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Herbert F. Solow, Desilu Studios executive who sold Star Trek to NBC, dies at 89

By Don Kaye
Star Trek: The Original Series

Herbert F. Solow, the TV executive who persuaded NBC to greenlight the original Star Trek series, has passed away at the age of 89.

According to Variety, the news of Solow's passing was confirmed by his wife, Dr. Harrison Solow.

While creator Gene Roddenberry is the name most associated with the development of the first Star Trek show, there are several other unsung heroes — including producer Gene L. Coon, associate producer Robert Justman, and writer/story editor D.C. Fontana — who were instrumental to the series' mythology and success.

Herb Solow may be among them. Hired by legendary actress/producer Lucille Ball in 1964 to revive her production company, Desilu Studios, after her divorce from Desi Arnaz, Solow began developing several series pitched to the company, including Mission: Impossible, Mannix, and a new sci-fi series that Roddenberry was formulating.

Solow initially pitched the show, called Star Trek, to CBS, which turned it down because the network already had Lost in Space (ironically, CBS now owns the entire Star Trek library of shows and movies).

Solow then turned his efforts to NBC, where he had once worked. With Ball's support, the network was convinced to commission a pilot called "The Cage." The network wasn't pleased with the product, but took the unusual step of asking for a second pilot featuring a heavily revamped cast. That one, called "Where No Man Has Gone Before," convinced NBC to pick up the series and premiere it in September 1966.

According to the book These Are The Voyages, Solow was just one of two executives at Desilu who championed Star Trek when the rest of the board warned Ball that it was a financial and creative risk that could sink the production company.

Solow claimed over the years that he came up with the idea of starting each episode with a stardate, and that he convinced Roddenberry to keep Mr. Spock's pointed ears but alter his skin tone from red to yellow (to make him look less satanic).

The exec later left Desilu and went to work for MGM, where he developed series such as Medical Center and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. He also went on to produce the sci-fi series Man from Atlantis, as well as a number of motion pictures.

Solow and Justman wrote a book in 1996 called Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. It chronicled the difficult conditions under which the show was produced, and the almost constant struggles with NBC, which never fully supported Star Trek throughout its three-year run.

Solow is survvived by his wife, Dr. Harrison Solow.

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