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

By Robert J. Thompson | Go to book overview
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4 Cannell's Adventures at Universal: An Apprentice in a Sausage Factory

Roy Huggins called Universal Television "the paradigm of television production companies." 1 Huggins--Stephen Cannell's boss on Toma, The Rockford Files, Baretta, and City of Angels ( NBC, 1976) and later his employee on Hunter--was no stranger to Universal when he made this statement. After a stint at Warner Brothers Television, where he created and produced for shows like Cheyenne ( ABC, 1955-63), Colt .45 ( ABC, 1957-60), Maverick, and 77 Sunset Strip ( ABC, 1958-64), Huggins became a creator-producer-corporate vice president at Universal Television in 1962. There he was responsible for creating and/or producing such series as The Virginian ( NBC, 1962-71), Alias Smith and Jones ( ABC, 1972-73), The Lawyers ( NBC, 1969-72), Run for Your Life ( NBC, 1965-68), as well as the series cited above that he did with Cannell. 2

Anyone who watches films or television is familiar with the spinning planet of the Universal production logo. If you compare the planetary scale of Universal's logo (and name) with the scale of the logo for Stephen J. Cannell Productions (a single man typing in a small office), you begin to get a feel for the enormity of the Universal operation in the years between 1964 and 1980. For many of those years, Universal was the leading supplier of television product to the networks and to local stations through syndication. 3

Universal Television was officially formed in 1964 after its parent company, MCA, Inc., was forced to divest itself of one of its holdings. In the early 1950s, MCA, a talent agency, began producing an assortment of television series through a production arm called Revue Productions. By 1959, already deeply entrenched in television production, MCA was able to purchase the enormous lot and the soundstages of Universal Pictures and, shortly thereafter,

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