Stephen J. Cannell

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

After starting his career as a television script writer, Cannell created or co-created several dozen successful TV series from the 1970s to the 1990s, often with his creative partner Frank Lupo. Cannell's creations included The Rockford Files, The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, 21 Jump Street, and The Commish. He also wrote novels, notably the Shane Scully mystery series.

Stephen J. Cannell
Cannell in 2005
Stephen Joseph Cannell

February 5, 1941
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
DiedSeptember 30, 2010 (aged 69)
Resting placeForest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills)
EducationUniversity of Oregon, B.S. 1964
OccupationWriter, producer, director
Years active1968–2010
Known forFounder of The Cannell Studios
Marcia Cannell (m. 1964–2010)
Children4, including Tawnia
AwardsEmmy Award

Early life

Cannell was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in nearby Pasadena.[1] He was the son of Carolyn (née Baker) and Joseph Knapp Cannell. Joseph owned 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.


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 Saunders asked if Stephen would be interested in writing it. He delivered what they wanted in one day, 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, and 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 was 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 Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, and was soon followed by The Greatest American Hero, The Quest, The A-Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, Riptide, and Hunter. Cannell offices relocated to larger facilities on Hollywood Blvd in 1983.

Cannell also acted occasionally, including a recurring role as main antagonist "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 a 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.[5] Cannell appeared as himself in the pilot of the ABC show Castle and again in season two. Along with James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly, he was one of Castle's poker buddies. In season three, following Cannell's death, an empty seat at the poker table is described as Cannell's, and remains empty for a full year in tribute to him.

In 1987, and with a favorable exchange rate between the US and Canadian dollars 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 no crews were available 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 television films were also shot in Vancouver by Cannell's production company.

In May 1988, Cannell was a panelist in the John Davidson edition of The Hollywood Squares.

On July 31, 1995, New World Communications acquired his Cannell Entertainment production company. 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.

Starting in 1995, Cannell turned his attention to writing novels. His first novel, The Plan, was released in 1997 by Avon. As of 2010, he had written 18, 11 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.

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 Metro Goldwyn Mayer, and into the sequel 22 Jump Street, which was released in June 2014.

He won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 1978 for The Rockford Files.

The closing logo of his production company consisted of him typing on an IBM Selectric typewriter in an office/study area, with bookshelves, and awards galore. The camera then pans clockwise from his face to his back. Once the camera is towards Cannell's back, he throws the paper he is typing on over his head. The paper becomes animated on a black background, and floats downwards towards a stack of animated papers below. The paper scoops up the top papers in the stack, and forms a "C", while the text of the company is shown above. Cannell himself stated that the throwing of the paper over his head took many takes as it more often came back and hit him in the face or head. It was updated often, the main differences being Cannell's wardrobe, and the addition of new awards in the background. In 1984, the pipe was dropped, because Cannell quit smoking, and (rarely) a new office for the live-action part.[7] And depending on the logo is a list of outfits worn by Cannell:

  • 1981: Cannell wears a dark colored sweater with white collar shirt, plus he is smoking his pipe.
  • 1983: Cannell wears a blue jean jacket and white flannel shirt over a black turtleneck, plus he is smoking his pipe.
  • 1984: Cannell wears a black jacket and dark colored sweater over white collar shirt (no pipe this time, as he quit smoking in later years).
  • 1985: Cannell wears a white and gray striped flannel shirt.
  • 1987: Cannell wears a casual black polo shirt.
  • 1989: Cannell wears a vermilion polo shirt (with the collar stuck up).
  • 1996: Cannell wears a black sweater.
  • 1999: Cannell wears a black jacket with a black turtleneck.

The production company's first series Tenspeed and Brown Shoe did not feature this logo. The first of Cannell's series to feature this logo was The Greatest American Hero. Throughout the history of the company, a total of eight different logos was used, the last logo being shot in high definition in 2004. The logo has become part of American pop culture and has been parodied on American Dad!,[8] 30 Rock, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace, and the season-two episode of Friends - "The One Where Dr. Ramoray Dies" as the writer who decides to kill off Joey's part.

