Desilu Productions

  (Redirected from Desilu)

Desilu Productions (/ˈdɛsil/) was an American television production company founded and co-owned by husband and wife Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball. The company is best known for shows such as I Love Lucy, The Lucy Show, The Untouchables and Star Trek. Until 1962, Desilu was the second-largest independent television production company in the United States, behind MCA's Revue Studios, until MCA bought Universal Pictures and Desilu became and remained the number-one independent production company, until being sold in 1968.[1]

Desilu Productions
FatePurchased by Gulf+Western and renamed to Paramount Television
FoundersDesi Arnaz
Lucille Ball
HeadquartersLos Angeles, California, United States
Area served
United States
ProductsTelevision and Film Production
ParentDesilu Corporation

Ball and Arnaz jointly owned the majority stake in Desilu from its inception until 1962, when Ball bought out Arnaz and ran the company by herself for several years. Ball had succeeded in making Desilu profitable again by 1968, when she sold her shares of Desilu to Gulf+Western for $17 million (a valued $130 million in 2019).[2] Gulf+Western then transformed Desilu into the television production arm of Paramount Pictures, rebranding the company as the original Paramount Television.

Desilu's entire library is owned by ViacomCBS through two of its subsidiaries. The CBS unit owns all Desilu properties that were produced and concluded before 1960, which were sold to CBS by Desilu itself. Its CBS Television Studios unit owns the rights to everything Desilu produced after 1960 as successor in interest to Paramount Television.


Desilu Productions was formed in 1950 using the combined names of "Desi Arnaz" and "Lucille Ball". Desilu Productions was created to produce Lucy and Desi's vaudeville act to sell the television series to Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) executives. Arnaz and Ball wanted to adapt Ball's CBS radio series My Favorite Husband to television. The television project eventually became I Love Lucy.[3] During the first few years of I Love Lucy, Desilu rented space at General Service Studios (now the Sunset Las Palmas 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 to allow entrance into the Desilu Playhouse.[4]

Ball's role in the companyEdit

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 their original broadcast and syndication reruns. Before starring in I Love Lucy, Ball had starred in many B movies before co-founding Desilu Productions, and based on that experience, she had a good idea of what television audiences wanted.[original research?]

Ball approved original production concepts (such as The Untouchables and Star Trek) for development into broadcast series.[5] She assessed proposed projects based on how the public would enjoy the production and their potential for long-term acceptance and enjoyment. This led to a profitable revenue stream from the programs through reruns, which would recover the studio's 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, certain series have achieved enduring success and, in some cases, redevelopment into feature-length motion picture franchises in their own right. The Untouchables, Star Trek, and Mission Impossible, are examples.[6]

Arnaz's role in the companyEdit

Much of Desilu Productions' early success can be traced to Arnaz's unusual business style in his role as producer of I Love Lucy.[7] 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 images derived from kinescopes. Karl Freund, the cameraman on I Love Lucy, and Arnaz himself have been credited with the development of the linked multifilm camera setup using adjacent sets in front of a live audience that became the standard production method for situation comedies. 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 persuaded them to allow Desilu to cover all additional costs associated with filming, rather than broadcasting live, 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.

Early yearsEdit

Desilu soon outgrew its first space and in 1954 bought its own studio, the Motion Picture Center on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood,[8] what is now Red Studios Hollywood. Most of the I Love Lucy episodes were produced here.

In late 1957, the company bought the RKO Pictures production facilities for $6 million from General Tire and Rubber, including RKO's main facilities on Gower Street in Hollywood and the RKO-Pathé lot (now Culver Studios) in Culver City.[9][10] This purchase included Forty Acres, the backlot where exteriors for Mayberry were filmed.[11] 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.

The studio's initial attempt to become involved in film production was the film Forever, Darling (1956), Arnaz and Ball's followup to their highly successful MGM release The Long, Long Trailer (1954), but it was a box-office failure. 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 (1968) with Ball and Henry Fonda. This film was a critical and financial success.

