A Television Mogul is Born (Diet for Dreamers)

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We recently began our discussion of Talent, Tenacity and Timing — and the importance of working on these qualities if we hope to succeed. We can learn, we can practice, and we can develop talent. We can also decide to be tenacious in the pursuit of our dreams. Timing isn’t always up to us, however. But we can try to spot trends and anticipate needs.

Thursday we mentioned the talented couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. They were tenacious, and it paid off BIG. Desi apparently also knew something about timing. He saw an opportunity as yet unrealized by just about everyone else.

Remember that Desi wanted to FILM I Love Lucy in Hollywood, rather than broadcast the show live from New York. The end product would be a higher quality show on FILM, a durable medium. But recording the show on film would be more expensive, and the executives at CBS were none too eager to shell out the extra funds needed to make the idea work. So Desi agreed to pay the difference with his own money. He asked that in return CBS grant him all the rights to a then unknown commodity. (What was this commodity? Be patient, we’ll get to that.) At the time, Desi didn’t seem to be asking for much, so the execs quickly agreed and probably left the deal rubbing their greedy little hands in glee. They’d tricked that “crazy” Cuban into footing the bill for a show that was destined to make mucho bucks for the network in sponsor’s fees!

I Love Lucy premiered in 1951 to rave reviews. It was a Top 10 show, and before the first season ended the show had rocketed to the number one spot. By 1957, Desi had produced 200 episodes — on FILM. 200 hilarious, highly watchable … and re-watchable little gems sitting on the shelves at CBS. Eureka! The CBS execs got a brilliant idea! Why not rent these old episodes out to local television stations. After all, audiences loved the show sooo much that they’d want to catch the ones they’d missed the first time around, or just enjoy the whole show again … and again … and again. Remember, this was decades before affordable VCRs were available. And unlike today, there were no DVRs, no ON DEMAND, no $5 DVDs at Walmart. CBS was going to make a killing!!!! Heeheehee!!!!!!

No MISSION is IMPOSSIBLE for this crack team.

But wait a minute¡Ay, caramba! — they’d given all the rerun rights to Desi in exchange for his footing the expense of filming the show. Lucy’s Latin Lover had landed them in the Laundry … er, taken them to the cleaners! But being both a talented actor AND businessman, Desi agreed to sell the rights back to CBS. For a cool million dollars! That’s a lot of scratch for 1957! Desi used it as a down payment on the purchase of the old RKO studios, where such classics as Citizen Kane and Gone with the Wind had been produced. Desi now had at his disposal over two dozen soundstages, several back lots, and tons of camera equipment, costumes and props. (He even got Scarlett O’Hara’s mansion Tara!) Everything he needed to become a television film mogul.

Lucy and Desi’s dream, Desilu Studios, became a big time operation, producing such durable hits as The Untouchables and Mission Impossible … and another show that was destined to become a legend. We’ll tell you about it on Friday … along with the story of a talented and tenacious creator who happened to come along at just the right time!

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