This Month in Film History – October 10, 1957 – Desilu Studios Purchase Film Company RKO

Based on an old radio program entitled My Favorite Husband, I Love Lucy, starring real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, would innovate and cement the blueprint for making the new medium of television a success. While negotiating to adapt the popular radio show to TV, Ball and Arnaz would gain all copyright control of the property after its initial broadcasts. This would lead the couple to form Desilu Studios. On October 10, 1957, a monumental moment in film history occurred when TV production company, Desilu, would purchase  RKO Film studios. The magic of the movies was definitely on life support.

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The success and sale of Desilu revolved completely around its two founders, Ball and Arnaz. It started with the couple retaining all rights to their product I Love Lucy.  The revolutionary show brought forth new and cheaper ways to shoot sitcoms for the TV medium that remain in practice today, Big Bang Theory being the most notable.

Behind the camera, Desi Arnaz would work non-stop on the production side as well as that of the company.  An example of Arnaz’s knack comes to us from Wikipedia:

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“Much of Desilu Productions’ early success can be traced to Arnaz’s unusual business style in his role as producer of I Love Lucy. For example, lacking formal business training, Arnaz knew nothing of amortization and often included all the costs incurred by the production into the first episode of a season rather than spreading them across the projected number of episodes in the year. As a result, by the end of the season, episodes would be nearly entirely paid for and would come in at preposterously low figures.”

As I Love Lucy began to curtail its run as a weekly produced show, Desilu Studios would branch off to produce other shows.  Such legendary TV shows as Star Trek, the original, and the mega-hit The Untouchables would be made at Desilu studios. Arnaz, himself, would personally oversee the production of the Robert Stack vehicle.

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Wikipedia broke their success down like this:

Until 1962, Desilu was the second-largest independent television production company in the U.S. behind MCA’s Revue Productions until MCA bought Universal Pictures, and Desilu became and remained the number-one independent production company until being sold in 1967.

That year Desi Arnaz, exhausted from the years of running the busy studio, while also dragging years of alcoholism along for the ride, sold his share of the company to ex-wife Lucille Ball.

On the 10th day in 1957, Desilu Studios bought out the floundering film Studio, RKO, which would be an important landmark in the battle of television versus the movies.

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