In April 1986, Stephen J. Cannell Productions had six series on the air. Less than a year later, that number was down to two, Hunter and Stingray, the last of which would be canceled soon. Cannell's slate was cleaner then than it had been in quite some time, even though his staff, at about 1,500, was larger than ever.
Stephen J. Cannell Productions introduced some shows in the traditional style after 1986-- J. J. Starbuck ( NBC, 1987-88), Sonny Spoon ( NBC, 1988-89), and UNSUB ( NBC, 1989)--but all of them earned very low ratings. Several other pilots failed to be picked up as series. The company was clearly in a transitional period, and the automatic successes to which Cannell was so accustomed were no longer guaranteed.
But Cannell began to cultivate many new markets in the late 1980s. The Fox Broadcasting Company, the unofficial "fourth network," began airing a Cannell series in April 1987. 21 Jump Street, an action-adventure concerning a group of juvenile-looking adults who act as undercover cops in a tough urban high school, resurrected a premise we had not seen on TV since The Mod Squad. 21 Jump Street has been one of the Fox network's most successful shows, and its ratings have climbed steadily since its debut. The show received a good deal of publicity when it edged CBS's 60 Minutes in the ratings in some cities. Stephen J. Cannell Productions also began efforts to enter the cable market in 1987 with a half-hour pilot for HBO called Byte the Bullet, which deals with two young people in the computer business.
The latest projects coming out of Cannell's studios are unique not only because they are being sold to new buyers but also because they are in new genres. A concerted effort is being made by the studio to diversify its output