Lucille Ball’s Influence on the World of Sci-Fi

Lucille Ball is one of the greatest comedians of all time and one who had the most lasting impact in a variety of genres. She and her company Desilu Productions changed television and the entire Sci-Fi genre for the better. Captain Kirk would never have found his way into our hearts with his great expressions and speech patterns if not for Lucille Ball. 

Her contributions affected television today in the kinds of shows we watch. I Love Lucy, and the company she formed with Desi Arnaz, Desilu, influenced the entertainment we all enjoy in multiple genres. She was one of the most powerful women in the industry in 1963 when the original Star Trek began, having bought out Arnaz's half of the company in 1962.

The Onset of Television

Television has changed significantly since its onset. While now we have entire seasons that last just six to eight episodes, the volume of episodes per season in the past was much higher. There would be fewer seasons, but each season could have over 30 episodes. 

Although I Love Lucy lasted for only six seasons, they completed a total of 180 episodes in this time. These long seasons, plus reruns, helped give this show the staying power it has.

Reruns also served so that the performers could take a break because of the sheer amount of work that they needed to complete in a short amount of time. 

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Changes That Lucy and Desi Caused

While some of the changes their show brought about are well-known, such as showing pregnancy on television and an interracial couple, they did even more given the massive success of I Love Lucy. Ball and Arnaz took things a step further in 1957 when they formed Desilu Productions. They bought the former RKO studios, and their company became one of the largest independent production companies.

Ball made the majority of the creative decisions and had a brilliant eye for proposals with mass appeal, while Arnaz handled the business side. The two divorced in 1960, and two years later, Ball bought Arnaz out to become the sole owner. 

When their show, The Untouchables, ended in 1963 after four seasons, they needed another hit to replace it. The following year, Star Trek and Mission: Impossible were brought to her attention. 

Desilu Shows

Star Trek

Herbert Solow, whose job it was to find her new projects, brought her two possibilities in 1964, and one of them was Star Trek. Given how expensive the project was thought to be to film, Ball's board of directors rejected the idea.

She decided to go ahead with it anyway and produced the pilot episode. It was originally rejected by Ball's longtime network, CBS, so they took it to NBC. Unfortunately, the pilot entitled “The Cage” didn't impress executives, but in an uncharacteristic move by NBC, the studio ordered a second pilot in 1965.

Again, despite the feelings of her board of directors, Ball decided to finance this second pilot as well. This episode was entitled “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and the only character they kept from the original pilot was Spock, played by the iconic Leonard Nimoy.

This second pilot also introduced William Shatner as Captain Kirk. The network put the show on the schedule for the fall of 1966 and the rest is history. If not for Lucille Ball, the entire Star Trek franchise would have been a failure, and we would never have come to love all of the characters we do today.

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Mission: Impossible

The other show that appeared on her desk was the television show Mission: Impossible. Not only did she back Star Trek, but she also moved forward with the spy show, leading to another successful franchise. Both series, of course, have gone on to include several movies over the past six decades.

The original series also started in the fall of 1966 and ran for seven seasons. It took longer to translate to the big screen than Star Trek did in 1979. Tom Cruise's Mission: Impossible didn't hit movie theaters until 1996, but it has known a legacy of its own, and it's also all due to Ball.

Additional Shows

While the two shows above are some of the standouts, Desilu produced other famous shows also. These include Our Miss Brooks, December Bride, The Danny Thomas Show (which later spun off The Andy Griffith Show and its subsequent sequels, Mayberry RFD and Gomer Pyle, USMC), Mannix, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Even though Ball sold Desilu to Paramount Pictures after Star Trek had been on the air for less than a year, her initial backing of the project was key in starting the franchise, even though she initially mistook the premise for a show about USO performers. Whatever premise she thought it was, we're still glad Lucy loved it.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.


Kristen Winiarski has worked as a professional writer for 15 years, studying classic TV shows and films to further her expertise and understanding about how they have evolved. This passion led her to start her own classic movie blog before branching out into the professional entertainment writing world.