Personal life

Cannell married his high school sweetheart, Marcia, in 1964. He "asked her to go steady in the eighth grade".[9] Together they had two daughters, Tawnia and Chelsea, and two sons, Cody and Derek.[9] Derek died in 1981 at age 15 when a sand castle he was building at the beach collapsed and suffocated him.[10] This tragedy had occurred during the filming of the "Captain Bellybuster" episode of The Greatest American Hero. Actor William Katt (an expert musician) wrote a song for Cannell, titled, "Cody the Cowboy". Cannell was so touched by this gift that he named his next son Cody in honor of the song.

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 with the help of his personal secretary Grace Cursio, an employee of 20 years. Following Grace's retirement in 2003, Kathy Ezso became his editor and executive assistant. He discussed his experiences as a dyslexic in the 2009 documentary Dislecksia: The Movie.

Cannell wrote on a typewriter, an IBM Selectric, when not dictating to an assistant, and only used a computer for research purposes.[11]


Cannell died at his home surrounded by family on September 30, 2010, from complications of melanoma.[1][12] He is interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles.

Selected filmography


On May 4, 1998, Cannell reacquired his library from Fox.[14] Cannell sold his company in March 1995 to New World Communications for $30 million and News Corporation acquired New World in 1996.[14] However, two of Cannell's series, The A-Team and Hunter are controlled by two other studios: Universal for the former and Sony Pictures Television for the latter and weren't part of the deal.[14] Also part of the deal, Cannell would pay Fox for international and domestic sales for his series.[14]

On January 24, 2006, The Carsey-Werner Company acquired distribution rights to Cannell's library.[15][16]

Notable acting credits

  • All My Children (1985) TV series, as himself (guest role).
  • Magnum, P.I. (1986) TV series, as Hotel Detective / Security Chief Ray Lemon (guest role).
  • Renegade (1992–1997) as Donald "Dutch" Dixon (Series regular). Also show's creator.
  • Diagnosis: Murder (1997–1999) TV series, as Jackson Burley (guest role)
  • Pacific Blue (1999–2000) TV series, as Judge J. Gunnar Halloran (guest role)
  • Half Past Dead (2002) Steven Seagal film, as Frank Hubbard
  • Ice Spiders (2007) made-for-TV movie, as Frank Stone
  • Castle (2009) TV series, recurring guest role as himself


Shane Scully series

  1. The Tin Collectors (2001)
  2. The Viking Funeral (2002)
  3. Hollywood Tough (2003)
  4. Vertical Coffin (2004)
  5. Cold Hit (2005)
  6. White Sister (2006)
  7. Three Shirt Deal (2007)
  8. On the Grind (2009)
  9. The Pallbearers (2010)
  10. The Prostitutes' Ball (2010)[17]
  11. Vigilante (2011)[18]

Other novels

  • The Plan (1996)
  • Final Victim (1997)
  • King Con (1998)
  • Riding the Snake (1999)
  • The Devil's Workshop (2000)
  • Runaway Heart (2003)
  • At First Sight (2008)


  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 Archived October 31, 2006, at (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. ^ "The stories behind TV production company closing logos". Den of Geek.
  8. ^ Season 5, episode 15, Wheels and the Legman Created by Stephen J. Cannell
  9. ^ a b Cannell, Stephen J. On the Grind (St. Martin's Press, 2009), Acknowledgments, p. 306.
  10. ^ Pasadena Weekly, Telling tales: 'Over-performer’ Stephen J. Cannell takes over mystery book writing much the way he conquered episodic TV. Pasadena Weekly. 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  11. ^ White, Claire (May 1998). "Interview with Stephen J. Cannell". Writers Write. Retrieved 2017-01-28.
  12. ^ "Yahoo News – AP News Article Concerning His Death".
  13. ^ Rosenberg, Howard (September 16, 1992). "TV REVIEW : 'The Hat Squad' Is Not a Good Fit". The Los Angeles Times.
  14. ^ a b c d Cannell wins back rights to TV series Cynthia Littleton May 4, 1998, Retrieved on August 30, 2014
  15. ^ John Eggerton "Broadcasting & Cable" January 24, 2006 Carsey-Werner To Distribute Cannell Library, Retrieved on October 12, 2013
  16. ^ "C21 Media" January 25, 2006 Carsey-Werner picks up drama library, Retrieved on October 12, 2013
  17. ^ "The Prostitutes' Ball".
  18. ^ Memmott, Carol (December 6, 2011). "Stephen J. Cannell's final novel, 'Vigilante,' is published". USA Today.

