TALENT TALK: A conversation with Stephen J. Cannell20 Oct, 2002 By: Dan Bennett
Call him television's idea man, but he's also written books and feature films. Oh, and he does a little acting on the side.
During the past three decades, Stephen J. Cannell has been about as visible as a writer-producer-actor can be. He's created or co-created more than 40 TV series, written more than 450 scripts and produced more than 1,500 episodes.
Cannell's credits include “The Rockford Files,” “Hunter,” “The A-Team,” “21 Jump Street,” “The Commish,” “Wiseguy,” “Renegade” and “Silk Stalkings,” among others.
One of the most famous series he's created, “Baretta,” is coming to DVD this month from Universal Studios Home Video.
To be sure, Universal is capitalizing on star Robert Blake's sudden brush with infamy (he's awaiting trial on charges he murdered his wife).
But that's not all “Baretta” has going for it.
“It turned out to be a terrific series, and the show didn't get repeated very much, so there was a lot of interest,” Cannell said in a telephone interview. “It didn't go into syndication at the time, because there was a big antiviolence movement then, and ‘Baretta' was seen as a little rough-edged. It's come back recently on television.”
Blake's title role was that of a crime-solver who used alternative means to get the bad guy. He was the sort of down-on-his-luck fellow that crime-show producers love.
“The show might have stayed on longer if Robert Blake hadn't been so vocal about how he despised the show,” Cannell said. “The audience didn't like to hear the star of the show go on ‘The Tonight Show' and call ‘Baretta' a piece of junk. But I thought his acting work on the show was exquisite, and it was a very quality show.”
Cannell already has “The Rockford Files” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” on DVD, and maintains he likes the idea of quality television series from the past few decades appearing on disc.
“The interest in that trend is a great testament to the fact so many of those shows were well-made and well-performed,” he said. “There's a certain nostalgia factor kicking into place, but also a dissatisfaction with what is currently programmed on television. Audiences also like the idea of sitting down with a series on their own timetable.”
Cannell's own company is looking into releasing “Wiseguy” on DVD.
“People are constantly asking about it,” he said. “The fans of that show were intense.”
Meanwhile, Cannell continues to write best-selling mystery novels, including The Plan and Final Victim, for which he is developing a film. His eighth novel, Hollywood Tough, is scheduled for release in January.
“I'm trying to stay out of television for now,” Cannell said. “After 40 different series, I think I've mined that pretty well. I'm enjoying the novels. I wish I had been writing those all along. They've helped make my writing complete.”