In 1960, Desi Arnaz sold the pre-1960s shows to CBS. Desilu Productions retained ownership of those shows that premiered after 1960, and were still in production.

Ball as sole ownerEdit

Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960.[7] Ball served as president and chief executive officer of Desilu while at the same time starring in her own weekly series. In November 1962, Arnaz resigned as president when his holdings in the company were bought out by Ball, who succeeded him as president.[12] This made her the first woman to head a major studio and one of the most powerful women in Hollywood at the time. Ball founded Desilu Sales, Inc., for syndication which distributed Jay Ward Productions' Fractured Flickers in 1964. Today, Desilu Sales is part of CBS Television Distribution.

During Ball's time as sole owner, Desilu developed popular series such as Mission: Impossible (1966), Mannix (1967), and Star Trek (1966).[13] It has been falsely rumored that a Desilu loss during this time 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 lasted 11 seasons. In truth, Here's Agnes was offered to Burnett by CBS executives who attempted to dissuade her from having a variety show because they felt that men were better suited for them.[14] Burnett and Ball, however, remained close friends, often guest-starring on one another's series.

In 1967, Ball agreed to sell her television company to Gulf+Western,[13] which had only recently 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. The company is now called CBS Television Studios. Perfect Film purchased Desilu Studios' other lot in Culver City in 1968.[15]

Independent ArnazEdit

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 because of insurance concerns regarding Tracy's heavy drinking, the project was abandoned.

Independent Ball and Desilu TooEdit

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 it was cancelled—a first for Ball—because of poor ratings. LBP continues to exist, and its primary purpose is residual sales of license rights for Here's Lucy.

Desilu-Paramount TV's holdings are owned by ViacomCBS, the owner of the pre-1960s shows. Desilu Productions Inc. was reincorporated in Delaware in 1967, by Paramount Pictures and still exists as a legal entity. Desilu Too LLC was later created by Lucy Arnaz 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. Desilu Too officials have worked with MPI Home Video for the home video reissue of The Mothers-In-Law. Paramount Home Entertainment (through CBS DVD) continues to hold DVD distribution rights to the CBS library. In November 2019 CBS Studios registered the DESILU trademark again to protect its previous Common Law trademark usage. Syndication rights for Here's Lucy were sold by Ball to Telepictures, which later merged with Lorimar and ultimately was folded into AT&T's WarnerMedia. WarnerMedia is the show's current distributor, although MPI now holds home video rights under license from Lucille Ball Productions and Desilu Too.

Whether Desilu Too has interests in the Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Center in Jamestown, New York, is not known. Neither Desilu Too nor LBP operates as a production company.

Technological innovationsEdit

Desilu is often credited with being the first television studio to shoot on film instead of making a live broadcast or to shoot on film with a multiple-camera setup.[citation needed] 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 multiple-camera film production for television in 1950.[16]

Desilu has also been credited as first to use a multiple-camera film setup before a live studio audience, but You Bet Your Life was being produced that way one year before I Love Lucy. On You Bet Your Life, however, the host, announcer, and contestants stayed in their places. Karl Freund's innovative lighting setup for I Love Lucy allowed performers to move freely about the stage set and to be recorded by each film camera with proper lighting.

