Saturday, August 16, 2014

TV Writer Wilton Schiller R.I.P.

Wilton Schiller, who wrote episodes for television shows from Lassie to The Six Million Dollar Man and produced episodes of both The Fugitive and Mannix, died on 27 July 2014 at the age of 95.

Wilton Schiller was born in Chicago on 24 July 1919. Mr. Schiller attended the University of Chicago. Following his graduation he worked as a writer in the Chicago radio market and also performed stand up comedy. During World War II he served in the United States Army as a psychiatric assistant. Following the war he moved to Los Angeles where he worked as a literary agent for MCA.

Mr. Schiller began his television writing career in the Fifties, writing episodes of the show China Smith. During the decade he wrote episodes of such shows as The New Adventures of China Smith, Lassie, Adventures of Superman, Have Gun--Will Travel, Broken Arrow, The Millionaire, M Squad, Dragnet, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Rawhide.

In the Sixties Wilton Schiller wrote episodes of such shows as Rawhide; I'm Dickens, He's Fenster; Leave It to Beaver; Ben Casey; The Fugitive; Mannix; and Adam-12. He served as a producer on the shows Ben Casey, The Fugitive, and Mannix. He wrote the screenplay for the film The New Interns (1964). He also taught screenwriting at UCLA.

In the Seventies Mr. Schiller wrote episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, as well as the TV movie Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979). He served as a producer on the Canadian series Police Surgeon and as a script consultant on The Six Million Dollar Man. In the Eighties he wrote and produced an Australian television adaptation of Marcus Clarke's novel For the Term of His Natural Life. In the Naughts he served as the executive producer of the film Our of Omaha (2007).

As a television writer Wilton Schiller's speciality seems to have been episodes featuring original twists to them. In the Adventures of Superman episode "The Town That Wasn't" criminals created a mobile town that they used to get money from travellers through a speed trap, as well as to hijack trucks. His Have Gun--Will Travel episode, "The High Graders", dealt with the phenomenon of high grading, in which miners steal ore from their employers. In his Ben Casey episode "Pack Up All My Cares and Woes", Dr. Casey is pressured by lawyers to testify in court that brain surgery will cure a convict of his murderous tendencies. Even those times with Wilton Schiller's episodes might not have been that good, they were always entertaining due to the amount of originality he put into them.

Of course, Wilton Schiller was also a producer as well as a writer, and he was an excellent producer. Indeed, he produced two of the greatest shows ever on television, Ben Casey and The Fugitive. What is more he produced the last seasons of The Fugitive, including the two part series finale. At the time it aired "The Judgement Part I" and "The Judgement Part II" set a record for having the largest ever audience of any prime time show, a record that would stand until the 1980 Dallas episode "Who Done It", in which hit was revealed who shot J. R. Ewing. Both as a writer and a producer Wilton Schiller had a gift for creating entertaining television.

1 comment:

Bill O said...

Whatever Schiller's virtues, his season of The Fugitive was a big drop in quality from the Alan Armer first three seasons. Not just the change to color, but the loss of conflicted characters and moral quandries that distinguished the previous seasons. Even Janssen's Kimble seem to lack depth compared to previously. Yes, it did come to a mostly satisfying finale, but too few memorable moments before that.