations or places, but to have them remain on TV in a state which I feel is embarrassing and an eyesore? It's time to replace them.

“So please, TVNZ, open your eyes and show some common sense."

Such a charmer. The presenter under fire, Jenny-May Clarkson, is expecting twins, by the way.

It reminds me of the ridiculous outrage over Nicky Buckley on 'Sale of the Century'. In 1997, Channel Nine was flooded with complaints from viewers who didn’t appreciate Buckley’s fitted dresses – because she was pregnant. Those same viewers seemingly didn’t have a problem with her figure-hugging outfits when she wasn’t pregnant.

“People started going berserk about how grotesque it was and how ugly it was and how I should be made to leave until I’d had the baby, saying, ‘We don’t want some fat woman coming out on to our screen every night,’ ” Buckley told the Herald Sun upon the release of her memoir last year.

“Radio stations and magazines ran polls and A Current Affair did a story, people pitted themselves against each other. Apparently I jammed fax machines around the country with people sending in letters.”

I was 14 at the time, and I remember watching it all blow up, thinking: What’s the problem? She looks great! She was fit and healthy with immaculate style - I still don’t understand the outrage.

Even now, almost 64 years after I Love Lucy’s pregnancy, nothing works-up the cranky couch potatoes quite like the image of a pregnant woman working on television.

Not to mention a pregnant woman working out on television. Trainer Michelle Bridges copped it from disgruntled viewers for daring to continue her fitness regime while pregnant with her son Axel. She shouldn’t be lifting weights while pregnant, they shouted. Because they, somehow magically, know more about Bridges’ body and its capabilities than she does.

Pregnant women are not invalids. Yes, some have complicated pregnancies and need to take things easy. But that’s not everyone. And it’s not your place, Guy Sitting On The Couch Watching Women Work And Complaining About It, to tell them what they can and can’t do while they’re growing a human being inside them.

Unless you’re the mother-to-be’s personal doctor or partner, then it is not your place. It’s not your body, it’s not your child, it’s not your decision.

So on behalf of decent society, I’m pressing the mute button on you.