The Stephen J. Cannell Interview

TWoP:Your shows did indeed feature very colorful, distinct characters, but the concepts for those series were also so simple and airtight. Did you always start the process of creating a show by thinking of the characters, or did the theme or plot sometimes come first?

Cannell: Well, with Greatest America Hero, Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, who at the time were running ABC, asked me to do a superhero show, and so that was really not a character pitch. So I went back to my office and I said, "What would be an interesting way to do a superhero show?" and my answer to that was, "What would happen if I had to be the superhero?" Here I am, a television executive, I've got five hours of TV on the air, and all of a sudden I've got to run around in a Spandex suit -- what would that do to me? And that created the take that I used for Greatest America Hero. So sometimes the pitches come in a much more general way, and sometimes they start with people.

TWoP: Nowadays, many TV fans know who the creators of their favorite shows are by name, and often are more interested in them than even the actors on the show. But you were one of the first TV writers to make yourself recognizable thanks to your iconic production logo, which featured you typing away and then flinging the paper in the air to form the letter C in your company's name. Was that a conscious decision to essentially create a Stephen Cannell brand that would connect all of your different series in the minds of viewers?

Cannell: Well, I'll tell you exactly how it happened: I had, at the time, about six shows on air, and I was starting to be referred to by the trade press and the national press as a TV mogul. And I just didn't want to be a mogul. In my mind, I get up every morning and I write for five hours -- I'm a writer. So I had a publicist who was running the publicity department at my studio and I said to her, "I gotta get this mogul thing off of me. I just don't like it." A mogul to me is a guy in a green suit who hits on actresses. So I said, "I'm a writer and I want to be known as a writer." She came back to me a day or two later with that [logo] idea. [laughs] That's how it happened.

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?

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