Herbert F. Solow, a longtime television executive who pitched the original “Star Trek” series to NBC while he was at Desilu Studios, along with “Mission Impossible” and “Mannix,” died on Thursday, his wife, Dr. Harrison Solow, confirmed. He was 89.
In later years, he and his wife wrote several books on the “Star Trek” series, including “Inside Star Trek: The Real Story” and “The Star Trek Sketchbook.”
Solow was brought in by Lucille Ball after her divorce from Desi Arnaz to help revive Desilu Studios, where he helped develop and sell “Star Trek” to NBC — after CBS originally turned it down because it already had “Lost in Space” — as well as “Mission: Impossible” and “Mannix” to CBS.
Solow helped guide “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry on their pitch to the network, and continued to champion the series until Ball herself got behind the effort.
Solow told the publication Carpe Articulum that he came up with the idea of presenting the story as a flashback. “I made a key change whereby we treated every episode, the whole series, as a flashback and invented Star Date,” he said. “A flashback is very interesting. People become kind of relaxed with the characters and the story knowing what they were watching had already happened. We’re not dealing with the future, absolutely not, we’re dealing with telling a story from the past. The Captain’s Log setup each show. Bottom-line, telling the story from the past was a huge plus.”
He also helped persuade Roddenberry that Spock should retain the pointed ears, but lose the devilish long tail and red face.
Born in New York, Solow started out at William Morris, then joined NBC in New York, where he established the international television sales division. After moving to Los Angeles, he oversaw development and production for NBC’s syndicated programs and created the series “Boots and Saddles.”
He had a stint in daytime programming at CBS, where he oversaw shows such as “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” before rejoining NBC, where he worked with Grant Tinker and supervised production of “Let’s Make a Deal.”
After Gulf & Western purchased Desilu, Solow left to become VP of worldwide television production at MGM, which had gotten out of the television business. Solow revived the TV arm, developing shows including “Then Came Bronson,” “Medical Center” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” and sold all three in the same week to the three networks.
At MGM, he went on to serve as VP of worldwide motion picture and television production, and headed MGM’s Culver City studios and the Borehamwood studios in England, working with directors including Robert Altman, Blake Edwards and David Lean.
Solow produced the MGM documentary feature “Elvis: That’s the Way It Was,” working closely with the singer.
He segued into independent production, writing and producing television movies and working with comedian Don Rickles. Then as a VP at Hanna-Barbera, he produced live-action productions such as “Man From Atlantis.”
Moving into features, he produced films including “Brimstone & Treacle,” “Get Crazy” and “Saving Grace” with Tom Conti.
Solow and his wife spent several years in Wales, where he became an honorary visiting research fellow at the University of Wales. He was a member of the WGA, the DGA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, where he served on several nominating committees.
He is survived by his wife, three daughters and a grandson.