The Time Element, November 10, 1958

Written By: Greg Howell - Jul• 10•17

230px-WestinghouseDesiluPlayhouseIn late 1957, months after ending television’s #1 show, I Love Lucy, Desi Arnaz’ hatched a plan to create another significant series from Desilu Studios.  RKO studios was near bankruptcy, and Arnaz saw the property as the ideal television mega-studio property for Desilu’s continued growth.

Desi Arnaz sold CBS the rerun’s of I Love Lucy for $6 million, and purchased 14 acres of RKO prime production backlots and studios. By today’s monetary standards, six million dollars equals as much as $40,000,000! TV genius Arnaz approached CBS about his new concept, Desilu Playhouse. The package would include a season of anthology shows, as well as new hour long specials with Lucy and Ricky Ricardo. Westinghouse, losing their long-time product with Playhouse 90‘s departure, quickly jumped in to finish off the deal.

time-elementThe premiere episode of Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, “Lucy Goes to Mexico” was a ratings bonanza. In general, the 13 hour- long Lucy shows sprinkled throughout this series, both in first run and re-broadcasts, kept the series afloat. The weeks with “The Lucille Ball-Desi Arnaz Show” hours always landed the Desilu Playhouse  at the top of the ratings; however, the Lucy hours were not the only well-remembered televised events for the show.

Episode 6 of the Desilu Playhouse had tremendous ramifications for the future of television. “The Time Element” was essentially Rod Serling’s pilot film for The Twilight Zone. CBS had declined the script, so Desi snapped it up for his new show. Starring William Bendix as Pete Jensen, it centered the story-line on the character’s re-occurring dreams as told to his psychiatrist (in 1958) of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In his dreams – set each time on December 6, 1941 – Pete Jensen attempts to warn everyone around him, including his bar tender, the government, and a young Navy officer stationed on the U.S.S. Arizona. Unfortunately, everyone is too busy having a good time in Honolulu to take him seriously. He is the bearer of bad news and impending doom, thus obviously insane. Of course, the bombing does happen, but with a twist, Mr. Pete Jensen dies in the bombing. The end of the show finds the psychiatrist alone in his office with an empty couch, with all traces of Mr. Jensen erased from time. . . except, for a lone portrait located on the wall of the psychiatrist’s patronized, neighborhood bar.

The buzz and ratings success created from the broadcast of this Desilu Playhouse episode re-energized CBS; and, Rod Sterling was immediately signed to produce a new series, The Twilight Zone, based on this episode for the following fall. The significance of the show cannot be overstated, as it is still one of the few early shows of televsiion that is rebroadcast regularly today. It is also one of the many, unique, essential contributions to television by the much underrated Desi Arnaz.

The video below are just the opening and closing bumpers and credits to the show, featuring Lucy, Desi, and Betty Furnace.  The entire Desilu Playhouse episode can be viewed in high quality at THIS YOUTUBE LINK.

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