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Oscar Katz

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Oscar Katz
Oscar Katz.jpg

Oscar Katz

Gender: Male
Date of birth: 12 April 1913
Place of birth: New York, USA
Date of death: 3 January 1996
Place of death: Los Angeles, California, USA
Roles: Studio Executive
Lucille Ball and Oscar Katz.jpg

...with his employer Lucille Ball at the 1964 Desilu shareholders meeting...

...with his employer Lucille Ball at the 1964 Desilu shareholders meeting...
Susan Oliver as Vina on stage.jpg

...though being "lamented" by Susan Oliver, aka Vina, for his on-stage absence...

...though being "lamented" by Susan Oliver, aka Vina, for his on-stage absence...
Gene Roddenberry and Herb Solow
...as it is by Roddenberry (l), Solow (r) and three extras

Oscar Katz (12 April 19133 January 1996; age 82) was a television producer who was the Executive Vice-President in charge of Production at Desilu Studios between 1964 and 1966.

Katz was hired on 1 April 1964 by Lucille Ball, to oversee the development and production of (new) Desilu programs. (Broadcasting, 6 April 1964, p. 10) His main task was to find writers/producers with new ideas, and develop them into successful television pilots. In June, he became member of the Board of Directors, replacing Ball's brother, Fred H. Ball. (Broadcasting, 29 June 1964, p. 74) Katz, who was very inexperienced with West Coast studio production and business, almost immediately hired Herb Solow as his assistant. Together, they helped to bring Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek (which walked into their offices before they even had the time to settle) and Bruce Geller's Mission: Impossible to life.

Charged with bringing the studio new television properties, this the Katz/Solow duo did with much gusto, as evidenced by Katz proudly boasting at his first Desilu shareholders meeting in May 1964, where he informed the assembly that no less than twenty-two television propositions were under advisement. (Los Angeles Times, 14 May 1964) Sure enough, some of these, for the most part half-hour shows, were translated into bona-fide television pilots, but only three of those were actually picked up by the networks, Star Trek by NBC, the action series Mission Impossible by CBS, and the western series The Long Hunt For April Savage by ABC (produced by Roddenberry and, while ordered by ABC, canceled by them in March 1966 after all).

It was Katz who accompanied Roddenberry in late April 1964 to the pitch he had arranged at CBS, Katz's former employer, shortly after Desilu had bought Roddenberry's March 1964 Star Trek is... premise. However, on that occasion, Katz took a backseat and an awkward and hopelessly unprepared Roddenberry, left to his own devices, seriously bumbled his presentation. Much later, Katz himself recalled the meeting as "frosty", "We were in a dining room with six or seven executives, one of whom questioned us rather closely about what we were going to do with the show. We answered his questions and it turned out that his interest was due to the fact that they were developing a science fiction show of their own." (Star Trek Creator) Much to the later chagrin of Roddenberry, who felt that his brain had been picked, this show turned out to be Irwin Allen's Lost in Space. Unsurprisingly, CBS was not interested, as ABC had previously been due to the fact that they already had another Irwin Allen science fiction show, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, in development themselves. Dismayed, as CBS represented the best chance Star Trek had, due to the network's longstanding relationship with Desilu (CBS aired Ball's own I Love Lucy show), Solow subsequently took over after being informed of this, and thoroughly groomed, prepared and coached Roddenberry for his next, very last-chance, meeting with NBC the following month, as well as taking an active part in the presentation, which eventually resulted in success. Though formally credited as Executive in Charge of Production on the two pilots, "The Cage" and "Where No Man Has Gone Before", it turned out that Solow had to take over the actual productions as well, as Katz, upon the ill-fated CBS pitch, effectively recused himself to a large extent from Star Trek. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 17-18) In March 1966, Katz left Desilu. Solow succeeded him in his position, now officially, and remained there until after the studio was absorbed into Paramount Pictures. When the second pilot was aired as a regular series episode in 1966, Katz's end title credit card was replaced with Solow's.

Having been an absentee on-stage manager was actually somewhat conceded by Katz himself, "I'd made it a habit to attend the first day of shooting of a pilot to show that the head of the studio was with them. On Star Trek, I stayed away religiously even though it was just a 15 minute ride away from my office." Aside from his own disposition, due to his inexperience, there was a personal reason as well. Roddenberry adamantly wanted Susan Oliver for the part of Vina, but she, exhausted from a previous filming assignment, was looking forward to a well-earned holiday. Roddenberry asked Katz to put he pressure on Oliver, "Although I'm usually not that charming with women, I talked her into taking the part. Part of the appeal was that it was going to be very easy," and snapping his fingers, "she could knock it off "just like that"." Yet, Oliver's part was anything but a snap of the fingers, due to the elaborate makeup sessions she had to undergo in order to show Vina's various manifestations. Realizing that she was not to go on holidays after all, she sought a serious heart-to-heart with Katz, who already suspected as much, "I knew that she would not be kindly disposed towards me." Katz subsequently stayed "religiously" away from the soundstage. (Star Trek Creator) Oliver however, not to be outdone by Katz, had a sign made reading "OSCAR Where are You?", consistently showing it on her dailies (shot footage shown unedited on a day-to-day basis to producers and executives) at the end of her shoots. It became a running gag for the production team and more than one staffer and performer had their picture taken with the sign.

