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October 03, 2010

A Stephen J. Cannell Production

Stephen J. Cannell died last week at the age of 69, and we felt moved to pay tribute to him.


“Is that CANnell-rhymes-with-channel, or CanNELL-rhymes with Chanel?”

483_Laurel7 That’s the first, somewhat gauche question I asked, when I found myself moderating a Q&A that starred Stephen J. Cannell as he accepted the Marlowe Award for Lifetime Achievement from MWA. I was both star-struck and intimidated to be onstage with one of TV’s most prolific talents, but I need not have been. Although he was handsome in a tall, dashing way, and better dressed than I was, three things were quickly apparent about Stephen: he was generous, he was humble, and nothing delighted him more than his family--most of whom were in attendance that day. By the end of the hour I was in love with him. The whole room was. I met him another half dozen times over the years and he was always spectacularly dressed and unfailingly kind. Stephen had dyslexia, which meant he had to work longer and harder than anyone else, but it didn’t stop him from churning out script after script, novel after novel, show after show. He had a great work ethic and a big heart. And of course his name rhymed with channel--where we could always find him. Lucky us. ~Harley


“A Stephen J. Cannell Production”

Instant class. With those words, you knew you would be entertained.  From his huge WISEGUY hits such as THE A-TEAM and WISEGUY to the ones that didn’t catch on for whatever reason (UNSUB predated CRIMINAL MINDS by quite a few years, and in my opinion, was the superior show), Mr. Cannell practically owned network television for a while, and for good reason.

The man was immensely talented, and though I never had the pleasure of personally meeting him, everything I ever heard was he was devoted to his wife and their family, a true gentleman of the Old School, and could make magic. 

Many of us who read this blog know good and well the absolute terror of a Blank Page. Somehow, someway, Mr. Cannell could make the most incredible things happen, and he did it with clockwork regularity. (Harley can vouch for this; network series wait for no one. “Writer’s Block” translates to “Unemployed.”)

Rockfordfilesgarner His ultimate achievement, the one series he will be forever remembered for, is THE ROCKFORD FILES.

Taking every private eye series cliché and standing it on its head, Mr. Cannell created a character that has become legend. Rockford would run from a fight if he could, as opposed to taking out three Bad Guys with one punch. Clients lied to him, their checks bounced, no one ever told him the truth, but somehow Jim Rockford managed to make it all work out in the end. (One of the most frequent questions I get is “Is there such a thing as a realistic PI series?” My reply since I got into this business is “THE ROCKFORD FILES” for all the reasons I just gave, but that’s another story.)

It was Mr. Cannell’s building of the relationships in that series that made it work; Jim’s dad, Rocky, was his best friend, period. Angel Martin could always be counted on to stir things up, always angling for his own advantage, and Jim would forever patiently get him out of trouble. Women came and women went, but Megan Dougherty (yeah, I remember her quite well; as played by the unbelievably beautiful Kathryn Harrold, what man could forget her?!?) regretfully but firmly broke Jim’s heart.  Richie Brockleman, Baby PI, got his own series briefly, a young Tom Selleck as investigator Lance White (the PI who does everything right, and is so cool he can wear white linen suits and never get a spot on them, while Jim is the one getting hit, thrown into the lake, etc.)

It was such an engaging mix of characters and plots and entertainment that the only reason the original series ended was star James Garner was tired, and his health was suffering. Otherwise, the series could have run forever, or at least equal LAW AND ORDER for a nineteen year run.

Mr. Cannell did other series, such as TENSPEED AND BROWNSHOE (which should Johnny_Depp_21_Jump_Street have been a monster hit, thus proving once again William Goldman’s adage “Nobody Knows Anything”), and 21 JUMP STREET, and the list goes on and on and on.

After he conquered television, Mr. Cannell turned to writing novels.  Personal favorite was his first novel KING CON, but his “Shane Scully” series evolved into something remarkable. He has been called “CASTLE’S godfather,” and had appeared on the show at least twice as one of Rick Castle’s poker buddies. His influence on television writing and the craft of novels will last forever.

They say Stephen J. Cannell died last week. If you want to believe that, go right ahead. Those who don’t believe it, just turn on the television or hit the DVD store.  He may have passed away, but he’s not gone. ~William Simon


“Seventh Heaven”

 I'd seen Stephen Cannell several times, and I'd had a few casual conversations with him, and he was always pleasant. I was always a bit in awe, and trying to make sure that I didn't embarrass myself by obviously fawning to a great extent. Then he came to my area of town to speak at a local bookstore. I was stunned when he asked that I introduce him to the crowd. We went to dinner with a small group first, and I did tell him how much I loved his work and admired him. I'll never forget his reply. He had a handsome little rueful smile and he said, "Just keep working hard--I can see that you do that already. The world isn't fair, but, honestly--I know that's what it was with me. I just worked. I worked extra hard. And I see your body of work, so I know you're a kindred spirit."

