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

By Robert J. Thompson | Go to book overview

to graft traditional auteurist methodologies onto television. Because Stephen J. Cannell is powerful and prolific, he makes a useful organizing principle around which to study a large body of television programs. The goal of this approach is more taxonomical than theoretical. It is not an attempt, like Sarris's was, to continue to propagate the notion of "one work, one artist" but rather a means of beginning to sort out the largely unclassified medium of commercial television.

In spite of its swarms of creative and constraining personnel, even American television has some individuals working in it who, because of the organizational power they possess, fall into what Sarris might call the television "pantheon." They hire, pay, and control a body of people who turn out programs that reflect some internal consistency. While I recognize that every television program I examine in the following pages came about as a result of the efforts of a large group of people and institutions, I also recognize the fact that someone has to be held accountable for it. Just as writing in the passive verb tense can tend to relieve anyone of responsibility for the statements being made ("It has been decided that your services will no longer be needed by our company"), completely abandoning the concept of authorship will always reduce us to complaining about "television" and not about the people who make it. When young children were killed during the filming of the motion picture The Twilight Zone, the court needed someone to try and in doing so became an auteurist in choosing to summon director John Landis.


NOTES
1.
Series television will be the principal subject of this study. See note 12.
2.
Todd Gitlin, Inside Prime Time ( New York: Pantheon Books, 1983).
3.
Words like successful and failure must be used with care in talking about commercial television. Throughout this study, a show will be referred to as a "success" or a "failure" as those words are interpreted by the television industry. In commercial television, a successful show is one that has high ratings relative to all other shows being aired. The narrow range of this definition must be remembered. For example, the 1986-87 ABC documentary series Our World may have been successful as a popular history of American society, and it was even successful in appealing to the millions of people that faithfully watched it every week. It came in last place in the Nielsen ratings, however, and was therefore a "failure" in the eyes of the network.
4.
Horace M. Newcomb and Paul Hirsch, "Television as a Cultural Forum: Implications for Research", in William D. Rowland Jr., and Bruce Watkins (eds.), Interpreting Television: Current Research Perspectives ( Beverly Hills, CA: Sage, 1984).
5.

In the category above-the-line will be found those jobs and services which are creative. The people in this group are usually called the staff. Below-the-line takes in those tasks and services that are technical or relate to hardware. People working below-the-line are referred to as the crew.

From Bob Shanks, The Cool Fire ( New York: Vintage Books, 1977), p. 21.
6.
Howard Becker, Art Worlds ( Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), p. 192.

-18-

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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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