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Stephen Joseph Cannell (February 5, 1941 – September 30, 2010; pronounced /ˈkænəl/, rhymes with "channel") was an American television producer, writer, novelist and occasional actor who is also the founder of Stephen J. Cannell Productions.


Early life and education[]

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

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."

For many years, Cannell's office was at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, though his shows with the exception of Hunter, The Greatest American Hero, Hardcastle and McCormick, and Riptide were almost always distributed by Universal Studios.


The closing logo of his production company consisted of him typing on an IBM Selectric typewriter in an office/study area with bookshelves and awards galore. The camera then pans clockwise from his face to his back. Once the camera is toward Cannell's back. He throws the paper. He is typing on over his head. The paper becomes animated on a black background, and floats downwards, towards a stack of animated papers below. The paper scoops up the top papers in the stack, and forms a "C", while the text of the company is shown above. And depending on the logo is a list of outfits worn by Cannell over the years:

  • 1981: Cannell is wearing a dark colored sweater with white collar shirt, plus he is smoking his pipe.
  • 1983: Cannell is wearing a blue jean jacket and white flannel shirt over a black turtleneck, plus he is smoking his pipe.
  • 1984: Cannell is wearing a black jacket and dark colored sweater over white collar shirt, no pipe this time, as Cannell quit smoking in later years.
  • 1985: Cannell is wearing a white and gray striped flannel shirt.
  • 1987: Cannell is wearing a casual black polo shirt, with white stripes.
  • 1989: Cannell is wearing a vermilion polo shirt, with the collar stuck up.
  • 1996: Cannell is wearing a black sweater.
  • 2004: Cannell is wearing a black jacket with a black turtleneck.

Early examples are also notable for Cannell smoking his pipe while typing. In 1984, the pipe was dropped, because Cannell quit smoking. The logo has become part of American pop culture and has been parodied on 30 Rock, Family Guy, and The Simpsons. Following Cannell's death, the Castle Season 3 episode "Punked" showed Cannell's logo with the words "Colleague, Mentor, Friend" while he is typing and then "We'll miss you, pal" superimposed over the sheet of paper, but the stack of paper is absent, and the lone sheet floats down towards the bottom and out of view.

Personal life[]

From 2009, Cannell lived in Los Angeles. He married his high school sweetheart, Marcia; he "asked her to go steady in the eighth grade".[2] Together they had two daughters, Tawnia and Chelsea, and two sons, Cody and Derek. Derek died in 1981 at age 15 when a sand castle he was building at the beach collapsed and suffocated him.[3]

Cannell was dyslexic, and was a spokesman on the subject. According to an episode of Paul Harvey's The Rest of the Story, Cannell frequently had to dictate ideas or even complete scripts to a personal secretary. He discussed his experiences as a dyslexic in the 2009 documentary Dislecksia: The Movie.

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


Cannell died September 30, 2010, from complications of melanoma.[4]


  1. Bio (official site)
  2. Cannell, Stephen J. On the Grind (St. Martin's Press, 2009), Acknowledgments, p. 306.
  3. Pasadena Weekly, Telling tales: 'Over-performer’ Stephen J. Cannell takes over mystery book writing much the way he conquered episodic TV 2010-03-11. Retrieved 2010-10-02.
  4. Yahoo News – AP News Article Concerning His Death

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