How I Love Lucy Helped to Launch Star Trek and The Twilight Zone
The original Star Trek and The Twilight Zoneare two of the most iconic television shows of all time. Each series helped define its genre and continues to hold up decades after its initial release. However, through all their years of notoriety, one key driving force in the existence of these shows has been mostly forgotten: the Hollywood power couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the stars of I Love Lucy.
After the end of their hit show in 1957, Ball, Arnaz and their production company, Desilu Productions, moved on to create the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, an anthology series founded on the premise that it would prominently feature A-list actors. Just a few months earlier, screenwriter Rod Serling sold a script for a new show to CBS, which also owned the Desilu Playhouse. By that time, Serling had developed a reputation for addressing controversial topics in his work and being censored by sponsors, as a result he believed that creating his own show was the only way he could truly express his vision.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
Despite the sale, Serling's script was put aside and stored in the CBS vaults almost immediately -- until it was found by Bert Granet, a producer of Desilu Playhouse, who liked it enough to produce it for the show. The story, titled "The Time Element," centers on a man who visits a psychiatrist because he's having recurring dreams that he is at Pearl Harbor just before it is attacked by the Japanese in 1941. The patient believes these aren't just dreams but that he's actually traveling back in time. However, the psychiatrist insists it is impossible. In the end, the patient suddenly disappears, and in a twist that became characteristic of The Twilight Zone, the psychiatrist learns his patient was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.
While fans have come to associate The Twilight Zone with Serling's mysterious and omniscient narration, since it premiered on his show, it was actually Arnaz who acted as the concept episode's host. When the episode drew rave reviews and thousands of fan letters, CBS finally moved forward with Serling's show, which went on to win three Emmy Awards and captivate audiences worldwide.
Then in 1960, Ball and Arnaz divorced, and the former became the sole owner of Desilu Studios as well as the first woman to completely control a major studio. Four years later, she heard a pitch for a show that had already been rejected by MGM called Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry, a writer whose reputation in the industry was quickly growing. According to StarTrek.com, Ball liked the concept and approved financing for a pilot episode despite protests from her board of directors.
The resulting episode, titled "The Cage" was a failure and rejected by NBC, but the idea had enough merit for the network to make the unusual move of ordering a second pilot. Ball once again overruled her own board to finance the second episode, which cast William Shatner, George Takei and James Doohan in their famous roles for the first time. The episode, titled "Where No Man Has Gone Before," worked for the broadcaster, and the series was picked up for a full season, going on to amass a dedicated cult following and becoming one of the most enduring franchises in pop-culture history.
Doubling down on Star Trek was risky for Ball, and her company never truly benefited from the gamble, as the show was cancelled after only three seasons. Though Trek eventually became a cult hit, Desilu sold its syndication rights shortly after the show went off the air to recoup its losses from producing the futuristic series.
It's highly likely neither The Twilight Zone nor Star Trek would have been existed without Desilu's intervention and financial backing. Ball and Arnaz's ability to understand what audiences were looking for is undoubtedly what made the duo's acting careers so successful, and this innate understanding also helped them drop a life-line to a pair of previously rejected projects that went on to become two of the most well-known franchises of all time.About The Author