Robert Butler, who directed the pilots for a number of classic TV series including “Batman,” “Star Trek” and “Hill Street Blues,” has died at the age of 95.
Butler died on Nov. 3 in Los Angeles, his family announced via an obituary on the L.A. Times’ Legacy.com on Saturday.
The director was the cocreator of Pierce Brosnan series “Remington Steele” and directed its pilot. His credits also included work on “The Blue Knight,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “The Waltons” and more.
Butler and his friend screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. were responsible for bringing “Batman” to the small screen and making it a 1960s camp sensation. The pair had been good friends since childhood, and when producer William Dozier tapped them for the comic-to-TV series, they were both ready to work together.
In the 2016 book “Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series,” Butler said, “Dozier knew me when he was a CBS boss, [and] I was a very efficient associate director. He knew me as a guy who knew production and would get the job done right.”
The director was asked to read the script for “The Cage,” the pilot episode for “Star Trek,” in the mid-1960s. While he took on the job, Butler admitted in a 2004 interview with the Archive of American Television that he wasn’t sure the series would be successful. Still, “NBC saw the show and said, ‘We like it, we want it, we don’t understand it, do it again,'” leading to a new pilot and “The Cage” later being reused on the series (and serving as inspiration for current Paramount+ show “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds”).
Butler was born in Hollywood on Nov. 16, 1927. As a student at University High School, he had the opportunity to perform on Hoagy Carmichael’s live variety show in 1945. He studied at UCLA and joined the Army Ground Forces Band at the conclusion of World War II.
He began working at CBS as an usher in 1950 and eventually worked as a production clerk, stage manager and associate director. He met Adrienne Hepburn, a “script girl” at the network, and the two married in 1957.
Butler won the Directors Guild of America’s Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award in 2001 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Television Direction in 2015. The union’s president Lesli Linka Glatter issued a lengthy statement upon learning of Butler’s death.
“Few directors have changed the face of television as much as Bob did — his impact on the medium is truly immeasurable and this loss to our Guild is deeply felt,” Glatter wrote. “At ease in any genre, Bob’s pilots established the look and feel of several seminal series including ‘Hogan’s Heroes,’ ‘Batman,’ and ‘Star Trek.'”
The statement continued, “His groundbreaking work on ‘Hill Street Blues’ brought to life the grit and reality of an urban precinct by coupling his unique visual style with evocative performances he coaxed from an incomparable cast, forever changing the trajectory and style of episodic procedurals. It was for his unparalleled influence in television that the Guild selected Bob for our inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Achievement in Television Direction in 2015.”
“Despite a demanding career, Bob passionately served at the highest levels of Guild leadership for more than 30 years, advocating for the creative rights of members on the Western Directors Council and as a National Board member, including two terms as 5th Vice President,” Glatter continued. “As a trustee for the Directors Guild Foundation for more than 35 years, Bob ensured that DGA members had access to emergency financial support at critical moments in their careers.”
“For all his extraordinary service to the Guild and its membership, in 2001 Bob was honored with the Robert B. Aldrich Achievement Award. Bob’s legacy will live on in the memories of the many directors he influenced and mentored, and the countless viewers who laughed and cheered along with his exceptional work. Our deepest condolences to his family and the many Directors and Directorial team members who knew and loved him,” she concluded.
In his obituary, Butler’s family remembered him as “an adoring father, grandfather, uncle, friend, and teacher, who shared his zeal for film, jazz, books, tennis, and model rockets.” He is survived by his wife, two children and two grandchildren.
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