What Clever Approach Did Studebaker Come Up With to Afford Sponsoring Mister Ed?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about TV and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the TV urban legends featured so far.

TV URBAN LEGEND: Studebaker came up with an interesting way to sponsor Mister Ed.

Studebaker was one of the very earliest car manufacturers in the world, turning their wagon manufacturing company into a car company in the very early 20th Century.

Well, by the 1950s, things were looking pretty bleak for Studebaker.

They had been eclipsed by a number of more modern car companies, particularly when it came to the production of newer vehicles.

Studebaker basically had one last shot at sticking around – they (effectively) introduced the compact car in 1960 with the Studebaker Lark.

To promote the Lark, Studebaker became the sponsor for a new syndicated television program that would soon become quite popular – Mister Ed, the show about a man and his talking horse!

Here Alan Young (playing the lead character of Wilbur Post) and Mister Ed shill for Studebaker during an early episode of Mister Ed…

Wilbur and his wife, by the way, drove a Lark on the show in the first season.

This is all fairly typical stuff, but there’s a significant twist.

You see, like I mentioned, Studebaker was not doing so well, financially. So as it turned out, they really could not AFFORD to sponsor a television show, at least not with company money.

So Studebaker came up with a fairly ingenious plan to afford the show – they would pay for HALF of the sponsorship fee for the program. The OTHER half would be paid for by Studebaker dealers themselves! So, basically, every time you purchased a Studebaker, you were directly funding the production of Mister Ed, as roughly $50 of every sale went to the parent company to pay for Mister Ed!

This is why in the introduction to the show in the first season, the sponsors were…

AND

Lark sales did very well in 1960 and 1961, giving the company a chance. However, quickly, all the other car companies put out their own versions of the compact car, only, well, better.

Mister Ed was such a big hit in syndication that CBS decided to pick it up. Studebaker had difficulty staying on now that it was on a national network, but they hung on until 1963.

In 1965, Studebaker ceased their auto manufacturing (with their last cars produced in the Spring of 1966).

Ford took over the auto needs of Mister Ed.

While it did not end up working out, it was still an impressive plan, I think!

The legend is…

STATUS: True

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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