External links

21 Jump Street

21 Jump Street is an American police procedural television series that aired on the Fox network and in first run syndication from April 12, 1987, to April 27, 1991, with a total of 103 episodes. The series focuses on a squad of youthful-looking undercover police officers investigating crimes in high schools, colleges, and other teenage venues. It was originally going to be titled Jump Street Chapel, after the deconsecrated church building in which the unit has its headquarters, but was changed at Fox's request so as not to mislead viewers into thinking it was a religious program.

Created by Patrick Hasburgh and Stephen J. Cannell, the series was produced by Patrick Hasburgh Productions and Stephen J. Cannell Productions in association with 20th Century Fox Television. Executive Producers included Hasburgh, Cannell, Steve Beers and Bill Nuss. The show was an early hit for the fledgling Fox network, and was created to attract a younger audience. The final season aired in first-run syndication mainly on local Fox affiliates. It was later rerun on the FX cable network from 1996 to 1998. All 5 seasons are currently available for download on Amazon.

The series provided a spark to Johnny Depp's nascent acting career, garnering him national recognition as a teen idol. Depp found this status irritating, but he continued on the series under his contract and was paid $45,000 per episode. Eventually he was released from his contract after the fourth season.A spin-off series, Booker, was produced for the character of Dennis Booker (Richard Grieco); it ran one season, from September 1989 to June 1990.

A film adaptation directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller was released on March 16, 2012. The film is set in the same continuity as the series, with Johnny Depp, Holly Robinson and Peter DeLuise reprising their characters in cameo appearances. Richard Grieco and Dustin Nguyen also have cameos in the 2014 film sequel 22 Jump Street.

Broken Badges

Broken Badges is an American-Canadian police drama that aired on CBS from November 24, 1990 to December 22, 1990 and in June 1991. The series was co-created by Stephen J. Cannell.

Hardcastle and McCormick

Hardcastle and McCormick is an American action/drama television series that aired on ABC from September 18, 1983, through May 5, 1986. The series stars Brian Keith as Judge Milton C. Hardcastle and Daniel Hugh Kelly as ex-con and race car driver Mark "Skid" McCormick. In an interview in the 1980s, Stephen J. Cannell talks about the show calling it Rolling Thunder, probably the show production title before airing.

Hawkeye (TV series)

Hawkeye is a television series, airing in syndication for one season during 1994–1995, and produced by Stephen J. Cannell. The series was filmed in North Vancouver and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Based on characters from the Leatherstocking Tales, a set of novels written by James Fenimore Cooper, the series takes place in 1755 Hudson Valley, New York during the French and Indian War. It follows the main character, Natty Bumppo (Lee Horsley), his Native American companion Chingachgook (Rodney A. Grant), English trading post owner Elizabeth Shields (Lynda Carter) and other people stationed at or living in the vicinity of Fort Bennington.

Marker (TV series)

Marker is an American drama television series that premiered on UPN on January 17, 1995. It is set in and was filmed in Hawaii.

Missing Persons (TV series)

Missing Persons is an American crime drama television series, set in Chicago. It followed a fictitious missing persons unit; each episode usually following the investigation into three or more cases. It ran on ABC from August 30, 1993 to February 17, 1994.

It was produced by Gary Sherman Productions in association with Stephen J. Cannell Productions, and often used local Chicago-based actors, as well as occasional guest stars such as Nina Foch, Eddie Bracken, and Lois Smith. Semi-regulars included Ian Gomez, Irma P. Hall, Laura Cerón and Valerie Harper. Unlike most series from Cannell's company, he did not create or co-create this series.

Palace Guard

Palace Guard is an American crime drama series that was briefly broadcast by CBS as part of its 1991 fall lineup. It was produced by Stephen J. Cannell.

Renegade (TV series)

Renegade is an American television series that ran for 110 episodes spanning five seasons, first broadcast between September 19, 1992, and April 4, 1997. The series was created by Stephen J. Cannell. Executive producers included Cannell, Stu Segall, Bill Nuss, and Richard C. Okie.

