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Desilu

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Desilu

Desilu Productions, also credited as Desilu Studios, was the production company that started the Star Trek-franchise with the production of the, initially, un-aired 1965 pilot television episode "The Cage", and the Star Trek: The Original Series television series which began airing in September 1966.

HistoryEdit

Desilu Productions was formed in 1950 by Lucille Ball and her then-husband, Desi Arnaz. The name, a portmanteau of the couple's first names, was originally applied to the Ball-Arnaz ranch. The success of the television show I Love Lucy enabled Desilu to grow and expand throughout the 1950s. When RKO Pictures went bankrupt in 1957, Desilu bought its studios and location facilities. They produced a number of shows, including The Andy Griffith Show, and also lent their facilities for various other projects, such as My Favorite Martian, I, Spy, My Three Sons and The Untouchables. In 1962, Desilu signed an six-year agreement with Paramount to a show based on Paramount Pictures properties.

By April 1964, Desilu found itself in dire straits as The Lucy Show was the studio's only remaining self-made production, even though other shows were still produced on the studio lot as consignments from other production companies, such as the Bing Crosby Productions' television series Ben Casey. Oscar Katz and his assistant Herb Solow (soon promoted to studio production head in Katz' stead) were hired to search for writers with new and interesting concepts and develop them into series ideas, in order to safeguard the future existence of the ailing studio. This the Katz/Solow duo did with much gusto, as evidenced by Katz proudly boasting at his first Desilu shareholders meeting in May 1964, where he informed the assembly that no less than twenty-two television propositions were under advisement. (Los Angeles Times, 14 May 1964) Amongst the ones contracted were two ambitious writer/producers: Gene Roddenberry with Star Trek and Bruce Geller with Mission: Impossible. Both series went into production for the 1966-67 television season. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 5-14)

Desilu had a first-refusal agreement with CBS, which is why Star Trek was first pitched to that network. However, CBS refused to buy it, opting for Irwin Allen's more family-oriented series, Lost in Space instead. When CBS passed on the show, only then was NBC approached. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story)

Yet, Katz and Solow were arguably too successful in their assignment, as the studio found itself unexpectedly confronted with the production of three expensive television properties, which aside from Star Trek and Mission Impossible (ordered by network CBS), also included the western series The Long Hunt for April Savage (ordered by network ABC), all of them brought in by Katz and Solow, where there had only been one before, the I Love Lucy show. The conservative board of directors feared, not entirely unjustified, that the small studio would financially overstretch itself. Vigorously defended by Solow, and despite the fact that Star Trek series was already ordered by NBC, after the second pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", had been produced, virtually the entire Desilu Board of Directors voted to cancel Star Trek in February 1966 nevertheless, board member Bernard Weitzman being the sole exception. Yet, as Chairwoman of the Board, Lucille Ball had the power to override her board, and this she did with a mere nod of her head towards Solow. "That was all Star Trek needed," as author Marc Cushman had succinctly put it, "A nod of Lucille Ball." (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, 1st ed, pp. 32, 94) One of the nay-sayers on the board, studio accountant Edwin "Ed" Holly, later conceded, "If it were not for Lucy, there would be no 'Star Trek' today." [1] Ironically, the fears of the board were somewhat allayed by the subsequent cancellation of April Savage (the pilot episode of which produced by Roddenberry) by ABC in March 1966 after all. For all intents and purposes, and contrary to widely held beliefs in Star Trek-lore, this was factually the very first time that the Original Series came exceedingly close to cancellation.

Like most television studios during the 1950s and 1960s, Desilu had a stable of annually-contracted actors and behind-the-scenes personnel. Such talent moved from production to production as needed, and were paid a salary instead of a per-appearance fee. A notable Star Trek-related example was Majel Barrett, who began such a contracted relationship with Desilu in 1958. [2] [X]wbm

Desilu mainly operated on the facilities bought from RKO, which included the main Gower Street studio in Hollywood, next door to Paramount Pictures, where most of Star Trek was filmed (on Stages 9 and 10, which became Paramount Stage 31 and Stage 32 after the merge). It also consisted of a studio in Culver City, where the two Star Trek pilots were filmed, and the 40 Acres backlot - most famous for being "Mayberry" in The Andy Griffith Show - , which served as a filming location for many episodes.

After the breakup of the Ball-Arnaz marriage, Desilu remained successful. In 1962, Ball bought out Arnaz and became the first woman ever to run a major Hollywood studio. Her solo success continued unabated until 15 February 1967, when Ball announced she would sell Desilu to Gulf+Western, which was formalized on 27 July 1967. This act brought Desilu under the same parent company as its next-door neighbor – Paramount Pictures. The event was commemorated the next day by a dramatic ceremony in which Ball cut a ribbon of film stock which had replaced a long-standing wall between the two production companies. At the time of the ceremony "Mirror, Mirror" was being filmed. (Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, p. 297) Lucille Ball left the Desilu lot the very same day, directly after the ownership transfer ceremony, never to return.

Star Trek was a bone of contention in the transition between Desilu and Gulf+Western. Ed Holly once recalled a post-sale conversation he had with Charles Bluhdorn, chairman of Gulf+Western:

"Just a week or so after the merger, when Bluhdorn had started seeing the cost figures, he called me in the middle of the night. All I heard was 'What did you sell me? I'm going to the poorhouse!' I said, 'Charlie, you must be looking at Star Trek and Mission: Impossible. Those shows are costing almost to the dollar what our projections showed they would cost. You and your people made the judgment that that was all right." (Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, p. 298)

For a brief time, Desilu continued to act as its own subdivision of Gulf+Western, but by December 1967, Gulf+Western fully merged Desilu with Paramount, being transformed into Paramount Television. This gradual transition resulted in several different forms of copyright for episodes of the second season of Star Trek. Hence, the initial episodes of the season bear a Desilu logo and copyright, while episodes of the latter half of the second season bear a Desilu logo but a Paramount copyright.

Desi Arnaz Edit

Desi Arnaz (2 March 19172 December 1986; age 69) was a singer and actor best known for his starring role on I Love Lucy. He co-founded Desilu with his wife Lucille Ball. She bought his shares of the company in 1961, three years before Star Trek joined their studio. His son-in-law, Laurence Luckinbill appeared as Sybok in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.

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