Monday, July 31, 2006

And So It Begins: June 6, 1964


Desilu was definitely on a downhill slide when Desi Arnaz sold his half to his ex-wife. During the previous decade, the company had several network series beyond I Love Lucy; these included December Bride, The Ann Sothern Show, The Texan, Those Whiting Girls and the venerable Desilu Playhouse, which gave birth to The Untouchables and The Twilight Zone.

By 1964, Desilu was down to The Lucy Show. Sure, they were renting facilities to Danny Thomas - Sheldon Leonard, producers of Make Room for Daddy, The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show... but Lucy certainly didn't own any piece of those hits. Hence the "all-out effort" described above.

Which led to... well, as far as Martin Jurow's contribution, if any, it's lost to time. Jurow's IMDb entry lists only further motion pictures for Blake Edwards during this period: The Pink Panther and The Great Race. Goodman and Klein came up with something called Good Old Days, a family sitcom set during the stone age. A live action Flintstones rip-off, perhaps? The star was Darryl Hickman (as "Rok"); the parents were played by Kathleen Freeman and Ned Glass. The show didn't sell, and the pilot aired on NBC in July 1966, in the days when networks "burned off" their excess waste during the summer months. (Come to think of it, aren't they still doing that?)

Which leaves us with Gene Roddenberry... and we all know what he created for Desilu, don't we?

5 comments:

art said...

Nice post - What I would be curious of is the Star Trek series, which was rather short in its lifespan in relation to big money making sitcoms, and its reruns didnt begin soon after. So would it have helped the studio financially, or just a great symbol?

Michael J. Hayde said...

It's been awhile since I read Herb Solow and Bob Justman's Inside Star Trek, but my guess would be that the series did little for Desilu's bottom line. Ratings were never better than mediocre, and its cost-to-return ratio was probably abysmal given the show's special effects, costume and make-up needs. Mission: Impossible was likely the company's real moneymaker during those years.

Of course, Lucy sold Desilu to Paramount around the time production began on Trek's second season. Imagine if she hadn't, and Desilu had reaped the spoils that off-network syndication would bring just a few years later.

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Anonymous said...

Wasn't Mission Impossible also one of the Desilu bankrolled new shows? after the first year it ended up with Paramount though.

Paul Duca said...

In the DESILU book by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert, they quote a CBS executive saying that during the first season, the network paid Desilu $100,000 per episode of MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE--and it was costing them an average of $125,000 per show to produce. Along with new settings and wardrobes each week, or dressing studio backlots and locations as different countries, the most unusual problem came from Stephen Hill--he was the star that first year, as IMF leader Dan Briggs. As described in THE MOST INFLUENTIAL TELEVISION SHOWS EVER, he was a practicing orthodox Jew, and as such would not work between sundown Friday and sundown Saturday, pressuring both monetary and time budgets.

I have no idea of how the parties felt when Hill was replaced by Peter Graves, and Jim Phelps taking over for Briggs. I would like to know how Dick Wolf worked around this when Hill was on LAW & ORDER.
Anyway, Desilu/Lucy accepted the cost--in fact, on one of the last episodes of Season One, Briggs goes to an empty drive-in theater to get his orders. The marquee reads "Solow and Geller in SPEND THE MONEY" referring to Desilu production chief Herbert Solow and series creator/executive producer Bruce Geller. And like most hour long series of that era, I don't know if it ever brought back that much to Paramount in its afterlife, in the time before such shows could run five days a week (often multiple episodes a day) on one or even two cable networks, at the same time airing in broadcast syndication.