Stephen J. Cannell

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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, California, U.S.
Died September 30, 2010(2010-09-30) (aged 69)[1]
Pasadena, California, U.S.
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.

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, owned a chain of furniture stores.[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 his first full-time gig as the 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, 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]

For many years, Cannell's office was at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, though his shows (with the exception of Hunter, The Greatest American Hero, Hardcastle and McCormick, and Riptide) were almost always distributed by Universal Studios. 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. 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 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 1995–1996 syndicated documentary series U.S. Customs Classified, focusing on the work of the U.S Customs Service.[5] 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 an effort to lower production costs,[citation needed] Cannell opened a 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.[citation needed] Scene of the Crime, a mystery anthology series for CBS's late-night schedule, was also filmed in Vancouver and hosted by Cannell. New World Communications acquired his production company in 1995. Cannell then founded the Cannell Studios.[6] One of the first shows produced by the newly established Cannell Studios was the short-lived but critically acclaimed corporate drama Profit.

In the 2000s, Cannell turned his attention to novels. As of 2008, he had written 14, half of which featured the character of detective Shane Scully of the Los Angeles Police Department. The eighth book in that series, On the Grind (St. Martin's Press), was scheduled for release January 2009.[7]

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.

Personal life[edit]

From 2009, Cannell lived in Los Angeles. He married his high school sweetheart, Marcia; 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. 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 September 30, 2010, from complications of melanoma.[10]

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 Los Angeles Times, Stephen J. Cannell dies at 69; TV writer, producer 2010-10-02. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  2. ^ a b c Ford, Luke. "Producer Stephen J. Cannell"
  3. ^ Stephen J. Cannell Biography (1941–)
  4. ^ Bio (official site)
  5. ^ 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
  6. ^ Thompson, Robert J. Cannell, Stephen J.. Museum of Broadcast Communications
  7. ^ St. Martin's Press press release (undated): On the Grind – A Shane Scully Novel}
  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" 1/24/2006 Carsey-Werner To Distribute Cannell Library, Retrieved on October 12, 2013
  13. ^ "C21 Media" 25-01-2006 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]