I think I was in seventh heaven thinking that a man who had accomplished so much would begin to think of me in his sphere.

6a00d8341c630a53ef010535ef8faf970b-800wi Time went by; I saw him again and again through the years, and he never failed to be polite and charming. To me, he was the ultimate in generosity; he was one of those rare people who could accept praise while making those who admired him feel secure and comfortable with themselves as well.

He is not just a great loss as a talent. He is truly a great loss as a human being. I am privileged to have known him. ~Heather





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Thanks for such touching and heartfelt tributes.
To me, The Rockord Files had everything. As soon as you heard the theme music you knew you that you were in for an hour of excitement, fun and adventure.
The characters were smashing.
When Mr. Cannell put the paper into the typewriter, tapped on the keys and give us his imititable smile we were assured of an hour of pure entertainment.

What was your favorite Steven J. Cannell show and character? Here are mine.

My favorite show was “The Greatest American Hero”. A teacher is given a special outfit with super powers by aliens then proceeds to lose the instruction manual. The trial and error was hilarious especially when he learned to fly but the landings usually involved billboards or brick walls.

My favorite Cannell character was “B.A. Baracus” played by Mr. T. To have this terrifying Black enforcer – “Pity the fool!” – be deathly afraid of flying was inspired.

Many giants in our business make success look easy. Perhaps Mr. Cannell was the best at that. He was certainly the best at kindess and generosity.

I agree, he may have passed away but he isn't gone. I clicked on Hulu last night to watch the last episode of Castle's Season 2 just because he was in a poker playing scene. He did have a presences.

Thoughts in Progress

He sounds like a lovely, loverly man. And I'm a huge fan of his work. Another powerful loss in the year of mortality suckage...

It's a sad news but as this blog post is suppose to pay a tribute, I would like to add a few words in this regard.
People who work not only for themselves but for the sake of the nation, country, society or even a little community are always found to be the successful players of their relative fields. Stephen J. Cannell is among those. I m a fan of his work. May his soul rest in peace.

Hi. It's Me, Margie

This guy was totally hot and plus he's a Steve, so how come none of you ever introduced us?

I saw him on Castle but I didn't know he was like a big league writer.

Also - this is totally sad and those are really nice tributes.

Now I think I am going to have my Steve grow a beard.

Hope everybody has a good Monday. I am already cleaning up from certain people who don't seem to understand where to put things or that when you get a message that the printer is out of paper it doesn't mean you just go use another printer. Just saying.

Listen, missy: Stephen was married to his wife for FORTY-SIX YEARS. That fact alone makes him a rarity, especially among rich, famous and handsome Hollywood producers. There are plenty of other Steves in the sea for Me, Margie to . . . swim with.

Thanks, guys, for sharing your memories of someone who seems to have had his values and priorities in order.

The man was amazing, there's no question of that. I sincerely wish I had his talent!

And I'm very curious to see what/if CASTLE does about it. Will they even address it? Or ignore it?

Hummmm. I always thought Me, Margie would be looking for a “Rod”. Oh well, add it to the growing list of shattered illusions.

My favorite Cannell story. Back in the late 1980s I was a young punk know-it-all –- as opposed to my current state of being an old fart know-it-all –- and I was working on a potential TV pilot for him. I was making my case as to why it was impossible to trim a scene any further when he taught me the "Golden Rule" of screenwriting.

“This scene has to end at the bottom of this page.”
“Because,” he said, “at the end of that page the network will want to run a commercial. No commercial; no pay check.”

The one with the gold gets to make the rules.

Off to the airport. I'm skipping Bouchercon this year since my daughter is getting married this coming weekend.

I am so glad you posted this. For somne ungodly reason I did not know that he had died. He was a giant in the industry and I know how much he helped many writers.

Harley, good point! Margie, there are a plenty of unattached Steves, or as a friend once said, "There are enough (bad word here) to go around. We women don't have to fight over each other's (bad word again)."
Rod, good to see you -- you sound like Bill McClellan explaining freedom of the press, "the freedom belongs to the one who owns the press." Felicitations to your daughter -- have a wonderful time!

Stephen visited the Main Library last year.
He was so vibrant that some of the ladies who only read cozy mysteries, now had interest in viewing DVDs of "The A Team."

I missed the talk, but the feedback was extremely positive. I was looking forward to Mr.Cannell's next visit, which, sadly, will not occur in this life time.

