Desilu Productions

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Desilu Productions
FatePurchased by Gulf+Western in 1967, and renamed Paramount Television
Successor(s)Paramount Television (immediate)
CBS Television Studios (current)
Lucille Ball Productions (in part)
Desilu, Too, LLC (in part)
Founded1951
Founder(s)Lucille Ball
Desi Arnaz
HeadquartersLos Angeles, California, USA
ProductsTelevision Production
ParentGulf+Western (1967)
 
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Desilu Productions
FatePurchased by Gulf+Western in 1967, and renamed Paramount Television
Successor(s)Paramount Television (immediate)
CBS Television Studios (current)
Lucille Ball Productions (in part)
Desilu, Too, LLC (in part)
Founded1951
Founder(s)Lucille Ball
Desi Arnaz
HeadquartersLos Angeles, California, USA
ProductsTelevision Production
ParentGulf+Western (1967)

Desilu Productions, co-owned by husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball, was best known for its hit productions such as I Love Lucy, Star Trek, and The Untouchables. The couple jointly owned Desilu Productions from its inception in 1950 until their divorce in 1960, after which Ball bought Arnaz out and ran the company by herself for several years. She eventually sold the company in 1967 to Gulf+Western; after the sale, company officials renamed it Paramount Television.

Its entire library is currently owned by CBS Television Studios. The pre-1960 library is copyrighted to CBS Broadcasting, Inc., while CBS Studios, Inc. holds the copyrights to the 1960s library (previously copyrighted by Paramount Pictures Corporation).

History[edit]

Desilu Productions was formed in 1950 using the combined names of "Desi Arnaz" and "Lucille Ball". Desilu Productions was initially created to produce Lucy and Desi's vaudeville act to sell the television series to Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) executives. Both Arnaz and Ball wanted to adapt Ball's CBS radio series My Favorite Husband to television. The television project eventually became I Love Lucy.[1] During the first few years of I Love Lucy, Desilu rented space at General Service Studios (now the Hollywood Center Studios), on Santa Monica Boulevard and North Las Palmas Avenue. Desilu Productions used Stage Two which was named Desilu Playhouse. Later a special entrance was created at 6633 Romaine Street on the south side of the lot allowing entrance into the Desilu Playhouse.[2]

Ball's role in the company[edit]

Ball's contribution was more on the artistic side. Ball had developed a sense for making many Desilu program proposals which would be popular to broad audiences and be successful in both their original broadcast and syndication re-runs. Before starring in I Love Lucy Ball had starred in many B movies before helping start Desilu Productions, and based on that experience, she had a good idea of what television audiences wanted.

Ball approved high quality (i.e., high cost), original production concepts (such as The Untouchables or Star Trek) for development into broadcast series. She assessed proposed projects based on how the public would enjoy the production and their potential for long-term acceptance and enjoyment. This ensured a profitable revenue stream from the programs through reruns, which would recover the studio's initially high development and production costs. As a result, even decades after the absorption of Desilu Productions and the production end of all of the original television series Desilu approved for development, the series have all achieved enduring success and/or redevelopment into feature length motion picture franchises in their own right (e.g., Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and The Untouchables).[citation needed]

Arnaz's role in the company[edit]

In late 1957, the company also bought RKO Pictures movie production properties and facilities, including the Pathe lot in Culver City, with a backlot known as Forty Acres, and the main lot on Gower Street in Hollywood. These acquisitions gave the Ball-Arnaz TV empire a total of 33 sound stages — four more than Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and eleven more than Twentieth Century-Fox had in 1957.

Much of Desilu Productions early success can be traced to Arnaz's unusual business style in his role as producer of I Love Lucy. For example, lacking formal business training, Arnaz knew nothing of amortization, and often included all the costs incurred by the production into the first episode of a season, rather than spreading them across the projected number of episodes in the year. As a result, by the end of the season, episodes would be nearly entirely paid for, and would come in at preposterously low figures.

At that time, most television programs were broadcast live, and as the largest markets were in New York, the rest of the country received only kinescope images. Karl Freund, Arnaz's cameraman, and even Arnaz himself have been credited with the development of the multiple-camera setup production style using adjacent sets in front of a live audience that became the standard for all subsequent situation comedies to this day. The use of film enabled every station around the country to broadcast high-quality images of the show. Arnaz was told that it would be impossible to allow an audience onto a sound stage, but he worked with Freund to design a set that would accommodate an audience, allow filming, and also adhere to fire, health, and safety codes.

Network executives considered the use of film an unnecessary extravagance. Arnaz convinced them to allow Desilu to cover all additional costs associated with filming, under the stipulation that Desilu owned and controlled all rights to the film prints and negatives. Arnaz's unprecedented arrangement is widely considered to be one of the shrewdest deals in television history. As a result of his foresight, Desilu reaped the profits from all reruns of the series.

Peak years[edit]

Desilu soon outgrew its first space and in 1954 bought its own studio: the Motion Picture Center on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood,[3] what is now the Ren-Mar rental studio. Most of the I Love Lucy episodes were produced here.

The studio's initial attempt to become involved in film production was the 1956 film Forever, Darling, Arnaz and Ball's follow-up to their highly successful MGM release The Long, Long Trailer (1954), but it failed at the box office. It was produced at Desilu, but under the banner of Zanra Productions ("Arnaz" spelled backward). Most subsequent attempts to bring projects to the big screen were aborted, until Yours, Mine and Ours (with Ball and Henry Fonda) in 1968. This film was a critical and financial success.

