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TRIBUTE: Stephen J. Cannell
October 2, 2010  | By Diane Werts
 
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[SEE TWO UPDATES AT END]

At least we'll still see the pages flying out of his typewriter for years to come.

Producer Stephen J. Cannell, who died at age 69 Thursday night of complications from melanoma, leaves behind a body of TV shows that's right up there with prolific tube titans like Aaron Spelling.

Cannell creations include critical faves like The Rockford Files and Wiseguy, crowdpleasers like The A Team and Baretta, star-finders like Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (Jeff Goldblum) and The Commish (Michael Chiklis).

And there's also his self creation. Cannell himself resonated as a dyslexic who churned out words, a tougher-than nails personality who played the heavy in his Lorenzo Lamas actioner Renegade, and a hard-boiled mystery novelist in later years, familiar from blunt-speaking talk show gigs.

Most enduring will be Cannell's show-ending credits cameo -- pounding away at his typewriter and pulling out the finished page to fly into an animated stack of scripts.

Cannell (pronounced CANN-ell) justified that last personal preen by churning out hundreds of scripts and dozens of series, building his own mini-studio (the high-rise Cannell building looms over Hollywood), and mentoring writers like David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, and Steven Bochco.

Though Cannell is best known for action-packed long-runs like A Team and Silk Stalkings, critics respected him for sticking behind more risky, cerebral mold-breakers like Wiseguy and Profit.

Most lately, Cannell made sure his wholly owned series were available in affordable DVD sets, working with low-cost distributor Mill Creek Entertainment. Some fans resented his replacement of original music to which disc rights were prohibitively expensive. But others were thrilled to get complete series sets like The Greatest American Hero for $30, 21 Jump Street for $70, and (mostly complete) Wiseguy for $45. (Complete sets of both The Commish and Renegade come out Oct. 12 at $70 each.)

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Tubeheads like me admired Cannell for deeper releases like his recent Prime Time Crime box, just $30 for 10 discs including sample episodes from nine series like Wiseguy and The Commish, plus the entire short-runs of his Missing Persons, Palace Guard, Broken Badges and UNSUB.

Prices listed are full retail. You can get most of these DVD sets for much less at Amazon.com.

Also available are Cannell's mystery novels.

UPDATE -- Here's a smart obit from Deadline Hollywood that spotlights Cannell's business savvy in the independent production world.

2ND UPDATE -- And an exceptionally warm tribute from my current favorite TV brain, Jaime Weinman. He appreciates Cannell as a writer whose sharp scripts were savvy "re-examinations of their own genre." Who knew The Greatest American Hero was so profound?

 

1 Comment

 

Amiee said:

Wow. Most of my childhood belonged to this man. I think I watched (and liked) every single show he created.

 
 
 
 
 
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