The “I Love Lucy” star was the first woman to run a television studio, according to Life.com. That studio, Desilu Studios, happened to be the studio that produced “Star Trek: The Original Series.” According to “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story,” Ball was responsible for greenlighting production on the first season of “Star Trek.” She was also responsible for saving the show when it was on the brink of cancellation.
Here’s how America’s favorite redhead made “Star Trek” possible and kept it on the air.
Greenlighting ‘Star Trek’
When “Star Trek’s” creator Gene Roddenberry was pitching his new science fiction show to the major studios, Ball was the president of Desilu Studios. After her divorce from her husband, Desi Arnaz, Ball bought out his shares in the studio they’d started together, making her the head of the studio.
In the book “The Fifty-Year Misson: The First 25 Years,” Roddenberry admitted that “Desilu was the only studio” interested in his pitch. He also acknowledged that they were only interested “because they had gone five years without selling a pilot and they were desperate.”
Herbert Solow, a former Desilu executive who co-wrote “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story” with Robert Justman, admitted that people all around him were saying “Star Trek” was a bad bet. These naysayers insisted that the show was too complicated and too expensive to produce.
Solow and Ball took it on anyway. Though according to Solow, Ball didn’t know exactly what she was taking on. In his book, Solow claimed that Ball thought “Star Trek” was about a USO tour in the South Seas, not space exploration. She assumed that “stars” meant actors and actresses and “trek” meant going on a journey, hence, stars on a USO tour.
When Solow corrected her, Ball decided to take on the show anyway. According to “The Fifty-Year Mission,” she really wanted to get a new show on the air with the studio, and she was willing to take a chance.
Having Ball on board turned out to be crucial to getting “Star Trek” on the air. NBC desperately wanted to work with Ball because she was a superstar whose show was on its rival network — CBS. The network also wanted a science fiction show in their programming because they were one of the few networks that didn’t have one.
So, a science-fiction show produced by Ball was NBC’s dream show. Without Ball, NBC might have passed on “Star Trek,” especially since it turned out to be just as expensive and complicated as its naysayers predicted.
Saving ‘Star Trek’
NBC didn’t like the original pilot for the show, and they ended up rejecting it. Desilu wasn’t too keen on backing a second “Star Trek” pilot because the first one had gone way over budget. However, Ball believed in the show, and she greenlit production on a second pilot.
When NBC ordered 16 episodes, Desilu’s Board of Directors actually asked Ball not to produce the show. They feared that it would be too expensive and that it might bankrupt the studio. Again, Ball overruled all the objections and approved production on the first 16 episodes of “Star Trek.”
Ball saved “Star Trek” a second time a few years later. According to StarTrek.com, Ball’s daughter, Lucie Arnaz, recalled that the Board of Directors tried to convince her mother to cut “Star Trek” because it was one of the most expensive shows in Desilu’s portfolio. “Mission Impossible” was also on the chopping block.
Arnaz said that her mother refused to cancel the shows because she liked them. So, the studio continued to produce both shows.
Ball Gave Up Everything for Trek
Unfortunately, Ball’s staunch defense of “Star Trek” came with a staggering price. Cushman told the authors of “The Fifty-Year Mission” that Ball “lost her studio because of ‘Star Trek.'”
By the second season, Ball knew “Star Trek” was going to be a hit. So, she kept fighting for it no matter how much it cost, and she really needed to put up a fight. The other executives at Desilu kept telling her to drop “Star Trek” because it was going to ruin the studio. Halfway through the second season, their predictions became reality. Ball was forced to sell Desilu to Paramount.
Cushman said that the worst part about the entire situation was that if Desilu could have held out a bit longer, they would have been able to enjoy “Star Trek’s” incredible success. Within a year, “Star Trek” was in syndication in over 60 countries. If the studio could have found the money to keep producing the show through its second season, they would have recouped their losses.
However, they couldn’t hold out that long. Paramount reaped all the financial benefits associated with Ball’s years-long fight to get “Star Trek” made and keep it on the air.
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