Desilu, an independent TV production company created by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, managed to achieve a level of independence from major networks during the 1950’s that might be unrivaled for years to come. But how much independence did they really enjoy from these major networks in the beginning, and how did they lose all of it so quickly?
Desilu first got its clout in the business by starring and producing “I Love Lucy”, which had grown out of a radio show that had starred Lucille Ball. They were able to team up with CBS (who was in charge of finance, production, and “selling” the show) due to Ball’s star power and their low budget costs of $19,500 per episode. This show went on to become the #1 watched show in America in the 1950’s as well as pioneered the sitcom as a legitimate genre. A key note here is that amid all of this success, Desilu managed to keep their creative independence and ownership of the show.
The structural independence of Desilu, however, is questionable at best when compared to endeavors of a similar type within other mediums of entertainment, such as the movie industry. A low budget indie film can be produced, created and distributed completely outside of the major companies, but sadly it seems that the 1950’s TV industry was not so lucky. While Desilu maintained creative independence which helped create the sitcom genre as well as the “telefilm” method, the could not possibly remove themselves from the financial burden of the major players, which ultimately leads to Desilu’s downfall. when majors moved in, production cost began to sky rocket and Desilu could not keep up. This coupled with marital strife that caused Ball and Arnaz to divorce were the deciding factors.
Even if Desilu did not make it in the end, their efforts are still worth commemorating as a true independent. With courage and conviction they pioneered ground breaking changes within the TV industry that will be prevalent for years to come.