The series stars Lorenzo Lamas as Reno Raines, a police officer who is framed for a murder he did not commit. Raines goes on the run and joins forces with Native American bounty hunter Bobby Sixkiller, played by Branscombe Richmond. Stephen J. Cannell also had a recurring role as the main villain, crooked police officer Donald 'Dutch' Dixon.

Riptide (U.S. TV series)

Riptide is an American TV detective series that ran on NBC from January 3, 1984 to August 22, 1986, starring Perry King, Joe Penny, and Thom Bray.

The series was created by Frank Lupo and Stephen J. Cannell, and produced by Stephen J. Cannell Productions in association with Columbia Pictures Television for NBC. The main theme was composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. A mid-season replacement, it debuted as a two-hour TV movie in early 1984. After its cancellation, reruns were aired on the USA Network during the late 1980s.

Sonny Spoon

Sonny Spoon is a detective program aired in the United States on the NBC television network in 1988. The series was created by Michael Daly, Dinah Prince, Stephen J. Cannell, and Randall Wallace and produced by Stephen J. Cannell Productions (the fall 1988 episodes were in association with NBC Productions).

Stingray (1985 TV series)

Stingray is an NBC television series produced by Stephen J. Cannell that ran from 1985 to 1987. It starred Nick Mancuso, who plays the mysterious character known only as Ray, whose trademark is a black 1965 Corvette Sting Ray.

Tenspeed and Brown Shoe

Tenspeed and Brown Shoe is an American detective/comedy series originally broadcast by the ABC network between January and June 1980. The series was created and executive produced by Stephen J. Cannell.

The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage

Disney Presents The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage is a television series broadcast in the United States by NBC and produced by Stephen J. Cannell Productions in association with Walt Disney Television. This show originated as a television movie. The program originally aired in 1991, but lasted less than one season.

The Commish

The Commish is an American comedy-drama television series that aired on ABC in the United States from 1991 to 1996. The series focuses on the work and home life of a suburban police commissioner in upstate New York.

The Greatest American Hero

The Greatest American Hero is an American comedy-drama superhero television series that aired for three seasons from 1981 to 1983 on ABC. Created by producer Stephen J. Cannell, it premiered as a two-hour pilot movie on March 18, 1981. The series features William Katt as teacher Ralph Hinkley ("Hanley" for the latter part of the first season- On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan and three others were shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr. in Washington, D.C., as they were leaving a speaking engagement. As a result, the character name was changed as the fictional "Hinkley" was phonetically the same as "Hinckley". Writers would refer to the character as "Mr. H" up and until the show's cancellation), Robert Culp as FBI agent Bill Maxwell, and Connie Sellecca as lawyer Pam Davidson.The series chronicles Ralph's adventures after a group of aliens gives him a red and black suit that grants him superhuman abilities. Unfortunately for Ralph, who hates wearing the suit, he immediately loses its instruction booklet, and thus has to learn how to use its powers by trial and error, often with comical results.

The Hat Squad

The Hat Squad is a crime drama television series that ran for only one season on CBS, during the 1992–1993 season. 13 episodes were made, but only 11 of them aired.

The Last Precinct

The Last Precinct is an American sitcom that aired on NBC from January 26 to May 30, 1986 on Friday nights at 9:00pm. The series stars Adam West as Capt. Rick Wright, leading a group of misfit police academy rejects. The pilot for the Stephen J. Cannell series debuted after Super Bowl XX in 1986, but the show was canceled within two months of its April premiere. This was the only sitcom from Stephen J. Cannell Productions.

The Quest (1982 TV series)

The Quest is an American action/adventure television series that aired on ABC from October to November 1982. The series stars Perry King, Noah Beery Jr., Karen Austin, and Ray Vitte as potential heirs to the throne of a fictional European monarchy that, were its king to die without issue, would revert to rule by France.

Produced by Stephen J. Cannell, the series was canceled after five episodes.

Traps (TV series)

Traps is an American police drama that aired on CBS from March 31, 1994 to April 27, 1994. The series was created by Stephen J. Cannell and produced by Stephen J. Cannell Productions in association with CBS Entertainment Productions.

Television series produced or created by Stephen J. Cannell
Writers Guild of America Award for Television: Episodic Drama (1980–1989)

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