Stephen J. Cannell

Show Creator / Producer / Writer


The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Foundation Presents

02:26

Tab

About
About this interview

In his three-and-a-half-hour Archive interview, Stephen J. Cannell (1941-2010) talks about the challenges of battling dyslexia and using his innate storytelling ability to break into the television business. He describes his work with Jack Webb on the series Adam-12 for which he served as head writer/story editor. He discusses his continued work in series television as a creator/producer, on such series as Toma, Baretta, Baa-Baa Blacksheep, and one of the biggest hits of the 1970s, The Rockford Files. For Rockford, he talks about creating the series, selling it to the network, and working with series star James Garner. He speaks in great detail about his hit series of the 1980s and 90s, which included The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, and The Commish. Throughout the interview, Cannell discusses his approach to storytelling and characterization as well as the processes involved in producing a series for television. Stephen J. Abramson conducted the interview on June 23, 2004 in Pasadena, CA.

"I don't struggle because I was always the stupidest kid in the class and the idea that I would ever be brilliant was knocked out of me in the third grade. So I'm not sitting around trying to be brilliant or Shakespeare. I'm just trying to get the work I have in my head down on the page in the best way I possibly know how without putting that horrible pressure on myself of saying 'I'm going to write it today and in 200 years at Princeton they will be studying these words.' Yeah, I want my stuff to be as good as I can conceivably make it, but I am not going to put that on my head." 

People Talking About ...
Highlights
Stephen J. Cannell on deciding to become a writer
Stephen J. Cannell on bringing James Garner on to play "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files, and on selling the show to ABC
Stephen J. Cannell on what James Garner brought to the role of "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on difficulties with Robert Blake during the run of Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song to The Greatest American Hero
Stephen J. Cannell on the genesis of 21 Jump Street and working with a newly created Fox network
Full Interview

Chapter 1

On his early life and influences; on being diagnosed with dyslexia
On his earliest memories of television, and his mentor Roy Huggins; on deciding what he wanted to do as a career; on deciding to become a writer

Chapter 2

On a college teacher praising his talent, which led to him pursuing a writing career; on how his first job in television came about; on being hired to write for Adam-12 and becoming the head writer within a week
On working at KTLA; on his first script sale, to It Takes a Thief; on working with the writing staff of Adam-12 as head writer
On creating the unsold pilot Chase for producer Jack Webb at the behest of Sid Sheinberg; on writing quirky characters; on producer Jo Swerling Jr.

Chapter 3

On producer Jo Swerling Jr.; on what he learned from Roy Huggins
On creating The Rockford Files with Roy Huggins; on bringing James Garner on to play "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files, and on selling the show to ABC; on ABC's initial concerns about The Rockford Files
On writing for Toma; on "Jim Rockford" as an anti-hero on The Rockford Files ; on The Rockford Files making the transition from movie of the week to series

Chapter 4

On working with James Garner as "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files, and on his ability to "save" a subpar script; on Tom Selleck as "Lance White" on The Rockford Files; on the answering machine opening to each episode of The Rockford Files
On Mike Post's theme song for The Rockford Files; on "Jim Rockford's" car on The Rockford Files; on "Jim Rockford's" home, Paradise Cove in Malibu, on The Rockford Files
On coming up with stories for The Rockford Files; on the evolution of "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files; on what he learned from The Rockford Files and from working with David Chase and Juanita Bartlett

Chapter 5

On Rita Moreno as "Rita Capkovic," a character created by Juanita Bartlett on The Rockford Files; on the popularity of "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files; on creating Richie Brockelman, Private Eye with Steven Bochco, starring Dennis Dugan
On creating Baretta starring Robert Blake; on Robert Blake as "Tony Baretta" on Baretta; on the cockatoo "Fred" on Baretta
On the title and concept of Baretta; on the theme song and catch phrases of Baretta
On difficulties with Robert Blake during the run of Baretta; on creating Baa-Baa Black Sheep

Chapter 6

On creating Baa-Baa Black Sheep; on leaving Universal Television to start his own production company; on creating and producing Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, the first series from Stephen J. Cannell Productions
On going seriously over budget with Tenspeed and Brownshoe; on growing Stephen J. Cannell Productions to become the third largest studio in television with the help of his father on the board of directors; on the premise of Tenspeed and Brownshoe starring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum
On his knack for casting the right people in the right roles; on creating and producing The Greatest American Hero; on Mike Post's theme song to The Greatest American Hero

Chapter 7

On the theme song of The Greatest American Hero becoming a hit; on creating and producing The A-Team starring Mr. T and George Peppard; on creating and producing Hunter
On the genesis of 21 Jump Street and working with a newly created Fox network; on the creation of Hardcastle and McCormick starring Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh Kelly; on creating and producing Wiseguy starring Ken Wahl

