On March 11, 1964, Gene Roddenberry completed the first treatment of what would become one of the most beloved fandoms of all time: Star Trek. The sci-fi drama was pitched as a Space Western, and while the original concept would evolve before becoming the pilot episode starring William Schatner as the legendary Captain James T. Kirk, the foundation for Roddenberry's "anthology-like range of exciting human experiences" was there.
The only problem was that the show was expensive and zany. It needed a home and a champion. Enter Lucille Ball.
Star Trek - Fight to the Death
By 1964, Lucille Ball had already made a name for herself as the titular character of her hit show I Love Lucy, which aired from 1951-1957. Along with her then-husband, Desi Arnaz, Ball had formed Desilu Productions to produce the pilot for I Love Lucy — and in doing so, they created the very first independent television production company.
This move allowed them to own the product they would provide to CBS and pave the way for reruns, syndication and one of the most lucrative deals in television history. Their financial success allowed them to produce or film series like The Andy Griffith Show and The Dick Van Dyke Show. In 1960, Ball and Arnaz divorced, and in 1962 she bought his share of the company, becoming one of the most powerful women in television.
Johnny Asks Lucille Ball About When She Lost Her Virginity on Carson Tonight Show
This has nothing to do with Star Trek but it's important.
In 1964, Desilu was in search of new original programming. Her Vice President of Production, Herbert Franklin Solow, pitched Roddenberry's Star Trek — and Ball grabbed it. Even with her backing, however, Ball's longtime network CBS turned down the idea. Roddenberry and Solow then took the idea to NBC, who ordered a pilot titled The Cage.
The Cage, however, was rejected by NBC. It was expensive (costing NBC $630,000 to produce — roughly the equivalent of $5,245,562.90 in 2020) — but it impressed NBC executives enough to order a second pilot, thanks to Ball's support.
The second pilot, which would now star William Shatner, was financed in part by Ball herself — even at the objections of her board of directors. Star Trek debuted in the fall of 1966 and even won its time slot. The rest, of course, is history.
"If it were not for Lucy," former studio executive Ed Holly told Desilu historian Coyne Steven Sanders, "there would be no Star Trek today."
Just another reason for us all to love Lucy.
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