Arts and Humanities

225 years of Tar Heels: Michael Piller

Throughout his career, Carolina graduate Michael Piller was a co-creator, executive producer, creative consultant and head writer for the Star Trek franchise.

Michael Piller stands on a movie set.
Photo by Elliott Marks

225 Years.Editor’s note: In honor of the University’s 225th anniversary, we will be sharing profiles throughout the academic year of some of the many Tar Heels who have left their heelprint on the campus, their communities, the state, the nation and the world.

Carolina graduate Michael Piller was known to millions of television viewers and moviegoers as the creative genius behind many Star Trek adventures.

He served in various top roles with the franchise, including co-creator, executive producer, creative consultant and head writer.

Piller graduated from Carolina in 1970 with a bachelor’s degree in radio, television, and motion pictures. Before his career with Star Trek, Piller was an Emmy Award-winning journalist who worked in news in New York, Charlotte and Chicago.

In 1989, an old friend of Piller’s asked him to help with the script for a few episodes for Star Trek: The Next Generation. He quickly became immersed in it. He became the co-creator, executive producer and creative consultant for the television shows Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. He was also executive producer and head writer of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation. He wrote and co-produced Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth Star Trek feature film.

Piller lived in Los Angeles and rarely made it back to North Carolina, but he proudly wore a Carolina baseball cap at work. When he was overly stressed, he dreamt of the days in Chapel Hill: “It’s just such a warm and nurturing environment,” Piller said.

In 1998, Piller pledged $500,000 to create an endowment to help launch a screenwriting program at UNC-Chapel Hill. “Carolina has a great tradition of writing, and the Southern voice is much needed in Hollywood. I couldn’t find a better place for the program,” Piller said at the time.

When Piller passed away in 2005 after a long battle with cancer, his friends, family and fans created the Michael Piller Distinguished Visiting Professorship in the Writing for the Screen and Stage Program. This program honors him by helping to bring distinguished screen and stage writers, directors, and producers to teach in the Writing for the Screen and Stage Program.