Chapter 8

On creating and producing The Commish starring Michael Chiklis; on leaving television and on then-current projects
On writing novels, and on the kind of writer he is; on his daily schedule when he's writing a script for an television episode
On the tools and physical methods he uses to write; on the famous Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo

Chapter 9

On his writing process and how it's developed over the years; on how the television industry has changed since he started; on advice to an aspiring television writer
On career achievements and regrets; on being a mentor to young television writers
On television's responsibility to its audience; on how he would like to be remembered
Shows

21 Jump Street

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on the genesis of 21 Jump Street and working with a newly created Fox network starring Johnny Depp

A-Team, The

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The A-Team starring Mr. T and George Peppard

Adam-12

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on being hired to write for Adam-12 and becoming the head writer within a week
Stephen J. Cannell on working for Jack Webb on Adam-12, and on meeting Roy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell on working with the writing staff of Adam-12 as head writer
Stephen J. Cannell on the premise of Adam-12 starring Martin Milner and Kent McCord

Baa-Baa Black Sheep

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Baa-Baa Black Sheep
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Baa-Baa Black Sheep

Baretta

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Baretta starring Robert Blake
Stephen J. Cannell on Robert Blake as "Tony Baretta" on Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on the cockatoo "Fred" on Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on the title and concept of Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on the theme song and catch phrases of Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on difficulties with Robert Blake during the run of Baretta

Commish, The

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The Commish starring Michael Chiklis

Greatest American Hero, The

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The Greatest American Hero, along with Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner
Stephen J. Cannell on casting William Katt as "Ralph Hinkley" on The Greatest American Hero
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song to The Greatest American Hero
Stephen Cannell on Mike Post's theme of The Greatest American Hero becoming a hit

Hardcastle and McCormick

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on the creation of Hardcastle and McCormick starring Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh Kelly

Hunter

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing Hunter

It Takes a Thief

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on his first script sale, to Universal Television's It Takes a Thief

Richie Brockelman, Private Eye

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Richie Brockelman, Private Eye starring Dennis Dugan with Steven Bochco

Rockford Files, The

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating The Rockford Files with Roy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell on bringing James Garner on to play "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files, and on selling the show to ABC
Stephen J. Cannell on ABC's initial concerns about The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on "Jim Rockford" as an anti-hero on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on The Rockford Files making the transition from movie of the week to series
Stephen J. Cannell on working with James Garner as "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files, and on his ability to "save" a subpar script
Stephen J. Cannell on what James Garner brought to the role of "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on Tom Selleck as "Lance White" on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on the answering machine opening to each episode of The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song for The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on "Jim Rockford's" car on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on "Jim Rockford's" home, Paradise Cove in Malibu, on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on coming up with stories for The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on the evolution of "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on what he learned from The Rockford Files and from working with David Chase and Juanita Bartlett
Stephen J. Cannell on Rita Moreno as "Rita Capkovic", a character created by Juanita Bartlett on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on the popularity of "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files

Tenspeed and Brown Shoe

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, the first series from Stephen J. Cannell Productions
Stephen J. Cannell on going seriously over budget with Tenspeed and Brownshoe
Stephen J. Cannell on the premise of Tenspeed and Brownshoe starring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum

Toma

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on writing for Toma

Wiseguy

View Show Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing Wiseguy starring Ken Wahl
Topics

Advice

View Topic
Steven J. Cannell on advice to an aspiring television writer

Characters & Catchphrases

View Topic
Stephen J. Cannell on the theme song and catch phrases of Baretta

Creative Influences and Inspiration

View Topic
Stephen J. Cannell on producer Jo Swerling Jr.
Stephen J. Cannell on producer Jo Swerling Jr.
Stephen J. Cannell on what he learned from Roy Huggins
Steven J. Cannell on being a mentor to young television writers

Pivotal Career Moments

View Topic
Stephen J. Cannell on producer Jo Swerling Jr.
Stephen J. Cannell on producer Jo Swerling Jr.
Stephen J. Cannell on what he learned from Roy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell on leaving Universal Television to start his own production company
Steven J. Cannell on being a mentor to young television writers

Pop Culture

View Topic
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song for The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on "Jim Rockford's" Sierra gold Firebird on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on the cockatoo "Fred" on Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on the theme song and catch phrases of Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song to The Greatest American Hero
Stephen Cannell on the theme song of The Greatest American Hero becoming a hit
Stephen J. Cannell on the famous Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo

Studio and Network Management

View Topic
Stephen J. Cannell on leaving Universal Television to start his own production company
Stephen J. Cannell on growing Stephen J. Cannell Productions to become the third largest studio in television with the help of his father on the board of directors

