Herbert F. Solow, 1930-2020.

In April of 1964, Herb Solow was the vice president in charge of television production at Desilu Studios. It was in this capacity that he took a meeting with a writer/producer looking to pitch his concept for a new television series.

By the end of that meeting, Solow decided to give the writer a shot at developing his premise, after which he convinced NBC to green-light a pilot episode to be produced by Desilu. When NBC studio execs passed on the resulting film, Solow persuaded them to let Desilu try again. NBC liked that second effort enough to commit to a television series order, and the rest is history.

The writer/producer was Gene Roddenberry, and the TV series was, of course, Star Trek.

While there are a large number of people who contributed to the original series, Herb Solow along with Roddenberry, Robert. H. Justman, Dorothy Fontana, Gene Coon, and Matt Jefferies were — as I see it, anyway — the core group of people who laid the foundation upon which rests everything we’ve come to know collectively as Star Trek. Solow, the last of these “Old Soldiers,” passed away on November 19th, not quite a year after we lost Ms. Fontana.

Variety: Herb Solow, Producer Who Sold ‘Star Trek‘ to NBC, dies at 89

Though his role on the series was that of a “suit,” a front-office position which normally did not include input to day-to-day creative aspects of a show’s production, Solow’s ongoing collaboration with Gene Roddenberry and Bob Justman in particular kept him more involved than might be the case on another show. Such was the collaborative atmosphere on the series that Justman even saw fit to honor Solow with his own title card displayed at the end of each episode for the first two seasons, something typically not done for studio executives.

After selling Star Trek to NBC, Mr. Solow shepherded the series through its first two seasons. Along the way, he also oversaw the development of the original Mission: Impossible TV series as well as Mannix for Desilu, both of which aired on CBS. When Desilu was sold to Gulf+Western, the small studio was merged with the television arm of Paramount Pictures. Ultimately dissatisifed with his new role, Solow left Paramount to assume duties as the vice president in charge of television production at MGM, leaving before the start of production on Star Trek‘s third (and final) season. His later television credits include the fondly remembered Bill Bixby series The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and in 1977, he returned to the realm of science fiction TV when he created with writer Mayo Simon Man from Atlantis, the cult series starring Patrick Duffy which ran for a single season on NBC.

Much as been written about the development of Star Trek by writers far more gifted than me. This includes Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, a book Solow himself authored with Bob Justman which was released in conjunction with Star Trek‘s 30th anniversary in 1996. Some might quibble with some of the recollections from 30 years after the events in question – and there are also some straight out factual errors, only some of which were corrected in reprints of the book – but Solow and Justman provide that “first-person” narrative from people there at the beginning that other accounts lack. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. The book makes an excellent companion to The Making of Star Trek, the iconic 1968 tome written by Stephen Poe (as Stephen E. Whitfield) while the show was still in production, as well as David Gerrold’s The Trouble With Tribbles, the book he wrote about the development of his own classic episode of the same name.

Unlike other alumni of the original series, Mr. Solow never worked on any future iteration of Star Trek, but his contributions to what became “the Star Trek franchise” are no less indelible and continue to be felt to this day. May his memory be a blessing.

Herbert Franklin Solow
December 14, 1930 – November 19, 2020

2 thoughts on “Herbert F. Solow, 1930-2020.

  1. I’ve been watching part of an interview with Mr. Solow, and a couple of interesting tidbits include his promise to only hire Mr. Justman away for a few weeks from another studio and, more intriguingly, his belief that someone else (other than or in addition to Gene Roddenberry) was really behind the writing of the first Star Trek pilot. He wouldn’t say who. Any ideas out there about that?

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  2. Given how the pilot was developed, I don’t doubt someone else – including Solow himself – provided input to Roddenberry while he was writing, but this is the first time I’ve heard about anything along these lines.

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