Desilu was formed in 1950 by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz (the studio name being a portmanteau of its founders' first names, Desi and Lucille) to initially produce their vaudeville act, then to serve as the production company for a TV adaptation of Ball and Arnaz's radio series My Favorite Husband, which CBS executives wanted to air on their network. The TV project became I Love Lucy, and the Arnazes, in exchange for accepting reduced salaries, retained ownership rights to the show. Arnaz chose ownership of the program because he recognized the future potential of the rerun as a part of television programming for networks and local stations, and to accomplish this end, he sought to ensure that I Love Lucy and all future programs produced by Desilu would be of high quality, through the use of conventional Hollywood filming and production methods.
For the first few years of production of I Love Lucy, Desilu used rented space at General Service Studios in Hollywood. In time, Desilu outgrew its original space and relocated to a studio it purchased in 1954, the nearby Motion Picture Center studio (which is now the Ren-Mar Studios). Desilu expanded again in 1957 when it bought the former RKO Pictures studio in Culver City, California, along with another Hollywood film lot on Gower Street. The Desilu studio properties, totalling 33 sound stages, made Desilu one of the most prominent TV production companies in Hollywood in the 1950s and most of the 1960s.
While Arnaz's business skills played a major part in the success of Desilu, Ball also added to the company's fortunes through her artistic contributions. Through her experience acting in a variety of film genres (including comedy, drama, Westerns, action/adventure and variety) during the 1930s and '40s, she knew which of the many program projects being proposed to Desilu would have potential to appeal most to TV audiences. With Ball's approval, a number of those proposed shows went into production and achieved lasting fame and cultural impact to the present day, particularly such shows as I Love Lucy, The Untouchables (which was later remade as a 1987 feature film, then as a 1993 syndicated series), Mission: Impossible (which was later remade in 1988 as a short-lived TV revival, then as a series of feature films starring Tom Cruise, which were loosely based on the original series) and Star Trek (which gave rise to a media franchise of later feature films, TV series and merchandising which has been influential on modern pop culture).
After Arnaz and Ball divorced in 1960, Arnaz later sold the pre-1960s Desilu programs, including I Love Lucy, to CBS, which later put those shows into syndication through its original distribution unit, CBS Films. Desilu retained ownership of the shows it produced which had premiered before 1960 but were still being produced at that point (such as The Untouchables), and those shows were originally distributed by Desilu's in-house syndication company, Desilu Sales. In 1962, Arnaz stepped down as president of Desilu and sold full ownership of the company to Ball, whose new sitcom, The Lucy Show, was beginning production at that point. By 1967, Ball, who had pulled double duty as both president and CEO of Desilu and the star of her own show, decided to give up the studio and sold Desilu to Gulf+Western, the parent company of Paramount Pictures. Gulf+Western continued operating Desilu under that name (with added copyright bylines in its closing credits now identifying it as a division of Paramount ) until December 29, 1967, when the company was dissolved, then was reincorporated as Paramount Television and adopted the Paramount mountain logo into its closing credit on January 1, 1968.  Also following the Gulf+Western acquisition, Desilu Sales was reincorporated and renamed as the syndication unit of PTV, Paramount Television Sales. Ball went on to found Lucille Ball Productions, which produced her third regular sitcom Here's Lucy (which was co-produced by PTV during its first season in 1968-69).
For years following the sale of Desilu, most of the shows produced by the studio prior to 1960 were distributed by Viacom Enterprises (the successor to CBS Films/Enterprises, established in 1971), while The Untouchables, The Lucy Show, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible and Mannix (the final Desilu production prior to the Gulf+Western purchase) were distributed by Paramount Television and Sheriff of Cochise, Official Detective, The Walter Winchell File and This is Alice were originally distributed by National Telefilm Associates. Through later corporate acquisitions and mergers, most of the Desilu catalogue is now owned by CBS Corporation through two of its divisions; CBS itself owns the pre-1960 catalogue while its CBS Television Studios unit (as the successor in interest to PTV) owns the Desilu shows made from 1960 onward, with TV distribution handled by CBS Television Distribution and home video distribution done by Paramount Home Media Distribution via CBS Home Entertainment; the exception to this is The Ann Sothern Show, which was sold by Ann Sothern and PTV to Metromedia Producers Corporation in 1980 and is now owned and distributed by MPC successor 20th Television.
List of shows produced by Desilu
|I Love Lucy||Sitcom||CBS||1951–57|
|Our Miss Brooks||Sitcom||CBS||1952–56|
|Sheriff of Cochise||Western||Syndication||1956–58|
|The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour||Sitcom||CBS||1957–60|
|The Ann Sothern Show||Sitcom||CBS||1958–61|
|The Untouchables||Crime Drama||ABC||1959–63|
|Harrigan and Son||Sitcom||ABC||1960–61|
|The Lucy Show||Sitcom||CBS||1962–68 1|
|You Don't Say! (1963)||Game Show||NBC||1963–69 2|
|Star Trek||Sci-fi||NBC||1966–69 1|
|Mission: Impossible||Espionage||CBS||1966–73 1|
|Mannix||Crime Drama||CBS||1967–75 1|
1Produced after December 1967 by Paramount Television.
2Produced after December 1967 by Ralph Andrews-Bill Yaggemann Productions.