Stephen J. Cannell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Stephen Cannell)
Jump to: navigation, search
Stephen J. Cannell
Stephen J Cannell.jpg
Cannell throwing piece of paper after typing, used in closing logo of his production company
Born Stephen Joseph Cannell
(1941-02-05)February 5, 1941
Los Angeles
Died September 30, 2010(2010-09-30) (aged 69)
Pasadena, California, US
Cause of death
Nationality American
Education University of Oregon
Occupation Writer, producer, director
Years active 1968–2010
Known for Founder of The Cannell Studios
Home town Pasadena, California
Board member of
The Cannell Studios
Spouse(s) Marcia Cannell (m. 1964–2010) (his death)
Children Tawnia
Derek (deceased)
Awards Emmy Award

Stephen Joseph Cannell (/ˈkænəl/; February 5, 1941 – September 30, 2010) was an American television producer, writer, novelist and occasional actor, and the founder of Stephen J. Cannell Productions, Cannell Entertainment, and The Cannell Studios.

Early life[edit]

Cannell was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in nearby Pasadena.[1] His parents, Carolyn (née Baker) and Joseph Knapp Cannell. Joe was owner of the highly successful interior decorating company "Cannell and Chaffin.[2][3] Cannell struggled with dyslexia in school, but did graduate from the University of Oregon in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism.[2] At UO, he joined the Sigma Chi fraternity.[citation needed]


After college, Cannell spent four years working with the family business before selling his first script to the Universal series It Takes a Thief in 1968. He was quickly hired by the television production branch of Universal Studios and was soon freelance writing for such other crime shows as Ironside and Columbo. Not long afterward, he received a telephone call from friend Herman Saunders who was the producer on the series Adam-12. They needed a script right away and would Stephen be interested in writing it. He delivered what they wanted in one day, this his first full-time gig and was soon hired as story editor of Jack Webb's police series Adam-12, then in its fourth season (1971–1972).

Cannell created or co-created nearly 40 television series, mostly crime dramas, including The Rockford Files, Chase, Black Sheep Squadron, Baretta, City of Angels. Under his own banner, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, Wiseguy, 21 Jump Street, Silk Stalkings, and The Commish. In the process he had, by his own count, scripted more than 450 episodes, and produced or executive produced over 1,500 episodes.[4]

He described his early financial arrangements in a 2002 interview, saying that at Universal,

I signed a deal as a head writer to make $600 a week. I was the cheapest writer on the lot. It was the lowest deal you could do by Writers Guild standards. But I'd been working for my dad for $7000 a year. I was at Universal for eight years and I never renegotiated my deal but once. It was late in my arrangement with Universal. There was one thing in my deal that my agent had managed to get in there—I had good fees for my pilots. The reason they did it is that they never thought I was going to write a pilot. So they'd give me $70,000 to write a two-hour pilot and a $100,000 production bonus if it ever got made. Then I became the hottest pilot writer at Universal. I was writing two or three pilots a season. I was making $400,000 a year in pilot fees.[2]

In 1979 Cannell left Universal and formed his own company, Stephen J. Cannell Productions. For the first few years, Cannell's office were located on the lot at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, though his earlier work at Universal was still distributed by MCA-Universal. Cannell's first series under his new banner was The Greatest American Hero and was soon followed by The Quest, The A-Team, Riptide, and Hunter. Cannell offices relocated to larger facilities on Hollywood Blvd in 1983.

The closing logo of his production company features him typing, before throwing the sheet from his typewriter whereupon it animates to become his company logo against a black screen (the one sheet of paper lands on a stack of paper forming a letter C). It was updated often, the main differences being Cannell's clothes, the addition of new awards in the background, and (rarely) a new office for the live-action part. Throughout the history of the company there were a total of eight different logos, the last logo being shot in high definition in 2004. Early examples are also notable for Cannell's smoking a pipe as he types. The logo has become part of American pop culture and has been parodied on **American Dad's Wheels and the Legman**,[5] 30 Rock, Family Guy, and The Simpsons. After his death, the Castle Season 3 episode "Punked" showed Cannell's logo with the words "Colleague, Mentor, Friend" while he is typing and then "We'll miss you, pal" superimposed over the sheet of paper, but the stack of paper is absent, and the lone sheet floats down towards the bottom and out of view.

Cannell also acted occasionally, including a regular supporting role as "Dutch" Dixon on his series Renegade. He also took a turn in an episode of Silk Stalkings, in which the script called for one character to tell him, "You look just like that writer on TV," to which Cannell's character responds, "I get that all the time." He also served as the host of the 1991–92 series Scene of the Crime an mystery anthology series with a repertory cast, 1995–1996 syndicated documentary series U.S. Customs Classified, focusing on the work of the U.S Customs Service.[6] Cannell appeared as himself in the pilot of the ABC show Castle and again in season 2. Along with James Patterson, Dennis Lehane and Michael Connelly, he was one of Castle's poker buddies. In season 3, an empty seat at the poker table is described as Cannell's, and remains empty for a full year.

