How Lucy Helped Launch the Starship Enterprise

The original Star Trek series, which was on the air from September 1966 through May 1969, grew into one of the most successful movie franchises in history. It never would have existed without Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Desi and Lucy were not only talented actors they were also astute business people. In the 1950s they took their salaries from the I Love Lucy TV show, created a production company they named Desilu Productions, and began producing the I Love Lucy show themselves. They then sold broadcast rights to CBS, but kept ownership of the shows. This proved to be very profitable for Desilu. After I Love Lucy went off the air in 1956 Desilu sold all 180 episodes to CBS for $4.3 million.

In 1961 Lucille Ball decided to star in a show called The Lucy Show which she would of course film at Desilu. This proved to be profitable enough for Desilu to buy the old RKO movie studio which provided enough studio space to produce shows such as Mission Impossible and Mannix which became hits and provided the profit they needed to hire talented staff.

One very talented young scriptwriter on Desilu’s staff was Gene Roddenberry. He had produced one moderately successful TV series called The Lieutenant, and had an idea for another series he called Star Trek. In 1964 Desilu authorized Roddenberry to produce a pilot Star Trek starring Jefferey Hunter, which he did.

But none of the TV networks would buy the series.

Then in 1965 Desilu, in an almost unprecedented step, authorized Roddenberry to produce a second Star Trek pilot show, this time starring William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Desilu was able to do this because they were profitable enough to give a young producer like Gene Roddenberry a second chance with Star Trek.

This time NBC bought the Star Trek series. In February 1966 Roddenberry began producing weekly episodes of Star Trek in Desilu studios (using his own production company he called Norway Corporation.) The first episode aired September 8, 1966.

In 1968 Lucille Ball sold her interest in Desilu Productions for $17 million.

The original, fondly remembered, Star Trek TV series was only moderately successful, but over time it gained an audience and became one of the most successful movie franchises in the world.

Thanks, Lucy, and Desi, for going where no one has gone before.

References:

Ball, Lucille, Love Lucy, GP Putnam, 1996

Alexander, David, Star Trek Creator, Roc Penguin, 1994

I Love Lucy TV show history, Lucille Ball biography, Desi Arnaz biography, courtesy Wikipedia

Mike Trial
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