Desilu: the freedom that would never be again

Desilu was not conventional in the way that they went about creating their television shows. In negotiating the terms for the production of “I Love Lucy” Desi Arnaz was able to make sure that the filming of the show took place in Los Angeles (the home of Lucille Ball) rather than in New York (the location of CBS studios). This removal of the studio, coupled with Arnaz receiving the role of executive producer, were the main contributing factors to the fact that Desilu was able to function independently.

Although those two factors were the most important at the time, there was a crucial feature of negotiations whose impact would be seen later on. In exchange for footing some of the bill for the cost of each episode of “I Love Lucy” Arnaz demanded that Desilu was to have full ownership “of the series after its initial network showing” (pg. 121). The network agreed, but they clearly did not understand what they had really agreed to. Since Desilu was allowed ownership of the series they would have control of future sales and also it gave them true ownership of the series.


All of this negotiating was relatively new to both parties involved and resulted in Desilu receiving a form of independence that would never be allowed to occur in modern day television. While there may be similarities, such as giving Arnaz the role of executive producer, the magnitude of independence Desilu received is vastly different from anything in today’s television market.  In terms of the film production, Desilu received independence that is unheard of in modern times. It seems borderline impossible that a corporation, such as CBS, would ever allow a television series to be filmed so far from their oversight. They want more control because they feel that it is their job to make sure that nothing controversial or low quality is presented on their station. CBS took a huge gamble allowing Arnaz to produce the film all the way across the nation and then send it back to them. They could have ended up airing something that would have hurt their image or the show could have ended up being a mess. In relation to that independence, a studio such as CBS would never let a production studio receive full ownership of a show without some form of compensation.  It is now understood that the profit of a television show can actually come once the show is over and shown through re-runs.  This knowledge would prevent a producer from getting full ownership free of charge.

The end result is that Desilu was graced with a great opportunity both financially and in terms of creative opportunity. They received an opportunity that will likely never happen again. It is likely desired by many producers but there is too much room for a problem to arise and that makes corporations like CBS much more cautious in the leash they give a producer.


One thought on “Desilu: the freedom that would never be again

  1. I agree with you that the freedom Desilu had won’t ever happen again on network television but I sense that it is already happening on alternative forms of television, like Netflix. I’m not sure but I think the creators of Orange is the New Black had very few creative restrictions. I’m interested in watching out for a shift back to giving the creators more control and having networks or distribution companies play less roles in the production of series.

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