J. Cannell emerged as one of television's most powerful producer-writers
in the 1980s. A prolific writer, he would eventually also become
a series creator, an executive producer, a director, a station owner,
and the head of his own studio, Specializing almost exclusively
in crime shows and action-adventures, Cannell's work, by its sheer
volume, played a significant role in redefining the parameters of
those genres. Early in his career, he created and produced programs
with such other crime show auteurs as Jack Webb, Roy Huggins, Willlam
Link and Richard Levinson, and Steven Bochco.
many other aspiring television artists in the 1960s, Cannell got
his start at Universal Television, where he joined the writing staff
of Adam-12 in 1970. After a few years of writing for several
of the company's other series, he began to create and produce his
own shows for Universal, including Chase, Baretta, City of Angels,
Baa Baa Black Sheep, Richie Brockelman, Private Eye, The Duke, and
Stone. The Rockford Files, which won an Emmy for Outstanding
Drama in 1978, was by far his most commercially and critically successful
series of this period. The show exhibited all the trademarks of
the Cannell style: a facile blending of comedy and drama, up-to-the-minute
contemporary vernacular dialogue, and a protagonist who was a likable
outsider, in this case an ex-convict.
1979 Cannell left Universal to form Stephen J. Cannell Productions.
He won a Writers Guild Award for Tenspeed and Brownshoe and
achieved some modest ratings success for The Greatest American
Hero, but it was The A- Team that established the company
as a major force in Hollywood In 1983. Adding a heavy dosage of
cartoon-like action to the familiar Cannell themes, The A-Team
made Nielsen's top ten in its debut season. Three years later,
Cannell had six series on the network prime-time schedule, including
Hunter, Riptide, and Hardcastle and McCormick. Many
critics who had praised The Rockford Files rejected this
latest batch of Cannell's series, complaining that they were juvenile
and overly formulaic. With the debut of Wiseguy in 1987,
however, one of Cannell's shows once again earned critical respect
for its intelligent dialogue, complex characterization, and occasional
treatment of timely issues. Wiseguy also employed an innovative
new narrative structure, the "story arc," whereby the season was
in effect divided into several multi-part episodes.
In an effort to lower production costs, Cannell opened a major studio
facility in Vancouver, British Columbia toward the end of the 1980s.
One of the first series shot there was 21 Jump Street, the
highest-rated show of the new Fox network's first season. Scene
of the Crime, a mystery anthology series for CBS's late-night
schedule, was also filmed in Vancouver and was hosted by Cannell
Stephen J. Cannell
Photo courtesy ofStephen J. Cannell
J. CANNELL. Born in Los Angeles, California, 5 February 1941.
University of Oregon, BA 1964. Married Marcia C. Finch, 8 August
1964; children: Derek (deceased), Tawnia, Chelsea, Cody. Began career
as television writer in late 1960s, selling story ideas to Desilu
Productions; joined Universal Studios as Head Writer, Adam 12, 1970;
creator, writer, producer of other Universal action-adventure programs
throughout 1970s; founded Stephen J. Cannell Productions, 1979.
Recipient: Mystery Writers Award; 4 Emmy Awards; 4 Writers Guild
of America Awards.
1974-80 The Rockford Files
1976-78 Baa-Baa Blacksheep (The Blacksheep Squadron)
1978 Richie Brockleman, Private Eye
1979 The Duke
1980 Tenspeed and Brownshoe
1981-83 The Greatest American Hero
1982 The Quest
1983-84 The Rousters
1983-86 Hardcastle and McCormick
1983-87 The A-Team
1986 The Last Precinct
1987-88 J.J. Starbuck
1987-90 21 Jump Street
1988 Sonny Spoon
1991 The Commish
Christensen, Mark, and Cameron Stauth. The Sweeps. New York:
Willlam Morrow, 1984.
Deirdre. "What Stuff Are Dreams Made of?" Forbes (New York),
22 August 1988.
Mike. "Man of the Hours" (interview). Broadcasting (Washington,
D.C.), 25 January 1993.
Jeb. Universal Television: The Studio and Its Programs, 1950-1980.
Metuchen, New Jersey: Scarecrow, 1983.
Merill. "Okay, Cannell, Come Clean." Los Angeles Magazine,
Robert J. Adventures on Prime Time: The Television Programs of Stephen
J. Cannell. New York: Praeger, 1990.
Christopher, and Tise Vahimagi. The American Vein: Directors
and Directions in Television. New York: Dutton, 1979.