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

By Robert J. Thompson | Go to book overview

3 Adventures about Prime Time

There are several themes and motifs that characterize the work of Stephen Cannell. As with many artists, much of his work comes right out of his own autobiography, and one can see his shows, without too much of an interpretive stretch, as allegories about his life in television. To be sure, any interpretation says as much about the reader (or viewer) as it does about the artist, but when one looks at all of Cannell's work together, one can conjecture with some confidence that one of the reasons he is able to write as frequently and as fast as he does is by mixing and matching elements from his own life story to form television episodes. Sometimes an entire series idea will appear autobiographical ( The Greatest American Hero, about an underachiever who suddenly finds himself in a position of great power), whereas at other times it is just a piece of surface detail (the protagonist in The Rousters has a form of dyslexia). Taken as an entire body of work, however, Cannell's episodes seem to present something of a portrait of himself, a portrait of a television hyphenate.

Cannell's ideas, like those of many producers in television, are generated primarily from other television programs. Traditional cultural genres are invoked, but it is usually TV's version of those genres that is recycled and perpetuated in the new programs. Hyphenates often place a personal identifying stamp on these programs by filtering these old formulas through their individual sensibilities, and Cannell's principal "filter" is his own life story. He tells familiar stories in traditional televisual modes, but these stories are often informed by material from his own experiences in television.

The story of Stephen Cannell's career--which concerns an average (and in many ways below-average) person who finds himself in the unlikely position of being deep in the complexities of Hollywood television--pops up, in some

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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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