There are many ways, according to Schatz, that Desilu functioned independently from the major networks during the 1950s. These ways could be similarly compared to the strategies of independent film institutionally as well.
Luckily, during Desilu’s time, TV was still in an experimental phase- advertising, networks, and talents still worked together, but the ties between them were not as strong as they are today. From the beginning of their I Love Lucy venture, Desilu took much of production creative and institutional control in their own hands; being able to bargain with the networks because of the uncertain state of the developing TV business. This is how they stayed independent from network’s (and incidentally ad agencies’) regulations.
First, Desilu aided in the popularity of the “telefilm” program; a higher production valued show that was filmed first (not just broadcasted live) with new technologies. Arnaz took time to figure out how to “economize on camera setups… [so to] reduce the budget.” So he asked his inventive Hollywood cinematographer friend, Karl Freund, to help out. We still see this today with indie film: an effort to try to keep a quality feel to a movie (top production values) but within a limited budget, and with cheap help of friends.
After the success of the first season of independently produced I Love Lucy, indie TV held more leeway with networks. New negotiations between producers, advertisers and networks began regarding scheduling and syndication. Desilu made a brilliant move to use I Love Lucy as a lead-in for another one of his sneakily purchased program December Bride, and test-run a different series during the summer. From there, after a number of episodes were aired, and syndication brought in more profits to the indie producers. Unlike indie film, TV has different strategies of distribution- where a film may find success showing a certain festival; shows must utilize airtimes and reruns for profit.
Eventually, as major studios introduced “deficit financing” into the television business, indie companies either had to pay for productions the major’s way, or get taken out altogether. Luckily (again) by this time, Desilu had enough power and money to continue on independently. Arnaz “wanted to experiment with different programming forms”, but when attempting to sell these creations to networks, they declined them. This is the film equivalent of an ‘avant garde’ film vs. a crossover. Both can be independently made, but only the crossover will be distributed to mass audiences. With TV, the audience may is arguably higher than a movie’s, raising the risk in delivering overly “innovative and sophisticated” shows.
Desilu influenced the television in its early years, with its independent innovation and determination. Just like indie film, it had the power to redefine the business’ formulas and production norms, and it did. Today, television may thank Desilu for that!