THE DESILU STORY
A Review by Stuart Shostak
It's nice for once to be able to sit down, watch something, and feel thoroughly satisfied when its over. That's pretty much how I felt when I viewed "The Desilu Story" on Bravo on August 24. It's high time somebody did "the definitive history" of the biggest little television production company in Hollywood, and Bravo's documentary was done with flare and verve; it made for a very fast-paced two hours of both education and entertainment. Anyone interested in learning about how Lucy and Desi built their empire should see this program because nothing that's been done before (and done to DEATH, I might add) comes remotely close.
It was very nice to hear from people who haven't been seen in a Lucy documentary before - former Desilu studio executives and actors like Richard Crenna, Robert Stack, Mike Connors, and even Larry Anderson - all contributing comments and facts that even I (as her film archivist) never heard or knew before. Of course, it was also nice to hear from the folks we've all seen at our conventions - Bob Carroll and Madelyn Davis, Bob Schiller, Shirley Mitchell, and Dann Cahn, but even they had things to say that have not been shoved down our throats over and over in the past.
Not to toot our own horn, but the documentary in parts reminded me of the way Tom Watson and I put together our Friday night salutes in the past - the style was very free flowing and easy to follow. There was not a lot of fancy transitions, cutaways and visual effects that took away from the presentation.
If there are any criticisms to give it at all - and this is minor and probably just being subjective on my part - it was the background music. At times, it was very obtrusive and obnoxious and interfered with the comments being made. The style of the music did not always jive with what was being said on screen, and that made it annoying. Other times, when obvious budget constraints would not allow for actual TV theme music to be played, the similar-sounding arrangements were irritating. Budget constraints also contributed to the lack of film clips, and the public domain footage included ranged from very good to third or fourth generation God awful. But the producers made good use of what they could air (mostly main titles of long forgotten but significant Desilu series), and it didn't detract too much from the presentation. My only other comments would be that some of the facts discussed were incorrect. "December Bride" ended in 1958, not 1961, and "The Andy Griffith Show" was shot at Desilu Culver, not Desilu Cahuenga. Also, the so-called "Hollywood Historian" got a few facts incorrect while he spoke to us from the famous Formosa Cafe. "I Love Lucy" was shot on 35mm film, not 16mm, as he stated. When discussing Lucy's comeback on "Life With Lucy", I don't know what planet Aaron Spelling was on when he said Marvin Davis called him and asked him if he'd like to do a "new Lucy show". I was working for Lucy and Gary at the time, and Aaron himself called Gary to feel him out about Lucy going back into TV because he (Aaron) had a sitcom commitment with ABC that was going to expire. He wondered what the possibility was of getting Lucy to star in it. Lucy and Gary were having dinner at a restaurant earlier that week and ran into Aaron and his wife there, and that's what gave Aaron the idea to ask Gary. Perhaps Marvin Davis (being friends with both the Mortons and Spelling) called him AFTER the deal was made to congratulate him and he simply had a memory lapse when he was interviewed on camera. Again, the producers have no control over incorrect comments made by the talking heads except to exclude them. This becomes a difficult chore when the rest of the comments made are valid and worthwhile.
Overall, "The Desilu Story" was a pleasure to watch, and I highly recommend it. The producers should be proud. I'd like to see more...can we please have DVD released with unaired footage?
____________Stuart Shostak is a life-long Lucy fan. He has been a member of We Love Lucy since 1977, when he was introduced to the organization by his friend, I Love Lucy-writer, Bob Schiller. Stuart subsequently became Lucille Ball and Gary Morton's film archivist, and is now president/owner of Shokus Video. For the past six years he has been co-producer and video editor for our Loving Lucy Conventions. For many years he authored a regular column, "Viewer's Viewpoint," in our club publications.