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

By Robert J. Thompson | Go to book overview

1 The Television Auteur

Creation in television is an issue of power. Not just imaginative power or intellectual power or creative power but organizational, occupational, and entrepreneurial power as well. Before one can place one's individual stamp on a series on American commercial television, 1 one must have the power to invest (or more often, to get someone else to invest) millions of dollars on the production of a pilot that will very likely never get on the air; one must have the power to dictate to the networks rather than take dictation from them; one must have the power to mobilize a large creative work force to do one's bidding. It takes hundreds of people to get a television show made and put on the air, and real creative opportunity comes when one is in a position to direct this large work force toward one's own ends. In commercial television, the prerequisite for creative opportunity and freedom is clout.

Creation in television is also an issue of recombining: of telling old stories in new ways and sometimes of telling old stories in old ways. Todd Gitlin book Inside Prime Time2 describes a medium in which economic mandates, time constraints, and a host of other conditions in the television industry have resulted in most programs being directly derivative of previous successful shows and formulas. 3 Horace Newcomb and Paul Hirsch, borrowing from Marshall Sahlins and Levi-Strauss, call the televisionmaker a "bricoleur," a creator who mixes and matches familiar cultural elements to make new combinations to which he or she expects audiences to respond favorably. 4

That television programs are striking examples of recombinant bricolage is clear enough. Elements of previously successful shows are recombined all the time to make "new" shows. The interesting question is, Who is the bricoleur? The creative process in television concerns recombinant ingredients as they are

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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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