Stephen J. Cannell, the prolific television writer and producer who co-created "The Rockford Files" and "The A-Team" and later became a best-selling novelist, has died. He was 69.
Cannell died Thursday evening of complications associated with melanoma at his home in Pasadena, said his family.
Picture from his website, cannell.com.
While in recent years, most of his fame came from his work as a best-selling novelist, most people know him best as the mind behind some of the most popular TV shows of the last 40 years.
Most of his shows weren't critical darlings, but most of the shows were something that most critics are not -
His shows combined strong (but human) characters with solid writing to tell entertaining stories, and telling stories is what good TV (or good books, or good movies, or good plays) is all about. While most of his creations weren't comedies (with one notable comic-bookish exception where thousands of rounds were fired in almost every episode but it seemed that no one ever was actually hit), most of the shows exhibited a light touch, humanizing the characters.
Of the many shows that he created, my favorite (and one of my favorite TV shows all-time) was The Rockford Files. The title character, an ex-con/ private investigator Jim Rockford, was played to laconic perfection by James Garner. It's the first show that I can remember where if the lead character was hit or shot, he was actually injured and not magically healed by the next scene.
Wiseguy, a late 80s creation from Cannell, was the first show where I sat up and thought to myself "I wish I had written that!" It was one of his darker shows, yet it also illustrated and emphasized the bonds between friends and families and how they can balance and fortify us in the most trying times.
Cannell's greatest impact on pop culture probably came from his shows The A-Team and 21 Jump Street, shows that gave the world Mr. T and Johnny Depp.
Over his career, the shows he created and the stories he told were never "appointment television," but were the sort of entertainment that viewers could rely on to be entertaining without being intellectually taxing or insulting.*
In this age of "reality" television, his deftness with characters and scripts is sorely missed.
My condolences go out to his family, friends, and thousands of fans.
*OK, I still don't understand the appeal of The A-Team. I just know that it worked at the time, for me and millions of other viewers.