THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT
                 Copyright (c) 1994, Landmark Communications, Inc.

DATE: WEDNESDAY, June 15, 1994                    TAG: 9406150020 
SECTION: DAILY BREAK                     PAGE: E1    EDITION: FINAL  
SOURCE: Craig Shapiro 
DATELINE: 940615                                 LENGTH: Long 


{LEAD} HARD TO BELIEVE Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz once got the cold shoulder from the brass at CBS.

But in 1949, that's what happened. The network offered Lucy, who was then a star on radio and in B-movies, her own program. She said yes, only if Desi could co-star. CBS had a problem with his Cuban heritage and said no.

{REST} What did Lucy and Desi do? They raised $5,000 and produced a pilot themselves. ``I Love Lucy'' debuted Oct. 5, 1951. You know the rest.

What you might not know is that pilot never aired. Desi gave it to Pepito the Clown to thank him for being a guest star, and for 40 years, it was shown only at family get-togethers. CBS figured it was lost, until Pepito's widow recently proved otherwise.

Today, ``I Love Lucy: The Very First Show'' (FoxVideo, $12.98) goes public.

``Lucy'' fans and TV historians will love it. The apartment is open and airy, with a room-length window overlooking Manhattan, and Lucy's ``Waaah!'' isn't quite as nasally, but all the elements are there. And you can really see the attraction they shared. At one point, Ricky nearly cracks her up with a sight gag.

The plot is vintage: A big sponsor is going to be at the club that night and Ricky doesn't want Lucy to know. Pepito hurts himself rehearsing his act. Guess who takes his place? An extra treat is getting to see Ricky, pounding away on the conga, perform with his band.

The 45-minute tape is filled out with interviews with Lucy and Desi and the show's original writers. It's narrated by Lucie Arnaz, who points out that the reason her mother wore big, loose-fitting outfits for the pilot is because Lucy was six months pregnant.

It's a neat slice of Americana.

\ DOG DAYS: MGM/UA has repriced its Lassie classics. Now $14.95 are ``Lassie Come Home,'' ``Son of Lassie,'' ``Hills of Home,'' ``The Painted Hills,'' ``The Sun Comes Up,'' ``Challenge to Lassie'' and ``Courage of Lassie.''

TOP TAPES (in this week's Billboard):

Sales: ``Mrs. Doubtfire,'' ``The Return of Jafar,'' ``Playboy: 1994 Playmate of the Year,'' ``Batman: Mask of the Phantasm,'' ``The Fugitive''

Rentals: ``Mrs. Doubtfire,'' ``A Perfect World,'' ``The Three Musketeers,'' ``Carlito's Way,'' ``Cool Runnings''

\ The Couch Report

With all these new releases, one can of Pringles won't cut it.

``Ace Ventura: Pet Detective'' (1993, Warner). Everything you've heard is true. Jim Carrey, with that Big Boy haircut, is a scream as a private eye hired to find a missing mascot, so over the top the video oughta come with a pack of Depends. Sure, the humor is stupid and juvenile. That's a problem?

(CAST: Jim Carrey, Courteney Cox, Sean Young, Tone Loc. RATED: PG-13 for mild language, bathroom humor)

``The Pelican Brief'' (1993, Warner). John Grisham's mega-seller about a law student who figures out who killed two Supreme Court justices, then becomes a target, gets a faithful adaptation. That's also the bad news. The Grisham formula is not very involving; likewise, the film hurts for real suspense.

(CAST: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard. RATED: PG-13 for violence, themes)

``The Getaway'' (1993, MCA/Universal). One from the Why Bother File. Husband-and-wife bank robbers are on the lam - from the law and other thugs. The remake is all Armani suits and no tension. Also MIA: any sign of sparks between Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger. Rent the Steve McQueen-Ali MacGraw original.

(CAST: Alec Baldwin, Kim Basinger, Michael Madsen. UNRATED: gunplay, nudity, language; also available in an R version)

``The Air Up There'' (1993, Hollywood). Kevin Bacon is a hotshot hoops coach who puts his job on the line to recruit an African tribesman. Will there be a culture clash? Will Coach learn a thing or two about himself? Will the movie dust off every other cliche? Yeah. But it's undeniably likable.

(CAST: Kevin Bacon, Charles Gitonga Maina. RATED: PG for mild language)

``Iron Will'' (1993, Walt Disney). Mackenzie Astin is a young musher who puts his future on the line to compete in a grueling, 500-mile dog sled race. Based on a true story, the feel-gooder also plays by the rules, and it has two big plusses: Young Astin's memorable performance and some gorgeous scenery.

(CAST: Mackenzie Astin, Kevin Spacey, David Ogden Stiers. RATED: PG for intensity, but it's good family fare)

``Love, Cheat & Steal'' (1993, Columbia TriStar). This tepid potboiler has more curves than a Grand Prix course, and none of the challenge: Bank robber, set up by his wife, escapes the joint. Wife has married a banker. Bank is used to launder drug money. Eric Roberts does a Cookie Monster job on the scenery.

(CAST: John Lithgow, Eric Roberts, Madchen Amick. RATED: R for violence, skin, potty mouth)

``Sexual Intent'' (1993, Columbia TriStar). John Walsome seduced and scammed 40 women. Despite a credible job by Gary Hudson and some psychoanalytical noodling, the story falls apart way before its telegraphed conclusion.

(CAST: Gary Hudson, Michele Brin. RATED: R for what you'd expect in a flick called ``Sexual Intent'')

``Man's Best Friend'' (1993, New Line). A snoopy TV reporter springs a bio-engineered pooch from a genetics lab. Look out, Max is a time bomb with four legs. He also gives the best performance here. S-T-O-O-P-I-D.

(CAST: Ally Sheedy, Lance Henriksen, Max. RATED: R for gore, language)

Also: ``Dangerous Game,'' the Harvey Keitel-Madonna psychodrama; Pierce Brosnan and Wes Studi in ``The Broken Chain''; two documentaries, ``Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Remembered'' and ``Jack: The Last Kennedy Film''; ``State of Emergency,'' the HBO medical drama; and for you sports types, Shaq, 'Zo and ``Dream Team II,'' and ``Spring Stampede,'' featuring Ravishing Rick Rude and a passel of `rasslers.

Next Wednesday: ``Geronimo: An American Legend,'' ``Tombstone,'' ``Six Degrees of Separation,'' ``They Watch,'' ``The Silver Stallion''

by CNB