Desilu Productions, Inc. (/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, Mannix, The Untouchables, Mission: Impossible 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 Ball sold it to Gulf and Western Industries (then the parent company of Paramount Pictures) in 1968.[1][2]

Desilu Productions, Inc.
Company typeSubsidiary
IndustryTelevision production
Founded1950; 74 years ago (1950)
FoundersDesi Arnaz
Lucille Ball
DefunctDecember 29, 1967; 56 years ago (1967-12-29)
FatePurchased by Gulf+Western and amalgamated into Paramount Television
United States
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 (valued at $155 million in 2023).[3] 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 Paramount Global 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 Studios unit owns the rights to everything Desilu produced after 1960 as successor in interest to Paramount Television.


The evolution of Paramount
1886Westinghouse Electric Corporation is founded
1912Famous Players Film Company is founded
1913Lasky Feature Play Company is founded
1914Paramount Pictures is founded
1916Famous Players and Lasky merge as Famous Players–Lasky and acquire Paramount
1927Famous Players–Lasky renamed to Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation; CBS is founded
1929Paramount acquires 49% of CBS
1930Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation renamed to Paramount Publix Corporation
1932Paramount sells back its shares of CBS
1934Gulf+Western is founded as the Michigan Bumper Corporation
1935Paramount Publix Corporation renamed to Paramount Pictures
1950Desilu is founded and CBS distributes its television programs
1952CBS creates the CBS Television Film Sales division
1958CBS Television Film Sales renamed to CBS Films
1966Gulf+Western acquires Paramount
1967Gulf+Western acquires Desilu and renames it Paramount Television (now CBS Studios)
1968CBS Films renamed to CBS Enterprises
1970CBS Enterprises renamed to Viacom
1971Viacom is spun off from CBS
1987National Amusements acquires Viacom
1989Gulf+Western renamed to Paramount Communications
1994Viacom acquires Paramount Communications
1995Westinghouse acquires CBS
1997Westinghouse renamed to CBS Corporation
2000Viacom acquires UPN and CBS Corporation
2005Viacom splits into second CBS Corporation and Viacom
2006CBS Corporation shuts down UPN and replaces it with The CW
2017CBS Corporation sells CBS Radio to Entercom (now Audacy)
2019CBS Corporation and Viacom re-merge as ViacomCBS
2022ViacomCBS renamed to Paramount Global

Desilu Productions was founded in 1950 using the combined names of the husband and wife production team of "Desi Arnaz" and "Lucille Ball". It was created to produce Lucy and Desi's vaudeville act as a television series and sell it 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.[4] During the show's first few years, Desilu rented space at General Service Studios (now the Sunset Las Palmas Studios) at Santa Monica Boulevard and North Las Palmas Avenue. They used Stage Two, which was named Desilu Playhouse. Later, a special entrance was added at 6633 Romaine Street, on the south side of the lot, to allow direct access to it.[5]

Ball's role in the company


Ball's contribution was more on the artistic side. She was skilled at proposing new programs that were popular to broad audiences and successful in both their original broadcasts and syndication reruns. Before starring in I Love Lucy, she starred in many B movies, and had a good idea of what television audiences wanted.[original research?]

She approved original production concepts (such as The Untouchables and Star Trek) for development into broadcast series,[6] assessing how the public would enjoy them and their potential for long-term success. This led to continued profits from the programs through reruns, which would recover their high development and production costs. Even decades after the absorption of Desilu Productions and the production end of all original series Desilu approved for development, some series have achieved enduring success and, in some cases, redevelopment into feature-length movie franchises in their own right. Examples are The Untouchables, Star Trek and Mission Impossible.[7]

Arnaz's role in the company


Much of Desilu Productions' early success can be traced to Arnaz's unusual business style in his role as producer of I Love Lucy.[8] For example, lacking formal business training, he 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 were nearly entirely paid for, 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 comedy. The use of film enabled every station around the country to broadcast high-quality images of the show. Arnaz was told it was impossible to allow an audience onto a sound stage, but he worked with Freund to design sets that accommodated audiences, allowed filming, and adhered 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 years


Desilu soon outgrew its first space and in 1954 bought its own studio, the Motion Picture Center on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood,[9] what is now Red Studios Hollywood. Most of the I Love Lucy episodes were produced there.

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.[10][11] This purchase included Forty Acres, the backlot where exteriors for Mayberry were filmed.[12] 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 owner

"Desilu Productions, Inc." ad with Lucille Ball as President in the Radio Annual and Television Year Book, 1964

Ball and Arnaz divorced in 1960.[8] In November 1962, Arnaz resigned as president when his holdings in the company were bought out by Ball, who succeeded him as president. Ball served as president and chief executive officer of Desilu while at the same time starring in her own weekly series. [13] 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 Media Ventures (formerly 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).[14] 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.[15] Burnett and Ball, however, remained close friends, often guest-starring in each other's series.

