The Desilu production studio founded by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz holds several notable distinctions. It even won a Peabody Award for Orson Welles’ The Fountain of Youth, the only time an unsold pilot to have been so honored. However, they will always be best known for two series that became cash-cow franchises. Mission: Impossible was one. Star Trek was the other (and the more profitable, in the long run). By the time Desilu was producing both shows, it was entirely Lucille Ball’s company, so she gets well deserved credit for her support in “Lucy Loves Trek,” the first episode of History Channel’s 10-episode The Center Seat: 55 Years of Star Trek, which premieres this Friday.
Ball and Arnaz were remarkably savvy and even prophetic with regards to the television business. They bought the old RKO studio for their own productions, but started making money by leasing space to other productions. They also understood and secured re-run rights before anyone else, including the networks. When Ball and Arnaz divorced, he also divorced himself from the studio, so it was Ball herself who greenlit Star Trek.
Trek fans know it still almost didn’t happen. The network rejected the original pilot, but took the unusual step of ordering a second one, with an entirely new cast. The rejected pilot, “The Cage,” is now quite well-known, since it incorporated into the two-parter “The Menagerie” and has since been restored and released in its own right.
“Lucy Loves Trek” does a nice job of chronicling Trek’s development at Desilu, but it then mostly glosses over the entire run of the original series, focusing on the letter-writing campaign that saved the show at the end of its second season, the final cancelation, and its surprising success in rerun syndication. Subsequent episodes will focus on the animated show, films, and successive series, which must surely be leaving a lot original series lore and history on the table. Sadly, many original cast/crew members are no longer with us, but we do hear from Walter Koenig, Nichelle Nichols, and the late Leonard Nimoy (in archival video).
Trek is particularly interesting. However, the overly cutesy-style narration of Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher in Next Generation) should have been toned down. We are Star Trek fans—give it to us like Spock would have.
Regardless, Center Seat represents more Trek programming and it is often quite interesting. It also establishes Ball’s role as a true TV pioneer and tycoon. Frankly, her memory will probably be better served by this episode than by Aaron Sorkin’s upcoming Being the Ricardos. Recommended for fans of Lucy and Trek, The Center Seat: Lucy Loves Trek premieres this Friday (11/5) on the History Channel.