The television industry lost a legend this week, when Stephen J. Cannell, 69, died from complications from melanoma, the New York Times is reporting. Cannell died at his home in Pasadena, California on Thursday. Children of the 80’s will recall the numerous shows he wrote for always closing with his signature production company logo- the bearded Cannell at his desk, vigorously typing and suddenly throwing a piece of paper into the air which would transform into a C. He is survived by his wife Marcia, son Cody, daughters Chelsea and Tawnia, and three grandchildren.
A Life in Television
Shows Cannell had a hand in are deeply ingrained in popular culture. He co-created “The Rockford Files”, wrote for “Adam-12”, “Black Sheep Squadron”, and “Baretta” and later developed “The Greatest American Hero”, “Hardcastle and McCormick”, “Riptide”, “The A-Team”, “Wiseguy”, “21 Jump Street”, “The Commish”, “Silk Stalkings” . He created or co-created 35 television shows for every television studio. While most viewers will associate his name with the kitschy, faux-violence driven “A-Team” and critics may have panned some of his most popular creations, he was capable of expanding his range to writing and creating much more nuanced shows, such as “Wiseguy”.
Most of his shows inserted a strong element of humor, connecting a serious storyline- often a potentially heavy crime investigation or action sequence, for example- to a joke designed to help lighten the mood and keep audiences invested in the story’s hero. Memorable gags have included tricking B. A. Baracus (Mr. T) into getting on airplanes despite a crippling fear of planes, forcing actor William Katt to derive his super powers from what his FBI handler called red “magic jammies” given to him by aliens, and opening each episode of “The Rockford Files” with a phone machine full of funny messages.
Overcame Adversity, Launched Memorable Careers
As a pilot writer and series creator, he favored writing for male audiences and specialized in creating characters that were a little out of the mainstream. His shows helped launch numerous careers, including those of Kevin Spacey and Johnny Depp, while helping build memorable roles for veteran actors James Garner, Robert Culp, and George Peppard.
Cannell had professed himself to be dyslexic, a condition according to his Yahoo! Movies biography, that caused him to read slowly and spell poorly. A dedicated writer, he would get up every morning to write for at least two hours. In addition to his television career, he authored several novels.
His impact on television often reflected the attitude of the decade he wrote in, and TV viewers from the 70s to the mid-90s can scarcely have missed at least one episode of a show he had was involved in.
Bill Carter, “Stephen J. Cannell, Prolific TV Writer, Dies at 69” New York Times
Yahoo! Movies, “Stephen J. Cannell”