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

By Robert J. Thompson | Go to book overview

6 Beyond Autobiography: Manufacturing Television

The appearance of The A-Team was a turning point for Stephen J. Cannell and his company. As the 1982-83 season opened, Stephen J. Cannell Productions was in serious financial trouble. Tenspeed and Brownshoe, the company's first series, had been off the air for almost two years, a ratings debacle; The Greatest American Hero was entering its jejune third season and losing money on every episode; the cancellation of the company's only new show of the season, The Quest, was imminent almost before the first episode had aired. The latter two shows were receiving a thorough routing every week, scheduled as they were against CBS's blockbuster Friday night lineup, which was just reaching its ratings prime with Dallas and Falcon Crest. All the hit series Cannell had been associated with had been done before he started his own company, and it was starting to look like he might have left his magic touch back at the office at Universal. So bearing in mind the over 400 employees he had working for him on series whose cancellations were nearly a fait accompli, the prodigal son returned. Back to fulfill an old obligation that was part of a deal made when he left Universal, Cannell entered into a distribution agreement with MCA, Universal's distributing arm, for his next series. With the appearance of that series, The A-Team, Cannell was suddenly on top again. By the end of the 1983-84 season, the show was the fourth-highest-rated series on television, the greatest commercial success any Cannell show ever achieved, before or since.

The success of The A-Team changed the way Cannell made television. His company's product was suddenly one of the most sought after in the business, and in order to support the indulgent and expensive independence he insisted on having, he was obliged to make as many series as he could. But before long, the small, personal approach to TV that had characterized Tenspeed andBrownshoe

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