Thursday, March 5, 2020

The Biz: Five Seasons, One Hundred Episodes

In the early days of television, when most programming was considered ephemeral, the television networks used to pay the full costs of their programming, plus a negotiated profit. The conventional wisdom at the time was that once the program aired once, nobody would want to watch it again. This method of payment for programming wouldn’t last long, however. Desi Arnaz would see to that.

Desi Arnaz was a trailblazer in many ways and his biggest revolutionary idea was that people in the future might want to watch their favorite television programming over and over again. While most other network programming was recorded on kinescopes or cheap equipment, Desi recorded I Love Lucy on film, which allowed the series to be rerun in syndication. The networks were shocked at the show’s success in reruns and CBS felt particularly stupid because they had fully financed Desi’s production, providing him a healthy profit and yet had no ownership in the continued success of the show. As a result, the networks changed how they financed their programming. Since the producers could theoretically make the bulk of their profits from selling syndication rights, television networks would no longer fully pay for programming. Broadcast networks typically pay just 50-75% of actual production costs for most of their shows. CBS would later regain control of I Love Lucy when it merged with Paramount Pictures, which had purchased Desilu from Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.