One of the most successful creatives ever to work in the television business has died. Rockford Files and The A-Team and 38 other shows producer and writer Stephen J. Cannell passed away at his home in Pasadena last night due to complications associated with melanoma. “He was surrounded by his family and loved ones,” his family said. He was 69. Cannell also was the bestselling author of sixteen novels, most recently the critically acclaimed Shane Scully series and the newest installment, The Prostitute’s Ball, will be released on October 12th.
The Emmy and People’s Choice award-winner was also a savvy businessman. In 1979, he formed his own independent production company, Stephen J. Cannell Productions, in order to achieve creative control over material he was writing and producing. Seven years later, he formed The Cannell Studios to oversee all aspects of the organization’s operations. Having surpassed the $1 billion mark in production outlays, the studio experienced remarkable growth and diversification in producing films, mini-series, and commercials, merchandising, and first-run/off-network programming. As Chairman of Cannell Studios, Cannell fought his entire career to protect independent TV production from being swallowed up by the networks. Unfortunately, his was a Quixotic quest against Big Media’s power.
Still, in a career that spanned three decades, he created or co-created more than 40 shows, of which he scripted more than 450 episodes, and produced or executive produced more than 1,500 episodes. His hits included The Rockford Files, Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, Hunter, Riptide, Hardcastle & McCormick, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, The Commish, Profit, and the hit syndicated shows, Renegade and Silk Stalkings. Cannell still owns the worldwide distribution rights to more than 1,000 hours of Cannell-produced series and TV movie’s.
Cannell was less successful bringing his TV shows to the big screen. Unfortunately, Fox’s release of The A-Team this summer as a major motion picture was also a major disappointment for the studio and filmmakers as well as Cannell who received a “crated by” credit. One reason the film’s too-long development process that included no less than 11 writers got so screwed up is that the then studio executive in charge of the film, Alex Young, did everything possible to keep Cannell away from the project even though he was the genius behind the TV show who had script and story approval on the pic. Finally, director Joe Carnahan brought Cannell back into the process, but it was too late. Despite Cannell’s illness, his studio is developing new television projects and producing a slate of independent films as well as feature films of Cannell TV shows including 21 Jump Street and The Greatest American Hero.
Instantly recognizable from linking his face to his shows (that shot of Cannell running paper through a typewriter as if he’d just finished another TV script was his signature), Cannell also made many TV cameos and, as an actor, had a recurring role on ABC’s Castle.
Additionally, Cannell was the author of the novels The Pallbearers, On The Grind, Three Shirt Deal, White Sister, Cold Hit, Vertical Coffin, Hollywood Tough, The Viking Funeral, and The Tin Collectors. At First Sight, Runaway Heart, The Devil’s Workshop, Riding the Snake, King Con, Final Victim, and The Plan.
During recent years, Cannell received numerous career honors including the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award from the Writers Guild of America, and the Marlowe Lifetime Achievement Award from Mystery Writers of America, the NATPE Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award, multiple Saturn awards, the 2008 Final Draft Hall of Fame Award, which recognizes entertainment industry luminaries who foster the art of screenwriting, as well as the Caucus for Writers, Producers and Directors Producer award. Having overcome severe dyslexia, Cannell was spokesperson on the condition and an advocate for children and adults with learning disabilities. His web site is www.cannell.com.