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Google Doodle serenades I Love Lucy's Desi Arnaz

The Cuban-born entertainer is being honored for helping reshape sitcom TV as we know it today.

Google honors TV sitcom pioneer Desi Arnaz.

Google

If you watched TV during the 1950s, '60s or '70s, you'll immediately recognize the source of the phrase, "Hey, Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do!'"

Those words were uttered -- frequently -- on the '50s American TV sitcom I Love Lucy by Ricky Ricardo, portrayed by Desi Arnaz. Ricardo was the TV husband of Lucy McGillicuddy Ricardo, and Arnaz was real-world hubby to the actress who played her, Lucille Ball. Most people familiar with Ricardo's demand for an explanation wouldn't remember hearing the words when the show first aired, but rather in a rerun, something pioneered by the show.

To honor the musician, actor and TV trailblazer behind those iconic words, Google on Saturday dedicated an animated Doodle to Arnaz, who was born 102 years ago.

Desiderio Alberto Arnaz III was born in Santiago, Cuba, on March 2, 1917, and fled to the US after the 1933 Cuban Revolution. Arnaz, who became an entertainer to support himself, caught his big break when the 1939 Broadway production of Too Many Girls he was starring in was adapted for the silver screen with him as lead. It's also where he met Ball, a dramatic and comedic actress who'd become his co-star in the movie, as well as his wife and lifelong friend.

Together, they pitched CBS on the idea of a show based on the daily home escapades of a middle class housewife and her Cuban bandleader husband in New York. But CBS executives were reluctant, thinking the perceived juxtaposition of a man of Latin heritage being paired with an All-American girl type wouldn't appeal to the American TV audience. (Disclosure: CBS is the parent company of CNET.)

Arnaz and Ball proved them wrong. The half-hour I Love Lucy was the most popular show on TV for four of its six seasons.  When the series ended in 1957, it did so at the top of the Nielsen ratings -- a first equaled only by the Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld.

Arnaz's Ricky played the quintessential comedic straight man to Lucy, who's remembered for such high jinks as taking a job at a candy factory, stomping grapes in an Italian vineyard and even costarring with Harpo Marx.

The show broke new ground with its ensemble cast and use of three cameras, a technique that's become a standard for sitcoms filmed before a live studio audience. When it was discovered that Ball was pregnant during the series' second season, making her unable to fulfill her 39-episode commitment, the show's producers opted to rebroadcast popular episodes from the first season, essentially giving birth to the rerun and the profitable syndication market.

Generations have watched I Love Lucy in reruns during the past six decades. The show has been syndicated into dozens of languages around the world and was voted "Best TV Show of All Time" in a 2012 survey conducted by ABC News and People magazine.

Arnaz never received an Emmy nomination for his performance on I Love Lucy, but he got a Golden Globe in 1956 for Best Television Achievement for his work on the show. He also has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

He died in 1986 at the age of 69.