Former Star Trek Executive Producer Michael Piller DiesBy Michelle
November 1, 2005 - 8:41 PM
Michael Piller, a longtime executive producer of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager, lost his battle with cancer today. The co-creator of Deep Space Nine and Voyager and writer of Star Trek: Insurrection, whose most recent production was the ABC Family series Wildfire, died at age 57.
Piller, who produced more than 500 hours of Star Trek, had struggled with an aggressive form of head and neck cancer but kept his condition private from many of his associates. StarTrek.com notes that in addition to his writing and producing credits on the Star Trek shows, Piller co-created UPN's Legend and more recently USA's The Dead Zone, along with his son, Shawn Piller.
Born in Portchester, New York, Piller worked at one time as a television censor. Before he became a full-time writer, he was an Emmy Award-winning broadcast journalist with CBS News in New York. Stints as an editor and news director in Charlotte and Chicago preceded a job as a programming executive. Piller's credits included police dramas such as Cagney & Lacey and Miami Vice; in addition to The Dead Zone and Wildfire, he co-created and executive produced Group One Medical.
After joining the writing staff of The Next Generation, Piller created Deep Space Nine together with Rick Berman - the first show to bear the name of Star Trek in which Gene Roddenberry was not directly involved. Later Berman and Piller co-created Voyager with Jeri Taylor. After leaving his production job with the Star Trek franchise to work with Shawn at Piller Squared, Michael Piller remained a creative consultant on Star Trek: Voyager.
"Michael Piller was a class act, a generous soul, and a genuinely nice guy to work for," said graphic designer and scenic art supervisor Michael Okuda, who has been involved with the Star Trek franchise since the original series feature films. "We're all indebted to his talent and his hard work. He left us far too soon, and we will miss him greatly."
Although StarTrek.com reports that he was ill for a long time, Piller remained active in television work until very recently. The Dead Zone will begin its fifth season on USA in 2006, while Wildfire has been picked up for a second season by ABC Family (the series stars Nana Visitor, who played Kira on Deep Space Nine).
Piller served on the advisory board for the Department of Communications Studies at his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was also supportive of students. Piller also started the internship program for would-be television writers at Star Trek and the spec script submissions that allowed several unagented writers to be discovered by the franchise.
"Without him, lots of writers wouldn't have gotten their first break," said Lynda Foley, a Voyager intern during Piller's tenure there in the show's second season. "When I would get writer's block or have problems with rewrites, he always gave the same advice: 'It's always about the human condition. Go back to that and you'll find your story.'"
Foley said that even after she had left Paramount and sold several professional stories, Piller invited her over to advise her on a prospective movie pitch. "He was a tough boss, but fair. He was painfully honest, and his perfectionism led to unending rewrites, but he was the best boss I ever worked for," she added. "I learned more from him about writing than any class, workshop or seminar."
Thanks to Piller's onetime assistant Eric Stillwell for passing along Piller's credits. The Trek Nation interviewed Piller in 2002; that article is here.
In addition to son Shawn, Michael Piller is survived by his wife Sandra and daughter Brent. Our condolences go out to his family and friends. Condolence cards can be sent to:
The Piller Family
c/o Piller Squared, Inc.
7025 Santa Monica Blvd.
Hollywood, CA 90038
The family will designate a charity for memorial contributions in lieu of flowers, so please use this address for cards and notes only.