We Love It When His Plans Come Together
TWoP: You certainly are a writer first. In looking at your credits, it's just mind-boggling how much you wrote in such a concentrated amount of time. Why don't we see TV writers as prolific as that anymore? What changed in the business?
Cannell: Well, to begin with, my studio was a private studio, and as a private studio, it was very important that I kept at least six hours of TV on the air. And as a private studio, I also had to carry all my own deficits, so I couldn't sit down and do what they do today, which is have 13 writers on staff -- I couldn't afford them. So I was always one of the writers. And so I'd have three or four writers on staff... and me. [laughs] It was a choice in one way, because I love to write, but it was also something that I needed to do in order to keep my shows from going $5,000 over budget every week.
TWoP: At the risk of overanalyzing your work, it did seem that most of your programs involved quirky characters who were seeking justice by unconventional means. Did that idea have any personal resonance for you, or did it just happen to fit the kind of stories you wanted to tell or that networks wanted to air at the time?
Cannell: You know what, I never gave it that much thought. I wish I could say that I sat there and tried to figure it all out. I would come up with ideas and I would think, okay, would I go home and watch this? And the other question I would always ask myself is: in the third season, when we don't have a script, would I be able to spend my weekend writing it? [laughs] Those were my two questions. And if the answer was yes, then I'd do the show, or I would attempt to try and sell it.
TWoP: For a large part of your career, your shows were very procedural in structure. But then you eventually worked on serial shows like Wiseguy and Profit. Did you have a personal preference between the two formats, or did just depend on the piece?