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, no "lost" episodes of programs occurred, and no programs were 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 (for 1950s-60s television productions) from the outset. Moreover, they were readily adaptable to both comedy and drama formats and were able to handle special effects or feature interior or exterior sets and locations with equal ease.[17]

Television shows produced by or filmed at DesiluEdit

Produced by DesiluEdit

Title Years Network Notes
I Love Lucy 1951–1957 CBS distributed by CBS Films/Viacom
Our Miss Brooks 1952–1956 CBS distributed by CBS Films/Viacom
Willy 1954–1955 CBS
Shower of Stars 1954–1958 CBS
December Bride 1954–1959 CBS distributed by CBS Films/Viacom
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp 1955–1961 ABC
Sheriff of Cochise/U.S. Marshal 1956–1960 Syndication co-production with National Telefilm Associates
Official Detective 1957–1958 Syndication co-production with National Telefilm Associates
The Walter Winchell File 1957–1958 ABC co-production with National Telefilm Associates
The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour 1957–1960 CBS distributed by CBS Films/Viacom
Whirlybirds 1957–1960 Syndication distributed by CBS Films/Viacom
This Is Alice 1958–1959 NTA Film Network co-production with National Telefilm Associates
The Texan 1958–1960 CBS co-production with Rorvic Productions
Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse 1958–1960 CBS
The Ann Sothern Show 1958–1961 CBS currently owned by 20th Century Fox Television

co-production with Anso Productions

The Untouchables 1959–1963 ABC co-production with Langford Productions Inc.
Guestward, Ho! 1960–1961 ABC
Harrigan and Son 1960–1961 ABC
Fair Exchange 1962–1963 CBS co-production with Cy Howard Productions
The Lucy Show 1962–1968 CBS
Glynis 1963 CBS
You Don't Say! 1963–1969 NBC co-production with Ralph Andrews-Bill Yagemann Productions
The Greatest Show on Earth 1963–1964 ABC co-production with Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Television and Cody Productions
Star Trek 1966–1969 NBC co-production with Norway Corporation; Desilu produced Season One and first half of Two only
Mission: Impossible 1966–1973 CBS Desilu produced Season One and first half of two only
Mannix 1967–1975 CBS Desilu produced the first half of Season One only

Filmed at DesiluEdit

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


  1. ^ "Quote By Lucille Ball". Retrieved November 10, 2017.
  2. ^ "RADICALS & VISIONARIES Desi Arnaz & Lucille Ball". Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  3. ^ A.H. Weiler, Team of Ball and Arnaz Will Make Own Movies,= New York Times, June 18, 1950, p. X4.
  4. ^ Sanders, Coyne; Tom Gilbert (1993). Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Harper Collins. p. 27. Retrieved January 27, 2012. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
  5. ^ Cushman, Marc (August 2013). These are the Voyages: TOS, Season 1 (1st ed.). Jacobs Brown Press. ISBN 978-0989238113.
  6. ^ Sanders, Coyne Steven; Gilbert, Tom (February 1993). Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz (1st ed.). William Morrow & Co. ISBN 978-0688112172.
  7. ^ a b The Paley Center for Media. "Lucille Ball Television Producer, Executive, Director, Actress". Archived from the original on July 1, 2016. Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  8. ^ Louella Parsons, "Lucille and Desi Eye Real Estate," Washington Post, May 22, 1954, p. 37.
  9. ^ Bernard F. Dick Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Pictures and the Birth of Corporate Hollywood, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001, p.118
  10. ^ Michael Karol Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2008, p.290
  11. ^ ""40 Acres" The Lost Studio Backlot of Movie & Television Fame (1926-1976)". Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  12. ^ "Arnaz Quits Presidency Of Desilu; Former Wife, Lucille Ball, Gets Post," Wall Street Journal, November 9, 1962, p. 18.
  13. ^ a b "Ball, Lucille". Encyclopedia of Television. The Museum of Broadcast Communications -. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  14. ^ "How "Carol Burnett Show" almost never happened". CBS News. September 25, 2012. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  15. ^ "9336 Washington (Ince's second)". City of Culver City. Archived from the original on July 10, 2011. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
  16. ^ "Flight to the West?" Time, March 6, 1950.
  17. ^ Sanders, Coyne; Tom Gilbert (1993). Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Harper Collins. p. 40. Retrieved January 27, 2012. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 34°05′23″N 118°20′05″W / 34.089777°N 118.334722°W / 34.089777; -118.334722