Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Tanya Roberts, 1955 - 2021

TV Networks: Paramount Network, Take Two

After its first attempt at a television network failed, Paramount gave up on television. This decision further weakened the company, causing it to be taken over by the multinational conglomerate Gulf+Western. Sensing that television needed to be given a bigger profile within the company, Gulf+Western purchased Desilu Television from Lucille Ball and grafted it onto Paramount as “Paramount Television”. This busted down both symbolic and literal walls for the company; it forever married television with one of Hollywood’s oldest theatrical studios and brought Desilu Studios, which was next door to Paramount, behind its famed studio gates. 

This began an unprecedented run of success. Building on Desilu’s titles and its wunderkind producer Garry Marshall, Paramount Television generated millions of dollars in revenue. It didn’t take long for company executives to wonder about how much more money the television operations would generate if it were Paramount- and not ABC, CBS or NBC- that owned the network its hit shows aired on. While Paramount couldn’t pull its programming off of the regular networks due to contractual obligations, it decided it could build a new network around one of the properties it purchased from Lucille Ball- Star Trek.

Originally produced by Desilu Productions for NBC, Star Trek was originally seen as being a failure. It only got a second season because Lucille Ball had gone to bat for it and a third season because its small but vocal group of fans did. It would get no reprieve or a fourth season, but by the mid-1970’s it had become a juggernaut in syndication, becoming one of Paramount’s strongest performers. Its ratings and profits rivaled Paramount’s newer hits, long after most shows from its time period would have already dropped out of syndication. The success of Star Wars only made Star Trek an even stronger franchise. Since NBC’s option on the show had long since expired, a new show could anchor a new Paramount Network. Star Trek: Phase II, a new sequel series, was announced alongside PTS: The new Paramount Television Service Network. 

After a splashy announcement and a series commitment for Star Trek: Phase II, upper management at Gulf+Western soured on the idea, feeling that the network would lose too much money in its first year and would take too long to become profitable. The network was scrapped before it even launched and Star Trek: Phase II was up cycled into an actual feature film- Star Trek The Motion Picture.

Monday, January 4, 2021

TV Networks: The Paramount Channels

Currently part of ViacomCBS, Paramount Pictures has had a long and (mostly) failed history of trying to start up broadcast television networks. It is actually one of the distant ancestors of ABC, which began life as the parts of Paramount that had to be spunoff when the federal government decreed that movie studios could not own movie theaters. Sensing that movie theaters were not going to be much of a growth industry, Leonard Goldenson- who had been entrusted with the theaters after the split- built ABC into one of the “Big Three” television networks. Not willing to be outdone by its past theater group, Paramount Pictures decided to create the Paramount Television Network.

Using the extremely popular KTLA as a flagship station, Paramount planned to produce programming in Hollywood and distribute it out to its affiliates throughout the country. (At the time, most networks produced their television programming in New York.) Paramount hoped to capitalize on its film library to make an attractive package for its various affiliate stations. 

Anti-trust lawsuits, legal problems with the DuMont Network and a poor slate of affiliates doomed the effort, however, and Paramount gave up its network dreams in 1956. Its biggest hit, The Lawrence Welk Show, moved on to ABC and the shortlived network became mostly forgotten. While it would accept its loss this time, the thought of a television network with the Paramount name would stay on the minds of company executives.