Stephen J. Cannell: Wikis


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Stephen J. Cannell

2005 photo
Born February 5, 1941 (1941-02-05) (age 68)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Occupation Writer, Producer

Stephen Joseph Cannell (born February 5, 1941; pronounced /ˈkænəl/, rhymes with "channel") is an American television producer, writer, novelist and occasional actor who is also the founder of Stephen J. Cannell Productions.


Early life and career

Cannell was born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in a mansion in nearby Pasadena.[1] His parents, Carolyn (née Baker) and Joseph Knapp Cannell, owned a chain of furniture stores.[1][2] Cannell struggled with dyslexia in school, but did graduate from the University of Oregon in 1964 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism.[1] 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 after 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 has created or co-created nearly 40 television series, mostly crime dramas, including The Rockford Files, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Wiseguy, 21 Jump Street, Silk Stalkings, and The Commish. In the process he has, by his own count, scripted more than 450 episodes, and produced or executive produced over 1,500 episodes.[3]

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.[1]

For many years, Cannell's office was at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, though his shows (with the exception of Hunter) 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. It was updated often, the main differences being Cannell's clothes, sometimes new awards in the background and (rarely) a new office for the live-action part. Early examples are also notable for Cannell smoking a pipe as he types.

Later life and career

Cover of the Shane Scully novel Cold Hit

Cannell has 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." Cannell appeared as himself in the pilot of the ABC show Castle and again in season 2.

In an effort to lower production costs, 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. 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.[4] 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 has turned his attention to novels. As of 2008, he has written 14, half of which have 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.[5]

Cannell collaborated with Janet Evanovich on the book No Chance, which was to be the first in a series. It was scheduled for release in October 2007, but as of July 2007 was unreleased.[6]

The documentary Dislecksia: The Movie features an interview with Cannell, in which he discusses his struggles with dyslexia and how he manages 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.

Personal life

As of 2009, Cannell lives in Los Angeles. He married his high school sweetheart, Marcia; he "asked her to go steady in the eighth grade".[7] Together they have two daughters, Tawnia and Chelsea, and a son, Cody.[1][7] Their first child, Derek, died in 1981, at age 15, when a sand castle he was building at the beach collapsed and suffocated him.[1]

Cannell is dyslexic, and is a spokesperson on the subject. According to an episode of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, Cannell frequently has to dictate ideas or even complete scripts to a personal secretary. He discusses his experiences as a dyslexic in the upcoming documentary Dislecksia: The Movie.

Cannell continues to write on a typewriter (an IBM Selectric) and only uses a computer for research purposes.





Shane Scully series

  • The Tin Collectors (2001)
  • The Viking Funeral (2002)
  • Hollywood Tough (2003)
  • Vertical Coffin (2004)
  • Cold Hit (2005)
  • White Sister (2006)
  • Three Shirt Deal (2007)
  • On the Grind (2009)

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 c d e f Ford, Luke. "Producer Stephen J. Cannell"
  2. ^
  3. ^ Bio (official site)
  4. ^ Thompson, Robert J. Cannell, Stephen J. - at the Museum of Broadcast Communications
  5. ^ St. Martin's Press press release (undated): On the Grind - A Shane Scully Novel}
  6. ^ No Chance of Evanovich/Cannell Collaboration - at
  7. ^ a b Cannell, Stephen J. On the Grind (St. Martin's Press, 2009), Acknowledgments, p. 306.

External links


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