Another Desilu loss was Carol Burnett, who declined to star in a sitcom for the studio in favor of The Carol Burnett Show, a weekly variety show that ultimately lasted eleven seasons. (Burnett and Ball, however, remained close friends, often guest-starring on one another's series.)

Ball as sole owner[edit]

In 1960, Desi Arnaz sold the pre-1960s shows to CBS. Desilu Productions retained ownership of those shows which premiered before 1960, but were still in production. Contrary to popular belief, Desi Arnaz did not sell his share of Desilu due to his divorce with Lucille Ball.

In November 1962, Arnaz resigned as president when his holdings in the company were bought out by Ball, who succeeded him as president.[4] This made her the first woman to head a major studio, and one of the most powerful women in Hollywood at the time. Ball later founded Desilu Sales, Inc. that later became part of CBS Television Distribution.

Arnaz left television production for a few years but returned in 1966 when he formed his own company, Desi Arnaz Productions, based at Desilu. Desi Arnaz Productions along with United Artists Television, co-produced The Mothers-in-Law, for the National Broadcasting Company (NBC). Arnaz attempted to sell other television pilots including a comedy with Carol Channing and an adventure series with Rory Calhoun. Neither series sold. Arnaz also tried to create a law drama called Without Consent, with Spencer Tracy as a defense attorney, but after several attempts at developing a suitable script failed, and insurance concerns regarding Tracy's heavy drinking, the project was abandoned.

Closure and resurrection as Desilu, Too[edit]

Ball served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Desilu, while at the same time starring in her own weekly series. In February 1967, Ball agreed to sell her company to Charles Bluhdorn of Gulf+Western which had just acquired Paramount Pictures. The company was renamed Paramount Television and the former RKO main lot on Gower Street was absorbed into the adjacent Paramount lot. The old RKO globe logo is still in place.[5] The company is now called CBS Television Studios.

After selling Desilu, Ball established her own, new production company, Lucille Ball Productions (LBP), in 1968. The company went to work on her new series Here's Lucy that year. The program ran until 1974, and enjoyed several years of ratings success. Ball returned to network television in 1986 with the short-lived Life with Lucy. It lasted eight episodes before, a first for Ball, it was cancelled due to poor ratings. LBP continues to exist today, and its primary purpose is residual sales of license rights for Here's Lucy.

Desilu's series on television at the time, Mission: Impossible, Mannix, The Lucy Show and Star Trek changed packagers to Paramount.

Desilu-Paramount TV's holdings are currently owned by CBS Corporation, the eventual owner of the pre-1960s shows. Desilu Productions Inc. (aka Desilu Too L.L.C.) was reincorporated in Delaware in 1967, and still exists as a legal entity, mostly as a licensee for I Love Lucy-related merchandise. Desilu Too also partners with MPI Home Video and Lucille Ball Productions (formed by Ball and second husband Gary Morton) on the video releases of Here's Lucy and other material Ball and Arnaz made independently of each other. Recently, Desilu, Too officials worked with MPI Home Video for the home video re-issue of The Mothers-In-Law. Paramount Home Entertainment (through CBS DVD) continues to hold DVD distribution rights to the CBS library. Syndication rights for Here's Lucy was sold by Ball to Telepictures, which later merged into Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. Warner Bros. is the show's current distributor although MPI now holds video rights under license from Ball Productions and Desilu, Too.

It is not known if Desilu, Too has interests in the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York. Neither Desilu, Too nor LBP are currently production companies.

Technological innovations[edit]

Desilu is often mistakenly credited with being either the first television studio to shoot on film instead of making a live broadcast, or as the first television studio to shoot on film with a multi-camera setup. However, neither is true. Earlier filmed series included Your Show Time, The Stu Erwin Show, and The Life of Riley; and Jerry Fairbanks had developed and was using multi-camera film production for television in 1950.[6] Desilu's innovation was to use a multi-camera film setup before a live studio audience.

Desilu began the creation of its productions using conventional film studio materials, production and processing techniques. The use of these materials and techniques meant that the 35 mm negatives (the source material for copyright purposes) were immediately available for production and distribution of prints when the Lucy series went into syndication at local stations around the country. As such there are no "lost" episodes of programs, or programs recorded by kinescope from the television broadcast.

Through the use of orthodox Hollywood filming and production techniques, the content and quality of Desilu productions displayed a high standard from the very outset. Moreover, they were readily adaptable to either comedy or drama formats and were able to handle special effects or feature interior or exterior sets and locations with equal ease.[7]

Television shows produced or filmed by Desilu[edit]

Some of these programs were created and owned outright by Desilu; others were other production companies' programs that Desilu filmed or to which Desilu rented production space.

References[edit]

  1. ^ A.H. Weiler, Team of Ball and Arnaz Will Make Own Movies,= New York Times, June 18, 1950, p. X4.
  2. ^ Sanders, Coyne; Tom Gilbert. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Retrieved 2012-01-27. 
  3. ^ Louella Parsons, "Lucille and Desi Eye Real Estate," Washington Post, May 22, 1954, p. 37.
  4. ^ "Arnaz Quits Presidency Of Desilu; Former Wife, Lucille Ball, Gets Post," Wall Street Journal, November 9, 1962, p. 18.
  5. ^ The RKO globe - Los Angeles, California. Wikimapia.org (1966-03-19). Retrieved on 2013-08-18.
  6. ^ "Flight to the West?" Time, March 6, 1950.
  7. ^ Sanders, Coyne; Tom Gilbert. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Retrieved 2012-01-27. 

External links[edit]