CBS knows why it still loves 'I Love Lucy': $20 million of income annually

CBS
Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

Here's one business scheme of Lucy's that her eternally-bemused husband Desi might actually approve of: Over 50 years after the classic sitcom "I Love Lucy," which starred Lucille Ball and real-life husband Desi Arnaz, went off the air, it's still a big income generator for studio CBS, according to the LA Times.

The show brings in around $20 million to the studio annually, according to CBS Chief Executive Leslie Moonves, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York Thursday.

"I Love Lucy" aired from 1951-57, and featured Ball and Arnaz as Lucy and Ricky Ricardo; the couple were married for 20 years and owned a production company, Desilu Productions, together. The series currently shows in reruns on TV Land.

While TV networks make a big portion of their revenue through advertising and current series, they also make ends meet by selling shows they own to other outlets in syndication and online. Moonves noted that series like "NCIS" and "CSI," which have episodes that are self-contained and don't rely on connecting story arcs, do well in syndication, while other series with soapier storytelling do well in places like Netflix.

  • Slideshow Photos

    Image: Lucille Ball

    Remembering Lucille Ball

    LIFE.com released the best never-published photos of the legendary comedienne from the magazine's archivesin honor of her 100th birthday on Saturday, Aug. 6.

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    Awaiting her break -

    Lucille Ball looks cautiously over her shoulder at the future in this outtake from John Florea's 1942 photo essay on the entertainer, which touted her as being on the brink of fame after a decade of kicking around Hollywood. (This photo, and the next four in this gallery, has never before been published.)

    Life.com: Lucille Ball -- unpublished photos

    John Florea / Time & Life Pictures
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    Sailors love Lucy -

    Lucille Ball signs autographs for admiring seamen at one of the January 1944 galas celebrating President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 62nd birthday.

    Thomas D. McAvoy / Time & Life Pictures
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    Primping for the president -

    In this outtake from Thomas McAvoy's spread on President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1944 birthday bashes, Lucille Ball prepares to meet luminaries from Hollywood and Washington.

    Life.com: Lucille Ball -- unpublished photos

    Thomas D. McAvoy / Time & Life Pictures
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    Lucy and a fan -

    LIFE's Walter Sanders photographed Ball in costume for the extravagant dream sequence set in 18th-century France at the center of "DuBarry Was a Lady." In this 1943 adaptation of Cole Porter's Broadway hit, hoofer Ball had the lead role as a golddigging nightclub singer, opposite fellow comic Red Skelton and a rising song-and-dance man named Gene Kelly. She was billed in the movie's trailer as "Queen of the Red-Heads."

    Walter Sanders / Time & Life Pictures
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    Got some 'splainin' to do -

    Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball strike familiar poses as they survey their new empire, the Desilu Studios, in 1958. The camera set-up behind them is actually one of Lucy and Desi's greatest innovations. When they started "I Love Lucy" in 1951, most TV shows were produced live in New York, captured on low-quality kinetoscopes, then re-aired on the West Coast. The Arnazes insisted on working in Hollywood and shooting their show in advance on film.

    Life.com: Lucille Ball -- unpublished photos

    Leonard McCombe / Time & Life Pictures
  • Remembering Lucille Ball

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    Born to be funny -

    Lucille Ball was born on Aug. 6, 1911 in Jamestown, N.Y. She would grow up to be one of most iconic comediennes of the 20th century, and was a pioneer of television.

    Paul Popper/Popperfoto / Getty Images Contributor
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    On the air -

    Lucille Ball on the set of "The Phil Baker Show" radio program in 1938.

    Gene Lester / Getty Images Contributor
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    Partners in life and work -

    Lucille Ball and her husband, bandleader-actor Desi Arnaz, pose for this 1950s publicity shot.

    Archive Photos / Getty Images Contributor
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    Happy family -

    Desi Arnaz snaps a photo of the comedienne and their infant son, Desi Jr., in their California home in January, 1953. The couple collaborated on their hit series, "I Love Lucy."

    Luciano Viti / Getty Images Contributor
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    Classic pair -

    Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball) and Ethel Mertz (Vivian Vance, right) also seemed to end up in one wacky situation after another on the hit TV series, "I Love Lucy."

    Cbs Photo Archive / Getty Images Contributor
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    Iconic moment -

    Amanda Milligan, left, was paired with Lucille Ball in the famous "Job Switching" episode of "I Love Lucy." The episode originally aired on Sept. 15, 1952.

    CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images Contributor
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    City girl -

    The actress reviews a script in her apartment at the New York Hilton in Manhattan in 1965.

    Archive Photos / Getty Images Contributor
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    Mother and daughter -

    Lucille Ball and her daughter, Lucie Arnaz, pose for a portrait on October 27, 1965.

    Cbs Photo Archive / Getty Images Contributor
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    Comedy legends -

    Lucille Ball and Buster Keaton perform a sketch for the television show "Salute to Stan Laurel" in 1965.

    Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images Contributor

"Syndication is still the big dog here versus the online stuff," he said.

Either way, the options for continuing to make money off of old classics seem endless. 

"The world is a beautiful place, we're going to get paid more and more," Moonves said.

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