Michael Wagner (September 30, 1947 - April 23, 1992) was a television writer and producer who worked on several television shows between 1975 and 1992, and won an Emmy in 1982 for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for his work on the popular television show Hill Street Blues. He co-created, produced and wrote several episodes for the one-season ABC series Probe.
Wagner was a military brat. He was born in Ohio, but grew up on Air Force bases in New York, Illinois, Japan, Germany, Nebraska and Texas. He graduated in 1965 from Randolph High School at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. He attended the University of Missouri and moved to California, holding various jobs in Los Angeles, while writing scripts and selling some of his paintings.
In 1975 he sold his first television script to CBS for the series The Blue Knight, a crime drama based on the Joseph Wambaugh novel of the same name. He quickly became an established television writer, scripting episodes of Jigsaw John, The Six Million Dollar Man, Kojak, Man From Atlantis, Starsky & Hutch, and The Rockford Files, among others.
In 1982 a script he wrote for the acclaimed TV crime drama series Hill Street Blues, "The World According to Freedom," was aired and he was quickly hired as a regular staff writer for the series. His story introduced the popular character "Captain Freedom," a street vigilante dressed absurdly as a superhero. His followup episode, "Freedom's Last Stand," won him the 1982 Emmy Award as co-writer for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. In fact, three of the scripts he co-wrote for that season were nominated in the same category. Wagner went on to co-write 35 episodes of Hill Street Blues for the next two years, and began a long association with Stephen Bochco and several of his projects.
Wagner was asked by ABC in 1987 to help develop a new science fiction series, Probe, a light-hearted series about a scientific crime fighter named Austin James. Isaac Asimov, the renowned science fiction writer, had created the basic idea of a young man who solved mysteries using scientific concepts, somewhat in the vein of Tom Swift or Rick Brant. Wagner wrote the two hour pilot TV movie, "Computer Logic," and became Executive Producer for the series, which lasted one season. Parker Stevenson, who played the lead character, stated in a later interview that he patterned his character after Wagner's mannerisms and physical behavior. The series ran on Thursday nights in the Spring of 1988 during the same time slot as the number one rated NBC comedy The Cosby Show, and with that competition could not attract a sufficient audience to get renewed for the following season. The show, however, continues to maintain a loyal following.
The following TV season, Wagner wrote three scripts for the Gene Roddenberry series Star Trek: The Next Generation, and served briefly as Executive Producer for the series. He worked with Stephen Bochco on Bochco's Hooperman, starring the late John Ritter. Wagner helped develop and write the Bochco animated series Capitol Critters, He also wrote and served as supervising producer for the NBC series Mann & Machine in 1992.
In 1992, at the age of 45, Wagner succumbed to brain cancer and died in Agoura Hills, California. He was survived by his wife Terry Wagner and daughter Rishon.
- "Total Television" (1996) Alex McNeil, Penguin Books, p.1084.
- "Science Fiction Television Series" (1996) Mark Phillips & Frank Garcia, McFarland & Co., Inc., p. 272.
- Id. at 430