The first in a new, occasional series of side-blogs celebrating my heroes of television. Those people who have, in some way or another, made an outstanding contribution to the medium. This first part celebrates an icon of American action shows…
Producer, writer, novelist and occasional actor, Stephen J. Cannell is famous for creating some of the most iconic television series’ in a generation. Starting out as a freelance script-writer for Ironside and Columbo, Cannell soon found a full-time gig as writer on the fourth series of police drama Adam-12 before going on to create his own shows. The first big hit, The Rockford Files (1974-1980), he co-created with Roy Huggins and which starred James Garner as Jim Rockford, an ex-con who now works as a private detective.
In 1979, Cannell formed his own company, Stephen J. Cannell Productions. The first show produced under this new banner was the short-lived Tenspeed and Brown Shoe starring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum. This was soon followed by more the successful The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hardcastle & McCormick, Riptide and Hunter.
Cannell also worked as an occasional actor in his own series, Renegade where he played “Dutch” Dixon. He also had a regular role as himself in the comedy crime drama Castle, opposite Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. In 2010 a feature-film version of The A-Team was made and he acted as producer and creative consultant on the project which wasn’t as big a success as was expected. One of his other shows, 21 Jump Street, was also remade as a movie in 2012 with a sequel following in 2014.
Perhaps the most recognisable part of his career was his production company’s logo that appeared at the end of his shows. It shows him typing, ripping a piece of paper from the typewriter and throwing it in the air. It has been much parodied in recent years in such shows as American Dad!, 30 Rock, Family Guy, Garth Marengi’s Dark Place and The Simpsons. What is remarkable about his career is that Cannell was dyslexic, appearing in a documentary in 2009 to talk about his struggles as a writer with the condition and how he felt it had enriched his life.
Stephen J. Cannell died on September 30th 2010 from complications of melanoma. He leaves behind not only his childhood sweetheart and three children, but a legacy of great television shows that will be enjoyed by generations to come.
STEPHEN J. CANNELL 1941-2010