Mon, 11/23/2020

Remembering Herbert F. Solow

Herbert F. Solow

We’re sad to learn that executive Herbert F. Solow has passed away at the age of 89. Solow began his career in the mailroom at the William Morris Agency before moving on to NBC where he worked in foreign sales, and rose to Program Director of the Films Division and Head of NBC Daytime. He went on to be an executive at Desilu Studios, where he produced Star Trek and Mission: Impossible, among other series. He made great contributions to Star Trek, including casting and characters. Solow went on to work at MGM and Paramount Studios, and produced other series including The Courtship of Eddie’s Father and Mannix.

Below are some selections from his 2008 interview:

On how Star Trek came to Desilu Studios:

When I got the job [at Desilu Studios] I was still the Program Director, I wasn’t even head of it yet. I sent out feelers to a bunch of agents, saying, you know, open for business, in essence. The studio was represented by a talent agency. It was an arrangement that they’d made with Lucy. And they sent over various people to me. The first guy who came in was a big, awkward Texan who muzzled his way into my office and said, “I’m Gene Roddenberry.” And he sat down and he had a piece of paper, all crumpled, and he said, “I have an idea.” I said, well, let me look at it. And he explained it to me. And it was like many other shows. It had a few things that I thought were very attractive. It was Buck Rogers. I mean, it was Flash Gordon. It had the hero and it had the scientific guy. It had the pretty girl. It was the usual, if you remember the old comic books, the old serials, with Buster Crabbe… That’s what it was. However, what he had done is, he had set it up whereby it's Naval. And there was the Admiral and the Commander and the Yeoman and the Ensign and the this and the that. And it kind of gave a different aura to it, cause it made it contemporary. Suddenly it was now or it was the future. And I thought that was very good. I also liked the fact that his theory was not to do monster movies. I mean, monster in science fiction had always been done in B pictures. I thought we wanted to do more interesting human stories. But it was the same thing. He later called it “Wagon Train to the Stars”. It's a bunch of people going out in space and meeting others, strange people, what have you. Now heretofore, it always is, always was that, if you saw an alien, what did you do? You shot them, because that’s the American way of dealing with aliens in space. … We had a theory that what they do is they try to find out who they are, what they’re doing there and try to talk to each other.

On advice for aspiring television executives:

I would just say, learn the craft. Too many people will sit down, television executives who will say, let’s do it this way, when they have no concept whatsoever how doing it that way should be done or can be done. … My advice is, if you’re going to talk to a writer and tell the writer what to do, you better know the skill of writing, how it's done. How a writer works. If you’re going to go on a set and tell a director, you should do this, you should know what a director is doing and how that functions. That goes for everyone. You don’t have to be a great composer or a great film editor, but you sure should know what a film editor does, what a cameraman does, what a prop man does, what the craft service guy does. The guy who makes the coffee. You should know how the business you’re in, Mr. Executive, how that business works. Because if you don’t know it, you’re a fool. You really are. You’re not doing your job. You don’t know your craft. That’s what I think.

On his proudest career achievement:

Proudest career achievement: I would imagine, it has to be the work I did at Desilu. Because that was all my work, I had no management on top of me. I just went ahead and did it as the way I thought it should be done. That’s probably it. There’s certain things I’m proud of, certain movies or other television shows. Certain episodes. Working with certain people. Because you know, when you examine either television or movies, when you’re dealing with film, you’re dealing with the same equipment, basically, that they dealt with 50, 60, 70 years ago. The only thing that’s changed are the people. My agent used to tell me, if you don’t have the horses you can’t win the race. It's really very important. That goes for almost anything in life. It's dealing with the people. The kind of people you have with you, they make it work. You may have all the great ideas in the world. You may have all the great financing in the world and business acumen, but if you don’t have the people to make what you envision making, it’s not going to happen. That’s why I admire everyone who works in the business. I admire all the technical people, the art people, the prop, anyone who contributes to it, that’s so important. Because those are the people who make it. The same machines I’ve been around for years. They may look a little smaller. The same camera and the same lighting and the same everything else. The movieola has changed, has been replaced, so they cut differently. But bottom line, it's the people. If you can put together the people, and I thought at Desilu I put together the people.

Watch Herbert F. Solow’s full interview and read his obituary in Deadline.