Herbert F. Solow, the TV production executive who helped make “Star Trek” and “Mission: Impossible” a reality, died on Thursday, his wife, Dr. Harrison Solow, confirmed. He was 89.
A graduate of Dartmouth, Solow got his start in showbiz in 1953, working up the ranks at William Morris, starting as a mail room worker and secretary before becoming an assistant and later a talent agent representing stars and filmmakers like Ingmar Bergman. Later, he moved from the agency world to production, taking a brief stop in NBC’s film division before moving to CBS, where he worked on developing daytime soap operas and game shows.
In 1962, he returned to NBC to work in their West coast Daytime TV division, developing a relationship with the network’s vice president, Grant Tinker. Along the way, he oversaw the development and production of multiple soap operas and game shows, including “Truth or Consequences” — the game show that gave “The Price Is Right” host Bob Barker his start — and Monty Hall’s “Let’s Make a Deal,” which would become one of the most successful game shows of all time.
Solow’s biggest contribution to television came when he was approached by Lucille Ball after her ex-husband and “I Love Lucy” co-star Desi Arnaz had sold his stake in Desilu Productions. Looking for new shows to help revive Desilu as a production force, she brought Solow on board and gave him total autonomy.
Using his connections with Grant Tinker, Solow vouched for Gene Roddenberry and his TV show, “Star Trek,” helping launch one of the most legendary sci-fi franchises ever made. While the first pilot presented to NBC was rejected, Tinker decided to try one of the different scripts Solow and Roddenberry had offered. Impressed by the second pilot, titled “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and starring Leonard Nimoy as Spock, Tinker and NBC greenlit the series, which ran for three seasons.
“‘Star Trek,’ the television show, exists because of Herb Solow. It was only our respect for Herb that led us to buy the show,” Tinker later said.
Along with “Star Trek,” Solow also oversaw production on two other television classics — “Mission: Impossible” and “Mannix.” The success of the three shows led Paramount to hire him as VP of Television Production after the studio bought Desilu and merged it into their TV division. After a brief run there, he joined MGM and turned around their struggling TV division, selling three new series — “Then Came Bronson,” “Medical Center” and “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” — to CBS, NBC and ABC. His rapid success led to MGM expanding his oversight to motion pictures, developing 25 films for the studio with directors such as David Lean, Blake Edwards and Robert Altman.
In the later stages of his life, Solow and his wife wrote books reflecting on his memories of working with Roddenberry on the show and its legacy.