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Star Trek has a large following of loyal fans, even years after the original series went off the air. The following is so expansive that conventions are held to allow fans to connect. The show, which made several actors household name, almost didn’t happen, though. In fact, the series needed an unlikely ally to ensure the pilot was even made. Lucille Ball, famed for I Love Lucy, was the driving force behind getting the series on the air.

Lucille Ball’s production company, Desilu Productions was responsible for Star Trek’s original pilot

Ball may be best known for her portrayal of Lucy Ricardo on I Love Lucy, but the famed comedian wasn’t just a talented actor and comedian. Her business abilities made her the most powerful woman in television at a time when women in the industry were relatively few. Her business prowess helped her head Desilu Productions, the production company she founded with her ex-husband, Desi Arnaz.

Lucille Ball
Lucille Ball | Evening Standard/Getty Images

In the 1960s, Arnaz and Ball divorced, and eventually, Arnaz agreed to sell his half of Desilu to Ball. To make the purchase worth her time, Ball asked her team to bring new content to her for review. Two projects were brought to the table. A sci-fi project, Star Trek, was one of them. Initially, the board of directors dismissed the proposal, insisting it would be too expensive to produce. CBS, the network Desilu often worked with, also rejected the premise. NBC, however, was willing to consider it. Ball, however, had to go head to head with her board of directors to get the pilot financed, according to Business Insider.

When the pilot bombed, Ball agreed to help finance a second pilot

Ball’s support of the series was unwavering, explains Entertainment Weekly. When the show’s original pilot was ill-received, Ball helped negotiate a second episode. She believed in the series so much that she agreed to personally help finance a second pilot, which was largely seen as too extravagant for an untested series.

The second episode tested much better and led to the original series that fans grew to love. The series was produced by Desilu Productions from 1966 until 1967. When Ball sold the production company to Paramount Pictures, the series continued under new management. All told, Star Trek: The Original Series produced 79 episodes before it went off the air.

Why was Star Trek so popular?

Star Trek remains popular, even years after the original series went off the air. It has inspired remakes, new generations, and movies. So why is the sci-fi series so popular, and did Ball see it as the wave of the future? Forbes argues that Star Trek’s three-season run remains so popular because it had a much more optimistic view of the future than other sci-fi offerings from the 1960s and 1970s. The publication also argues that the casting and character development helped propel the series forward.

The opening title of 'Star Trek', Season 1, Episode 3
Opening title of ‘Star Trek’ | CBS via Getty Images

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So, did Ball see the possibilities? It’s hard to say why Ball decided to push so hard for the series to get made. She wasn’t particularly interested in science fiction and had never acted in such a production. In fact, it’s been rumored that she had no idea what the show was about when she began pushing for the pilot to be produced. It seems entirely plausible that the comedian and businesswoman did see the production as something big once she understood the premise, even if her board of directors did not.