Adventures on Prime Time: The Television Programs of Stephen J. Cannell

By Robert J. Thompson | Go to book overview

which leaves only the texts and speculations about them. This study is an attempt to tease out some of Cannell's creative influences from the assortment of influences that may have gone into the production of each of his shows by looking for themes, characters, ideas, and concerns that run through all of Cannell's work. Much of what we find, however, may not be unique to Cannell's shows nor unimpeachable evidence of Cannell's pen. He has written hundreds of television episodes, and it would be possible to find isolated lines and fragments from them to support nearly any assertion; similarly, one could take the themes and concerns I am about to attribute to Cannell and prove that he wrote Hamlet.

But that is the nature of interpretation, and such limitations should not necessarily reduce us to silence. While they will remain speculative, enough evidence will be brought in to make the conclusions plausible. Cannell does not confess to the nature of his creativity; so the evidence we use in examining it is at best circumstantial. Nevertheless, a consistency of themes, characters, ideas, and styles that are found throughout all of Cannell's work does indicate that he has been in creative control of the production environments he works within. His methods, like most in television, may be recombinant, but it is clear that he is the one dictating the nature of that recombination. Our goal is to juxtapose biographical information about Cannell with the texts he wrote and produced and to examine the fit.


NOTES
1.
Stephen J. Cannell, interviewed in "Roundtable: Stephen J. Cannell", View 6, no. 4 ( March 1985): p. 49.
2.
1984 Emmy Awards Presentation, broadcast live on the CBS Television Network, September 23, 1984.
3.
Todd Gitlin, Inside Prime Time ( New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), p. 76.
4.
Stephen J. Cannell in a videotaped interview with Gary Deeb, Hollywood, CA, October 18, 1984.
5.
Quoted in Harry F. Waters with Janet Huck, "The Merchant of Mayhem", Newsweek, March 12, 1984, p. 91.
6.
Stephen Cannell related this information in an interview with Merrill Shindler. See Shindler, "Okay, Cannell, Come Clean!!" Los Angeles Magazine, October 1983, p. 223. Since the start of his career, of course, his opportunities to write in other media, especially films, have increased greatly. Unlike many televisionmakers, however, who consider film a much more desirable medium in which to work, Cannell has resisted the shift from television to features. One reason for this is that he stands to make a great deal of money by continuing to develop and produce series for television. The other reason is that Cannell is a writer, and as discussed in the previous chapter, television is in many ways a writer's medium.

Cannell said in the same interview:

I like television, because it's an industry basically controlled by writers. Somebody like me could never have happened in the motion-picture industry, where things are basically controlled by direc

-30-

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Adventures on Prime Time: The Television Programs of Stephen J. Cannell
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Media and Society Series ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Copyright Acknowledgment iv
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - The Television Auteur 1
  • Notes 18
  • 2 - A Television Auteur 23
  • Notes 30
  • 3 - Adventures About Prime Time 33
  • Notes 47
  • 4 - Cannell's Adventures at Universal: An Apprentice in a Sausage Factory 51
  • Notes 82
  • 5 - Autobiographical Adventures: The Early Days of Stephen J. Cannell Productions 87
  • Notes 106
  • 6 - Beyond Autobiography: Manufacturing Television 109
  • Notes 129
  • 7 - The Further Adventures of Stephen Cannell 131
  • Notes 134
  • Selected Bibliography 135
  • Index 137
  • About the Author 145
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