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Mel Harris

Mel Harris in 1991

Mel Harris (9 October 19426 September 2008; age 65) was a television and home video executive who, as part of Paramount Television, launched Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1987. 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. He later headed the television division and home video operations at Sony Pictures Entertainment, eventually becoming the company's co-president and chief operating officer.

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.

Upon joining Paramount, Harris was 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 and Phase II were abandoned, with the pilot for the latter project becoming Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

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.

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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