His absence on the practical Star Trek productions notwithstanding, Katz did make his presence felt in his natural habitat, the executive offices. He was present at the February 1965 showing of the first pilot at NBC and essentially called their bluff, "[NBC] didn't like the type of story we told. I think they selected [this pilot] to test Desilu on the hardest kind of story to produce because of the reputation Desilu had. Then, when they saw it, they were satisfied that Desilu was able to produce quality material, but it was the wrong kind of episode to take around to advertising agencies and sell. It was too off the beaten path. I asked NBC, "Why are you turning this down?" and was told, "We can't sell it from this show, it's too atypical"." Famously for balking at the pilot as being too "cerebral", the point was subsequently pounded home to NBC by Katz, "I said, "But you guys picked this one. I gave you choices"." (Roddenberry's Star Trek pitch contained twenty-five story outlines) NBC then conceded their bluff being called, as Katz clarified, "[Mort Werner] said, "I know we did and, because of that, we're going to give you an order for a second pilot." (Star Trek Creator)

It was not only at the highest executive levels that Katz participated in; he was also present at cast salary negotiations, such as with Jeffrey Hunter for a possible follow-up appearance as Captain Christopher Pike in the second pilot, "Business Affairs negotiated with Jeffrey Hunter and we all thought it was the usual actor/network situation -- they don't want to do it for reason XYZ, and it's a device for getting the price up. We kept increasing the price and he kept saying no. One day I said, "What's with Jeffrey Hunter?" and I was told he just won't do it at any price. Finally I said, "Tell Jeffrey Hunter to get lost." (Star Trek Creator)

Marc Cushman's reference book suggests that Katz left Desilu as a result of the warfare between Lucille Ball, Solow, and the "old guard" executives, who thought that such expensive productions as Star Trek and Mission: Impossible would bankrupt the studio, and Katz was their main culprit, somewhat ironically, as Katz had been hired to bring in new programs for the studio in the first place. On the other hand, Solow had intimated that Katz, while highly adept at running a television network, was woefully out of his depth at actually producing television programs and it had been for this reason that Katz had sought out Solow (who did had ample practical production experience) in the first place, shortly after he was hired. Found out by Desilu that Katz had all this time been a titular chief operating officer in name only, did result in a very strained relationship with Lucille Ball and the rest of the board, and, even though he was a member, Katz was banned from the highly charged February 1966 board meeting where the fate of Star Trek was to be decided. It had been his subordinate Solow, not a board member, who was left fighting vigorously on his own to save Star Trek, ultimately finding Ball on his side to do so. While Star Trek and Mission Impossible were allotted space on the Desilu facilities on 6 March 1966, Katz was let go three days later, for "personal reasons compelling him to move on to other projects in other areas", as Variety magazine of 9 March 1966 would have it. In the article Katz had diplomatically stated that he had asked for and received his contractual release. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, 1997, pp. 6-7, 103)

Surprisingly, six years after he had left Desilu, or the entire Hollywood industry for that matter, Katz made a personal appearance as guest speaker in the very first 1972 New York Star Trek convention, in his one and only public Star Trek appearance (or interview for that matter, that is, until 1994), recounting the days when Roddenberry made his Star Trek is... pitch to him and Solow and the subsequent efforts to sell the series to the networks. (Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program, 2014, p. 3)

Katz has not been on record on his Star Trek involvement ever since, his role all but forgotten by then, until shortly before his death, when he agreed to talk to reference author David Alexander for his below-mentioned biography on Gene Roddenberry. This was followed by Herb Solow's book two years later, corroborating his former boss' involvement with Star Trek, and both have prevented Katz's place in Star Trek history slipping into oblivion.

Career outside Star TrekEdit

Before his ill-fated employment at Desilu, Oscar Katz had worked for 26 years at CBS in New York City, becoming a successful television network executive. Starting out in 1938 in the studio's research department, he rose to the position of head of that department, before transferring as head to the CBS-TV Research Department in 1948. Subsequently he was elected Vice-President Daytime Programs of CBS-TV in 1956. Eventually, Katz became the Vice-President of Network Programs in 1959, though he was demoted in 1963, due to an executive shuffle at the studio. It had been this circumstance that had led to his decision to accept a position at Desilu the following year. (Broadcasting, 6 April 1964, p. 10)

Herb Solow, who was already acquainted with Katz previously, has said of him that "there wasn't a nicer or brighter man than Oscar Katz", though being endowed with a "dour" disposition. Likening him to then famous comic Myron Cohen, Solow acknowledged that Katz was an expert in many fields, which aside from network programming, included marketing, research, stock trading and betting. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, pp. 6-7)

The Variety article stating the "other projects in other areas" as reasons for leaving Desilu, turned out to be dead on, as Katz retired from the television business entirely, becoming a securities analyst and stock market investor. He died of pneumonia in Los Angeles, California. (Inside Star Trek: The Real Story, p. 441)

Star Trek interviewsEdit

Further readingEdit

DocumentariesEdit

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