In 1987 and with a favorable exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollar being a win/win for US producers, Cannell decided to shoot his new series Stingray in Toronto. So many producers were shooting in Toronto that there weren't any available crews to man any additional productions. Cannell shot seven episodes of Stingray in Calgary with the remainder being shot in Vancouver. His first series shot there was 21 Jump Street, the highest-rated show of the new Fox network's first season. With more and more series being shot in Vancouver, Cannell said "We were fighting with everybody for locations and stage space". His solution was to build a new, state-of-the-art facility, "The North Shore Studios" on 13 acres with one hundred thousand feet of office space and seven sound stages. The series 21 Jump Street was soon followed by Wiseguy, The Commish, Booker, Hawkeye, Cobra, The Hat Squad, J.J. Starbuck, Stingray, Street Justice and Unsub, and a number of MOW's were also shot in Vancouver by Cannell's Production Company.

In 1995 New World Communications acquired his Cannell Entertainment production company. Cannell then founded The Cannell Studios.[7] One of the first shows produced by the newly established Cannell Studios was the short-lived but critically acclaimed corporate drama Profit.

Starting in the 1995, Cannell turned his attention to novels. His first novel, The Plan, was released in 1997 by Avon. As of 2010, he had written 18, eleven of which featured the character of detective Shane Scully of the Los Angeles Police Department. Seven are stand-alone novels. The last in the series, Vigiliante, was released December 2011 by St. Martin's Press.

The 2009 documentary Dislecksia: The Movie features an interview with Cannell, in which he discusses his struggles with dyslexia and how he managed to be such a successful writer despite his difficulties reading. During the interview, he mentions how he used to hire typists to overcome his "spelling problem", as he refers to his dyslexia, but also describes how he feels his condition has enriched his life.[citation needed]

Cannell's TV series The A-Team was remade into a 2010 feature length film. Cannell served as a producer and creative consultant for the project. His other series 21 Jump Street was made into a 2012 feature by Columbia Pictures, and into the sequel 22 Jump Street, which was released in June 2014.

Personal life[edit]

Cannell married his high school sweetheart, Marcia in 1964. He "asked her to go steady in the eighth grade".[8] Together they had two daughters, Tawnia and Chelsea, and two sons, Cody and Derek.[8] Derek died in 1981 at age 15 when a sand castle he was building at the beach collapsed and suffocated him.[9]

Cannell was dyslexic, and was a spokesman on the subject. According to an episode of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, Cannell frequently had to dictate ideas or even complete scripts to a personal secretary. That executive assistant for more than twenty years was Grace Curcio, following Grace's retirement in 2003 by Kathy Ezso became his editor and executive assistant. He discussed his experiences as a dyslexic in the 2009 documentary Dislecksia: The Movie.

Cannell continued to write on a typewriter (an IBM Selectric) and only used a computer for research purposes.[citation needed]


Cannell died at his home surrounded by family September 30, 2010, from complications of melanoma.[10][1]

His loyalty and friendship to those that knew and worked with him are missed.

For more on the life and history of Stephen Cannell, please look at the series of interviews that were conducted by The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences at

Selected filmography[edit]


On January 24, 2006, The Carsey-Werner Company gained distribution rights to Cannell's library.[12][13]

Notable acting credits[edit]



  1. ^ a b McLellan, Dennis (October 2, 2010). "Stephen J. Cannell dies at 69; TV writer, producer". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 12, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c Ford, Luke. "Producer Stephen J. Cannell"
  3. ^ Stephen J. Cannell Biography (1941–)
  4. ^ Bio (official site)
  5. ^ Season 5, episode 15, Wheels and the Legman Created by Stephen J. Cannell
  6. ^ Brooks, Tim and Marsh, Earle, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946–present – Ninth Edition, p. 1448, Ballantine Books, 2007, ISBN 978-0-345-49773-4
  7. ^ Thompson, Robert J. Cannell, Stephen J.. Museum of Broadcast Communications
  8. ^ a b Cannell, Stephen J. On the Grind (St. Martin's Press, 2009), Acknowledgments, p. 306.
  9. ^ Pasadena Weekly, Telling tales: 'Over-performer’ Stephen J. Cannell takes over mystery book writing much the way he conquered episodic TV 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  10. ^ Yahoo News – AP News Article Concerning His Death
  11. ^ Rosenberg, Howard (September 16, 1992). "TV REVIEW : 'The Hat Squad' Is Not a Good Fit". The Los Angeles Times. 
  12. ^ John Eggerton "Broadcasting & Cable" January 24, 2006 Carsey-Werner To Distribute Cannell Library, Retrieved on October 12, 2013
  13. ^ "C21 Media" January 25, 2006 Carsey-Werner picks up drama library, Retrieved on October 12, 2013
  14. ^ "The Prostitutes' Ball". 
  15. ^ Memmott, Carol (December 6, 2011). "Stephen J. Cannell's final novel, 'Vigilante,' is published". USA Today. 

External links[edit]