Ziv Studio : Producing a TV Series is just like Making Mattresses
Marc Newman called one day shortly after we moved into the house and
said they wanted to see me at Ziv. Fred Ziv had been a tremendous force in radio in
Chicago during the 30s and 40s. In 1949, seeing the opportunity, he went to
Hollywood and bought a studio of six sound stages.
Ziv saw this medium of television, with no product to play on it, and
decided to fill the gap. He and his partner, John Sinn, entered TV production. Ziv worked
in Chicago and Sinn remained in New York. They needed someone to physically run the
studio, so Sinn called an old college chum, Babe Unger, in Ohio, who was in the mattress
business. He wanted Unger to sell his plant, move to California and run the studio. When
Unger protested that he didnt know anything about making pictures, Sinn told him it
was similar to manufacturing mattresses.
"All you do is hire a good story editor, who rounds up some
writers with ideas for TV series. They knock out a pilot film, like a sample mattress. You
hire production people, a couple of producers, (hell, make the writers the producers so
they can be story editors on their own series). The producers hire directors and actors,
buy more scripts, and away you go."
So Babe sold his mattress factory in Cincinnati, moved to a nice house
in Beverly Hills and became Vice President in charge of production at Ziv Television. The
concept Sinn had was simple and effective. In those days there was such a dearth of
programming, anybody who could read the telephone book with any understanding could get
into television production. To get a star for a series, all Ziv had to do was offer the
sweetest deal in town give the star a good salary against ten percent of the gross
after the "break" (when the studio had gotten back its costs).
Sea Hunt starring Lloyd Bridges
They made a bunch of junk, but it all sold. Television was like a
vacuum cleaner on a polished marble floor: it sucked up anything it could get hold of.
Most of the shows Ziv did only lasted a year, until a producer named Ivan Tors, who knew
what he was doing, went to the studio with a show called Sea Hunt.
The actor they hired was an up-and-coming young fellow with a great
build who could swim. Lloyd Bridges, originally from Broadway, had been working his way up
in the business to second leads and was signed at twelve hundred dollars a segment against
ten percent of the gross after the break. It cost twelve thousand dollars to make a
half-hour show in 1954.
Paul Stader, a great water stunt man and second unit director, was sent
with a crew to Silver Springs, Florida, where the water is clear as glass, to shoot all
the underwater action footage with a double for Bridges. He shot tens of thousands of feet
By the time "Bud" Bridges finished making Sea Hunt, his
salary was two thousand a segment and there was so much underwater footage that they were
shooting one segment a day, five a week. Bridges walked away from the show with better
than six million dollars. Hed become a household name and a big star in television,
which by then had gained some notice, but not much respect, in the feature film business.
Sea Hunt continued in syndication for years after he finished shooting it, and ten
cents of every dollar that came in went into Bridges pocket.