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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 didn’t 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 of film.

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. He’d 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 Bridge’s pocket.

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