A Tribute to Stephen J. Cannell

We live in a new world where the news of a celebrity death spreads almost instantaneously. So quick in fact, that it becomes a trend…until the next “I love Justin Bieber” comment is posted.

I guess I’ve come to accept this, but what really gets to me is how the impact of certain deaths is all but lost.

This week we lost someone who has been a major influence in my life.

Those who know me better know I’m always watching a classic TV series at any given time. More often than not it’s a series that was created by the great Stephen J. Cannell.

Growing up in such turmoil I found so much solace in the world of movies and TV…I found escapism and I found heroes.

Stephen J. Cannell was responsible for more good memories growing up than any friend or family member I ever had, and for that reason he was a mentor of sorts to me.

So many days went by that were like nightmares, but come 7pm on a particular evening, for one hour at least, life was perfect.

Now the obvious show to idolize at the time was The A-team. In fact, whilst I’m typing this column, I’m staring at my original A-Team figures on display…its quite surreal.

As a kid, the A-team was larger than life, long before Mike Tyson coined the phrase, BA Baracus was the baddest man on the planet. Murdock was crazy cool. Face was like your own older brother who got the girls, and Hannibal, well he was “the man” when he was on the jazz. All these characters were so perfectly written that they achieved iconic status.

Nowadays I appreciate the humour and the writing in the series more than I did as a kid. Back then, it was all about the explosions and disguises (remember Hannibal’s alligator suit? Epic.)

I had seen most of Cannell’s shows in part of the years, but as I grew older, I began to identify his style and relate to it.

He was a guy’s guy. He made strong male role models. Guys who had morals but weren’t afraid to break the rules to help out someone in need. Much like me.

The TV show that had the single greatest influence on me – until the horrendous final season- , was 21 Jump Street.

It oozed cool. It oozed class.
And it oozed Johnny Depp.

Of course we won’t go into my man crush for Depp (you all know about that already), but the show was my first “mature” show. If my memory serves me correctly, it was always on in later time slot…about 9pm. As a school kid, I had to beg endlessly to stay up late to watch it.

I watch the DVDs on a regular basis, and find that the show as way ahead of its time. It dealt with harsh subject matters, which even today some shows dare not tackle.

It’s first few seasons had some of the best writing I had ever seen.

The same can be said for the uneven spinoff Booker, which Cannell co-created. It had its moments, but after only lasting a season, it came and went.

RipTide made me a fan of robots, cool cars and choppers.

Renegade made me a fan of Harley’s, Native American Indians and sawed off shotguns.

His list of created shows were seemingly endless, and whilst I respected shows like Wiseguy, Stingray, Baretta, Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, and even Harcastle and McCormick, I can admit I never gave them the attention they deserve. Something I’ll always be thankful that DVD can help rectify.

Such is the case with classic shows like The Rockford Files, and The Greatest American Hero. Two shows I had only known about in legend, but only experienced later in life.

I didn’t see Cannell’s recent appearances on Castle, and I’m sure I will at some stage, but I do know that every time I see Cannell on screen and at the end of the credits flipping his piece of paper from the typewriter, I will fondly remember, that a big part of the reason I consider myself a writer is because of Mr. Stephen J. Cannell.


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