And by the way, my favorite was ROCKFORD FILES. I also had a soft spot for WISEGUY for a couple of reasons, but Rockford was a classic. Talk about chicken soup for the TV-viewing soul . . .

OH, how lovely to read this...yes, he was quite a presence. And it does show you how valuable things can last..which means--do a good job every time. Rockford seems like he was real, you know? What a triumph.

Thank you, Heather, WS and Harley.

And oh, yes, Rod--what was the theme song of GAH? It was one of those earworms.. (And hey, congratulations! Send photos..)


Believe it or not, I'm walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free-ee-ee!
Flying away on a wing and a prayer; who could it be?
Believe it or not, it's just me.

(Ok, so I'm not 100% sure those are the correct lyrics...but it should be enough to get it stuck in your head...)

paulabuck: Bullseye


Robert Culp was flawless in this series.

What a legacy. I grew up watching his shows because "Mom said" - Baretta, Rockford, Blacksheep Squadron, Hardcastle & McCormick. All her favorite leading men were in these shows. I grew to love them. Especially Rockford! (I've watched everything James Garner and loved it, because I loved him first in Rockford.)

On my own I watched A-Team, and Commish. But, I'll admit it here - I loved Silk Stalkings. Saw every episode. It was fun and a nice time out from real life. (I've always given USA Channel original series a shot because of being hooked on SS years ago when scripted cable shows weren't so standard.)

Liked his books, but haven't read them all - yet.

Gone, but not forgotten.

The Greatest American Hero got me through the parenting years with the kids.
What great music. I saw Mike Post's credit for the theme song.
I believe Mike Post is credited with The Rockford File Theme also.
What a great bunch of people here..including William, Harley, Heather and backbloggers.
Rod thanks for the memories also.

Still looking for Rockford's trailer on the beach... fresh air... actors who look and sound real... mmm.

Rockford's trailer was parked at 29 Cove Road, Malibu

I loved Rockford, and almost all of Stephen's shows, but my all time favorite was Silk Stalkings. Wish it was still on somewhere.

The great thing about books and TV is as long as I can watch or read them Stephen is still here.

Oh, Me Margie, my psychic said I was supposed to meet a man named Steve or Stephen and he was going to be my soul mate, could you maybe steer a Steve or two my way so I can give them a test drive?

Thanks, Rod... heh!

Rod, will you wear a tux to the wedding? I do hope so.

Harley, can he borrow Bob's?

Sorry to disappoint but Carrie’s soon to be hubby vetoed the tux idea. He is a real throwback to the strong silent type. For me a tux would have been great since finding a tie and locating my suit was a challenge. I’ve been known to go years without even wearing long pants. I love the South. The last time I worn a tie was at Karen from Ohio’s daughter’s graduation from The Citadel a few years back. I only did it then because Holly specifically asked me to and it is difficult to deny any request from a female who has been bestowed with the coveted “Honorary Daughter” status.

And we all appreciated your sacrifice, Rod. Especially since it was 96 degrees that day!

I would do anything for Holly...incuding picking her up 3 different times at the airport after midnight and keeping her favorite cereal in stock. Charleston's loss was Miami's gain. We miss the daylight out of her.

The Rockford Agency original phone book ad:


I heard Stephen Cannell at Sleuthfest in February. He talked about his dyslexia and how he was thrown out of an agent's office because the agent said he would be "another failed screenwriter."
Except he didn't fail. That agent later asked Cannell what he could do to make up for his stupid words. Cannell said, "Promise me you will never step on another person's dream."
Mr. Cannell made many writers' dreams possible. He deserved the love and respect he received -- and more.

Sounds like he was an awesome guy. The Rockford Files was one of my favorite shows, and I, too, loved James Garner because of that show. And I loved the theme song.

Is it true that Cannell wrote the actual books by "Richard Castle" that are out in bookstores, or is that a rumor?

RIP, Mr. Cannell. Thanks for the pleasant memories.

William, what a great link that you provided us with.
The episode descriptions and the agency history is wonderful and I think that I saw most of the episodes.
Thanks, again.

Laura, I thought that Mr. Cannell wrote the Castle faux books, because his is the only blurb on the back cover of 'Heat Wave', which would make a lovely joke, but I'm not sure enough to claim who wrote the books.

Mr. Cannell, thank you for being a fine human being. Thank you for giving my mom many hours of television pleasure to brighten her evenings and cheer her spirits. I hope the two of you get a chance to chat up there. I've got some viewing to catch up on, for which I also thank you.

I like your style of writing. You break it down nicely. Keep these informative posts coming! These posts are a good source for us readers to learn new things.

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