TV Theme Songs

View Topic
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song for The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on the theme song and catch phrases of Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song to The Greatest American Hero
Stephen Cannell on the theme song of The Greatest American Hero becoming a hit

Television Industry

View Topic
Stephen J. Cannell on leaving Universal Television to start his own production company
Stephen J. Cannell on growing Stephen J. Cannell Productions to become the third largest studio in television with the help of his father on the board of directors
Steven J. Cannell on how the television industry has changed since he started
Steven J. Cannell on advice to an aspiring television writer
Steven J. Cannell on television's responsibility to its audience
Professions

Executives

View Profession
Stephen J. Cannell on his knack for casting the right people in the right roles

Show Creators

View Profession
Stephen J. Cannell on his knack for casting the right people in the right roles

Television Executive

View Profession
Stephen J. Cannell on his knack for casting the right people in the right roles

Writers

View Profession
Stephen J. Cannell on writing quirky characters
Stephen J. Cannell on his knack for casting the right people in the right roles
Stephen J. Cannell on his daily schedule when he's writing a script for an television episode
Stephen J. Cannell on the tools and physical methods he uses to write
Stephen J. Cannell on his writing process and how it's developed over the years
Steven J. Cannell on advice to an aspiring television writer
Genres

Adventure/Espionage Series

View Genre
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The Greatest American Hero
Stephen Cannell on the theme song of The Greatest American Hero becoming a hit
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The A-Team

Cop/Detective/Mystery Series

View Genre
Stephen J. Cannell on writing for Adam-12
Stephen J. Cannell on creating The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on writing for Toma
Stephen J. Cannell on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Richie Brockelman, Private Eye with Steven Bochco
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Baa-Baa Black Sheep
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing Hunter
Stephen J. Cannell on the genesis of 21 Jump Street and working with a newly created Fox network
Stephen J. Cannell on the creation of Hardcastle and McCormick starring Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh Kelly
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing Wiseguy starring Ken Wahl
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The Commish

Drama Series

View Genre
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Baa-Baa Black Sheep
People

Juanita Bartlett

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on what he learned from The Rockford Files and from working with David Chase and Juanita Bartlett
Stephen J. Cannell on Rita Moreno as "Rita Capkovic", a character created by Juanita Bartlett on The Rockford Files

Robert Blake

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Baretta starring Robert Blake
Stephen J. Cannell on Robert Blake as "Tony Baretta" on Baretta
Stephen J. Cannell on difficulties with Robert Blake during the run of Baretta

Steven Bochco

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Richie Brockelman, Private Eye with Steven Bochco, starring Dennis Dugan

Marcy Carsey

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The Greatest American Hero, along with Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner

David Chase

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on what he learned from The Rockford Files and from working with David Chase and Juanita Bartlett

Michael Chiklis

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on the genesis of The Commish

Dennis Dugan

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating Richie Brockelman, Private Eye with Steven Bochco, starring Dennis Dugan

James Garner

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on bringing James Garner on to play "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files, and on selling the show to ABC
Stephen J. Cannell on working with James Garner as "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files, and on his ability to "save" a subpar script
Stephen J. Cannell on what James Garner brought to the role of "Jim Rockford" on The Rockford Files

Jeff Goldblum

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on the premise of Tenspeed and Brownshoe starring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum

Roy Huggins

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on meeting Roy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell on what he learned from Roy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell on creating The Rockford Files with Roy Huggins

William Katt

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on casting William Katt as "Ralph Hinkley" on The Greatest American Hero

Brian Keith

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on the creation of Hardcastle and McCormick starring Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh Kelly

Rita Moreno

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on Rita Moreno as "Rita Capkovic", a character created by Juanita Bartlett on The Rockford Files

George Peppard

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The A-Team starring Mr. T and George Peppard

Mike Post

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song for The Rockford Files
Stephen J. Cannell on Mike Post's theme song to The Greatest American Hero
Stephen Cannell on Mike Post's theme of The Greatest American Hero becoming a hit

Jeff Sagansky

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on the genesis of The Commish

Tom Selleck

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on Tom Selleck as "Lance White" on The Rockford Files

Sid Sheinberg

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating the unsold pilot Chase for producer Jack Webb at the behest of Sid Sheinberg

Mr. T.

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The A-Team starring Mr. T and George Peppard

Ben Vereen

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on the premise of Tenspeed and Brownshoe starring Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum

Jack Webb

View Person Page
Stephen J. Cannell on working for Jack Webb on Adam-12, and on meeting Roy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell on creating the unsold pilot Chase for producer Jack Webb at the behest of Sid Sheinberg

Tom Werner

View Interview Page
Stephen J. Cannell on creating and producing The Greatest American Hero, along with Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner

All Interviews

S