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Mel Harris

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Mel Harris
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Mel Harris

Gender: Male
Date of birth: 9 October 1942
Place of birth: Arkansas City, Kansas, USA
Date of death: 6 September 2008
Place of death: Los Angeles, California, USA
Roles: Studio Executive

Mel Harris (9 October 19426 September 2008; age 65) was a television and home video executive who, as head of Paramount Television, was responsible for the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1986. Harris was enticed to order his subordinate, President Paramount Network Television John S. Pike to initiate the development of a new Star Trek television series, due to the huge success of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which had appealed to a wider audience than the hardcore "Trekkie" fanbase alone. (William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge)

Previously, and before he attained the position of president of the television division, Harris, upon joining Paramount in 1977, had been named Vice President of Research for a new television network called Paramount Television Service. The centerpiece of this new network's line-up was to have been Star Trek: Phase II. Ultimately, however, the plans for both the Paramount network (when Harris discovered that the USA was not yet ready for a fourth network due to the fact that advertiser's interest did not materialize) and Phase II were abandoned, with the pilot for the latter project becoming Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Harris was interviewed in September 1988 for the documentary The Star Trek Saga: From One Generation To The Next. On 6 June 1991, shortly before celebrating the 100th episode of The Next Generation, the Producers Building at the former Desilu studio lot was renamed "Gene Roddenberry Building". On that occasion Harris held a speech praising Roddenberry, who passed away only four months later.

Remarkably, and very much unlike his (preceding) studio executive colleagues, Harris has been one of the very few studio executives, if not only one, being on record as a Roddenberry supporter (in public at least), having in 1993 attributed the success of The Next Generation in full to him, "In the period since 1987 no other program has been able to get anywhere near ['TNG']....It's primarily because of the program that was created....[I]f this hadn't been created in the way that it was by Gene Roddenberry, it probably wouldn't be on the air today and it certainly wouldn't be performing as it is." If Harris' praise had been genuine, then it was obvious that he had not been present on those occasions when his subordinate John Pike had to deal with Roddenberry. Like so many predecessors before him, Pike has had his share of run-ins with Roddenberry. (William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge; [1])

Career outside Star TrekEdit

Harris was born in Arkansas City, Kansas, and began his broadcasting career as a radio disc jockey while attending Kansas State University in the 1960s. He graduated from Kansas State in 1964 and received a master's degree in mass communications from Ohio University in 1965. He served as the commander of a combat photography unit in the Army Signal Corps in Vietnam from 1969 through 1970, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star. In 1971, he received his doctorate in mass communications from Ohio University. He then managed local television stations in Cleveland and Philadelphia before joining Paramount in 1977.

With his work for a new Paramount network finished, Harris was named Vice President of Program Marketing for Paramount Television Group. During this time, Harris helped launch the USA Network, the older sister network of the Sci-Fi Channel. He also introduced satellite distribution for first-run programming with the launch of the Paramount news magazine Entertainment Tonight (co-hosted by John Tesh).

As the President of Paramount Video, Harris helped to create the home video sell-through market by convincing Paramount to sell low-priced videos directly to the public to persuade customers to purchase videos rather than simply renting them. At the time, videos for sale were priced at around $50 or more; Harris accurately predicted that decreasing the price would create a market for videocassette purchases.

In 1985, Harris became President of Paramount Television Group. In this position, Harris oversaw the launch of Star Trek: The Next Generation and many other television series. He also handled Paramount's launch of cable and satellite channels overseas. Harris resigned from Paramount in 1991, around the time Brandon Tartikoff was named the studio's chairman. During his fourteen-year tenure as a top executive at Paramount, Harris helped to popularize and modernize both the home video market and the first-run syndication business.

In 1992, Harris joined Sony Pictures Entertainment, where he headed the studio's television division and later oversaw their home video operations. He took Sony's Columbia TriStar Television into first-run syndication before a power struggle forced him to leave in 1995. He worked as a cable television consultant before returning to Sony in 1999 as co-president and chief operating officer, retiring in 2002.

Harris resided in Malibu, Florida after retirement. He died of cancer at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on 6 September 2008. He is survived his wife of 42 years, Ruth, their son, Harris, a brother, and two grandchildren.

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