In 1967, Ball agreed to sell her television company to Gulf+Western,[14] 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 Studios (formerly CBS Television Studios). Perfect Film purchased Desilu Studios' other lot in Culver City in 1968.[16]

Independent Arnaz


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 Too


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 Paramount Global (formerly 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 Lucie 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 Television and ultimately was folded into Warner Bros. Television. Warner Bros. Television is the show's current distributor, although MPI now holds home video rights under license from Lucille Ball Productions and Desilu Too.

Technological innovations


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 film-studio production techniques, the content and quality of Desilu productions displayed a high standard relative to peers in television of the 1950s and '60s. 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 Desilu


Produced by Desilu

Title Genre Years Network Notes
I Love Lucy Sitcom 1951–57 CBS distributed by CBS Television Film Sales
Our Miss Brooks 1952–56 distributed by CBS Television Film Sales
Willy 1954–55
Shower of Stars Variety 1954–58
December Bride Sitcom 1954–59 distributed by CBS Television Film Sales (renamed CBS Films in 1958)
The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp Western 1955–61 ABC co-production with Wyatt Earp Enterprises
The Adventures of Jim Bowie 1956–58 co-production with Jim Bowie Enterprises
The Sheriff of Cochise 1956–60 Syndication co-production with National Telefilm Associates
Whirlybirds Adventure 1957–60 distributed by CBS Films/Viacom
Official Detective Anthology 1957–58 co-production with National Telefilm Associates
The Walter Winchell File ABC co-production with National Telefilm Associates
The Lucy–Desi Comedy Hour Variety 1957–60 CBS distributed by CBS Television Film Sales (renamed CBS Films in 1958)
The Texan Western 1958–60 co-production with Rorvic Productions
Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse Anthology
The Ann Sothern Show Sitcom 1958–61 co-production with Anso Productions
currently owned by 20th Television
This Is Alice 1958–59 NTA Film Network co-production with National Telefilm Associates
The Untouchables Police drama 1959–63 ABC co-production with Langford Productions Inc.
Guestward, Ho! Sitcom 1960–61
Angel CBS co-production with Burlingame Productions and CBS Films
Harrigan and Son ABC
Fair Exchange 1962–1963 CBS co-production with Cy Howard Productions
The Lucy Show 1962–68 Desilu produced up to its sale to Gulf+Western (during season six)
You Don't Say! Game show 1963-69 NBC co-production with Ralph Andrews-Bill Yagemann Productions
Desilu produced up to its sale to Gulf+Western (during season five)
The Greatest Show on Earth Drama 1963–64 ABC co-production with Ringling Bros., Barnum and Bailey Television, and Cody Productions
Glynis Sitcom 1963 CBS
Star Trek Science fiction 1966–68 NBC co-production with Norway Corporation
Desilu produced up to its sale to Gulf+Western (during season two)
Mission: Impossible Secret agent drama CBS Desilu produced up to its sale to Gulf+Western (during season two)
Mannix Crime drama 1967–68 Desilu produced up to its sale to Gulf+Western (during season one)

Filmed at Desilu


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. ^ "Acquisitions: Into New Territory". Time. February 24, 1967. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  2. ^ "CBS faces trademark lawsuit over Desilu name". Reuters. April 10, 2018. Retrieved October 9, 2023.
  3. ^ "RADICALS & VISIONARIES Desi Arnaz & Lucille Ball". Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  4. ^ A.H. Weiler, Team of Ball and Arnaz Will Make Own Movies, New York Times, June 18, 1950, p. X4.
  5. ^ Sanders, Coyne; Tom Gilbert (1993). Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Harper Collins. p. 27. ISBN 9780688112172. Retrieved January 27, 2012. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
  6. ^ Cushman, Marc (August 2013). These are the Voyages: TOS, Season 1 (1st ed.). Jacobs Brown Press. ISBN 978-0-9892381-1-3.
  7. ^ Sanders, Coyne Steven; Gilbert, Tom (February 1993). Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball & Desi Arnaz (1st ed.). William Morrow & Co. ISBN 978-0-688-11217-2.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Louella Parsons, "Lucille and Desi Eye Real Estate", Washington Post, May 22, 1954, p. 37.
  10. ^ Bernard F. Dick Engulfed: The Death of Paramount Pictures and the Birth of Corporate Hollywood, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2001, p. 118
  11. ^ Michael Karol Lucy A to Z: The Lucille Ball Encyclopedia, Lincoln, Nebraska: iUniverse, 2008, p. 290
  12. ^ ""40 Acres" The Lost Studio Backlot of Movie & Television Fame (1926–1976)". Retrieved June 10, 2016.
  13. ^ "Arnaz Quits Presidency Of Desilu; Former Wife, Lucille Ball, Gets Post", Wall Street Journal, November 9, 1962, p. 18.
  14. ^ a b "Ball, Lucille". Encyclopedia of Television. The Museum of Broadcast Communications -. Archived from the original on January 26, 2017. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  15. ^ "How "Carol Burnett Show" almost never happened". CBS News. September 25, 2012. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
  16. ^ "9336 Washington (Ince's second)". City of Culver City. Archived from the original on July 10, 2011. Retrieved September 23, 2011.
  17. ^ Sanders, Coyne; Tom Gilbert (1993). Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Harper Collins. p. 40. ISBN 9780688112172. Retrieved January 27, 2012. Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

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