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Desilu Productions, also credited as Desilu Studios, was the production company that started the Star Trek franchise with the production of the, initially, unaired 1964 pilot television episode "The Cage", and the Star Trek: The Original Series television series which began airing in September 1966.


Desilu Productions was formed in 1950 by Lucille Ball and her then-husband, Desi Arnaz. Originally, the studio was named Motion Picture Center, founded by Joe Justman (father of later Star Trek alumnus Robert H. Justman, and with whom Arnaz in particular had a mutual friendly relationship), the couple first rented before buying it. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, p. 4) The new name, a portmanteau of the couple's first names, was originally applied to the Ball-Arnaz ranch.

A planet featuring prominently in the Star Trek: Legacies trilogy was named "Usilde (β)", an anagram of the company's name. [1]

Desilu was at the time but one of a plethora of television production companies that sprung up all over the Hollywood area in the immediate post-World War II-era, catering to the growing needs of the increasingly popular television medium (and their broadcasters), which was rapidly becoming an all-present household item and thus becoming a serious competitor to the theatrical film features. The traditional Hollywood film studios at the time vastly underestimated the impact that television would have in society. Considered a fleeting fad by them at the time, all film studios were slow to react to the new medium, giving outsiders, such as the Ball-Arnaz couple, a chance to break into the industry as producers. However, due to these newcomers' limited access to capital, these new, typically family-run, television production companies tended to be relatively small in comparison to the traditional Hollywood film studios – even though Desilu would become one of the larger ones – and were in the industry on occasion somewhat derogatorily referred to as "ma and pa production houses". (These Are the Voyages: TOS Season One, 1st. ed, p. 27)

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 adjacent studios and other location facilities. They produced a number of successful shows, including The Andy Griffith Show, and also lent their facilities for various other projects from other production companies who did not have production facilities of their own, such as My Favorite Martian, I Spy, My Three Sons, and The Untouchables – the latter later referenced in the Star Trek episodes DS9: "It's Only a Paper Moon" and VOY: "Memorial". In 1962, Desilu signed a six-year agreement with Paramount to a show based on Paramount Pictures properties. After the breakup of the Ball-Arnaz marriage, Desilu remained successful. In 1962, Ball bought out Arnaz and became the first female "Hollywood mogul" ever to run a major motion picture studio, albeit a very reluctant one, as Ball was first and foremost an entertainer, and never really wanted to be a businesswoman. It was shortly after her second marriage to comedian Gary Morton in 1961, that she gladly left the minutiae of the studio's business and financial affairs to her new husband by naming him Co-Chairman of the Board of Directors. Her solo success as actress continued unabated until 15 February 1967, when Ball announced she would sell Desilu to Gulf+Western, which was formalized on 27 July 1967.

Like most Hollywood studios during the 1950s and '60s, Desilu had a stable of annually-contracted actors and behind-the-scenes production staffers. Such talent moved from production to production as needed on the studio lot in question – though in slow times either employee could be "rented" out by the studio to other studios or production companies – and were paid a fixed salary, usually determined by the powerful Hollywood labor unions, instead of a per-production fee. This labor system was a left-over stemming from the traditional "Hollywood Studio System", which was essentially outlawed by the US Supreme Court in 1948 for antitrust violation reasons. However, that entailed an industry reform which could not be achieved overnight (television studios lagged somewhat behind the motion picture studios), and only in the late 1960s was the transformation in labor relationships from tenure to a per-production contracted relationship between any studio and such employees completed permanently, meaning both production staffers and performers became independent contractors, free to offer their services to whichever studio required them. A notable Star Trek-related example was Majel Barrett, who at first began tenure at Desilu in 1958. [2] [3](X) On the production side, it was Matt Jefferies, employed by the studio in 1960 (and one of the staffers who was occasionally rented out), who had been the most notable Star Trek-related example. (Star Trek: The Original Series Sketchbook, p. 114) The transformation for Desilu was completed after it had become Paramount Television in 1967.

Lucille Ball and Oscar Katz

Ball and Katz at the 1964 Desilu shareholders meeting

However, by April 1964, Desilu found itself in dire straits – partly due to the fact that husband Morton proved himself to be woefully inept at running a motion picture production studio – 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 Hogan's Heroes and Ben Casey – on which Matt Jefferies was working, and was unexpectedly pulled from, when Star Trek started preproduction. 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. (The Making of Star Trek, p. 41) 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 bought and 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 aired the Desilu produced television productions, including Ball's own The Lucy Show), which is why Star Trek was pitched to that network first. 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 (though they did pick up Mission: Impossible), 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 CBS), also included the western series The Long Hunt for April Savage (ordered by ABC), all of them brought in by Katz and Solow, where there had only been one before, the The Lucy Show show. The conservative board of directors (the longer serving ones fiercely protective of their employer and known as "The Old Guard" or "Lucites") 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." [4] Ironically, the fears of the board were somewhat allayed by the subsequent cancellation of April Savage (the pilot episode of which was 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.

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 the regular Star Trek series was filmed (on Stages 9 and 10, which became Paramount Stage 31 and Stage 32 after the merger). It also consisted of a studio in Culver City, where the two Star Trek pilots were filmed, and the 40 Acres back lot – most famous for being "Mayberry" in The Andy Griffith Show – which served as a filming location for many episodes.

However, by the time Star Trek went into production for its second season, Desilu owner Lucille Ball had already realized that the days of the "ma and pa production house" had come and gone. Recognizing their huge original assessment mistake, the big Hollywood studios had scrambled to make up for their arrears. At first they belatedly tried to develop their own in-house television departments, which invariably failed because of the arrears. Studios then quickly changed gears by pursuing a vigorous and aggressive acquisition strategy by either buying all the "ma and pa" companies – and thus their "know-how" – they were able to, or to aggressively compete out of business those companies not willing to sell out. These circumstances were not lost on Ball, who was already for nearly a year vigorously accosted by Gulf+Western owner and CEO Charles Bluhdorn, which, on top of her own private motivations, prompted her decision to sell her company for US$17 million. The act of selling Desilu to Gulf+Western on 27 July 1967 brought the studio under the same parent company as its next-door neighbor Paramount Pictures, bought by Bluhdorn the year previously. The event was commemorated the next day by a dramatic ceremony in which Ball, together with Bluhdorn, cut a ribbon of film stock which had replaced a long-standing wall between the two production companies. Lucille Ball left the Desilu lot the very same day (taking her own hugely popular show with her, the only studio asset not included in the sale), directly after the ownership transfer ceremony, never to return. At the time of the ceremony "Mirror, Mirror" was being filmed. (Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, p. 297; Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 360-363)

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:

"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's own, hitherto rather insignificant television department (therefore the primary reason for Bluhdorn to acquire the fully operational Desilu), being transformed into the "Paramount Television" division. 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.

By the time Desilu was sold to Gulf+Western, Solow had added the detective series Mannix to the array of Desilu television productions which was allowed to complete its full eight-season run, like Mission: Impossible was allowed to complete its seven-year run, but unlike Star Trek, NBC managed to cancel less than two years after the acquisition. Its third season was actually shy of two episodes from becoming a full one by the time production had stopped.

Desi Arnaz[]

Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III, universally known as Desi Arnaz, was a Cuban-born 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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