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Zack Estrin, writer-producer known for ‘Prison Break’ and ‘Lost in Space,’ dies at 51

In the late 1990s, he worked on such series as “Charmed,” “Dawson’s Creek” and the short-lived “Tru Calling.”
Zack Estrin arrives at the 2019 Saturn Awards in Los Angeles. Estrin died Friday in Hermosa Beach, Calif.
Zack Estrin arrives at the 2019 Saturn Awards in Los Angeles. Estrin died Friday in Hermosa Beach, Calif.David Acosta/Image Press Agency / Sipa USA via AP

Zack Estrin, the respected writer-producer and showrunner known for his work on Fox’s “Prison Break” and Netflix’s recent revival of “Lost in Space,” died Sept. 23 in Hermosa Beach, California. He was 51.

Estrin’s death was confirmed Sunday by his longtime talent agency, WME. Estrin was remembered by friends and family as a versatile writer and producer who was a generous mentor to others.

Estrin’s death has come as a shock to family and friends as he was known to have been in good physical health. The circumstances of Estrin’s death were not immediately clear but it is believed he suffered a form of cardiac arrest while jogging on the beach.

“Zack Estrin was our everything,” Estrin’s family said in a statement. “The best husband, father, son and friend. He loved to make everyone happy. He loved to make everyone laugh. He loved being a writer/producer and being a part of creating these shows that people enjoyed. But above all, he loved his family and friends. Thank you all for being a part of his life and ours.”

Estrin’s survivors include his father, veteran TV writer Jonathan Estrin, who also served as executive VP of the American Film Institute from 2004 to 2007.

“Zack was our client for nearly 25 years,” WME President Ari Greenburg said. “He had a tremendously successful career and mentored so many writers. We are so proud of all his accomplishments and feel blessed to have called him a friend.”

Those who worked in the TV trenches with Estrin were quick to praise him. Fellow showrunner Jon Feldman, who worked with Estrin on “Tru Calling” and other projects, called it “an unfathomable loss.”

“Zack was a joy — kind, funny, generous and warm. To those of us who were lucky enough to call him a friend, it’s an unfathomable loss,” Feldman told Variety. “He was not simply a great guy; he was the very best of them.”

Estrin, born in California, was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He attended the University of Southern California and found his way into film production, working on such titles as “Stranger Than Fiction” and “O.” He segued into TV as a producer amid the late 1990s boom on such drama series as the WB Network’s “Charmed” and “Dawson’s Creek” and Fox’s short-lived “Tru Calling.”

From there, he advanced to writing and producing roles on Fox’s big-budget actioner “Prison Break.” He spent four seasons on the high-octane series, rising to co-executive producer. Matt Olmstead, who worked side by side with Estrin as “Prison Break” showrunner and executive producer, called him a “unifier” and “one of a kind” in a statement to Variety.

“He was an amazing writer, equally gifted with dialogue and structure,” Olmstead said. “What made him a great showrunner is that he attracted the right people. Writers wanted to work with him, and give him their best. Executives liked him as much as writers assistants. He was a unifier. And that was a direct reflection of how kind, supportive, encouraging and optimistic he was. If your phone buzzed and you looked down and saw it was Zack calling, you’d smile. He was one of a kind.”

Over the past decade Estrin delivered three fantasy dramas for ABC, “The Whispers” (2014-15), “The River” (2011-12) and “Once Upon a Time in Wonderland” (2013-14). Estrin was particularly proud of the work that he led as showrunner and executive producer on the “Lost in Space” reboot that ran three seasons from 2018 to 2021. His other credits include Fox dramas “The Good Guys” (2009-10) and “Point Pleasant” (2004-05).

Estrin’s other survivors include his wife, Kari Estrin, and daughters Charlotte and Chloe; his mother, Patricia Estrin; sister, Amelia Burstyn; stepbrother, Dylan Arrants; and stepsisters Julie List and Laura Humphrey.