MICHAEL PILLER 1948-2005
Michael Piller died this week.
Piller was not one of those uber-popular showrunner types like Whedon, Bochco, Carter or whomever. He probably should have been though. He started out on Simon & Simon, went through Miami Vice and landed on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the third season where he turned it around and made the show...for lack of a more accurate term, good. Because before he got there, it sucked harder than a than a hooker named Hoover.
It was on ST: TNG that he began a policy that he carried with him to one of his last shows, The Dead Zone. Open script submissions. He knew full well that the best way to find some kick-ass stories was not to only listen to pitches from people who just happened to live in the area and had more to suggest that they were good networkers rather than good writers. He took pitches from Arizona postmen, New York waiters, and midwest college drop-outs. Sometimes he bought those pitches. Sometimes those pitches yielded something really good. Without this policy, we probably wouldn't have Ron Moore or Rene Echevarria.
For that alone, he kicked some mighty cathode ass.
Additionally, he was a carrier of the Minear curse well before we had a name for it. He was involved in a couple of shows that were too good for the available audience. One was Probe, which starred Parker Stevenson as an acerbic super-genius who solved various crimes. A little too smart, maybe.
The other, and a favorite of mine to this day, was Legend. One of the earliest of the UPN series. It starred Richard Dean Anderson as a drunken writer in the 1880's who impersonated the main character of his dime novels. He was accompanied by John DeLancie as Janos Bartok, who was basically a fictionalized version of Nikola Tesla (a real life mad scientist). A sort of sci-fi western. It was heavy on the comedy and the roles suited those actors better than anything else they have ever done. Ever. Well, we all know what tends to happen to westerns on TV. (And I will totally pay cash money for illicit decent quality DVD's of the series to replace my fading VHS tapes because both this and Probe need DVD releases and will probably never get them).
He was a good showrunner and a good writer who seemed to have a real love for the medium and an understanding of the struggles of the aspiring writer and, ultimately, he is probably the reason I hack out specs like I do.