Stephen J. Cannell, Emmy award-winning television writer and producer, bestselling author, and Chairman of Cannell Studios, died Thursday, September 30 at his home in Pasadena, California from complications of melanoma. He was 69.
Cannell created or co-created nearly 40 popular TV shows, mostly crime dramas, including The Rockford Files, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, The Commish and Wiseguy.
His contributions to the industry are seemingly endless,” Janet Wasko, the SOJC’s Knight Chair in Communication Research, said. “He may be remembered—favorably or not—as one of the first television producers to move production of his shows from Hollywood to Canada.
“I remember meeting him at a Hollywood Ducks event, where he was the main speaker. He was informative, humorous and inspirational. He graciously signed my copy of his novel, Hollywood Tough, which may be an apt description for him.”
Cannell once called himself a guy who “couldn’t spell no matter how hard I tried.” He lived with dyslexia his entire life, although it was undiagnosed until his mid-thirties. Working around, over and through what he called “jumbled input,” he spent most of his career writing. As a student, he responded well to the encouragement of UO English Professor Ralph Salisbury; later in life he credited “drive and determination” with his success. His website,, included articles and resources about dyslexia, including a video series in which he explained “misconceptions, challenges and ways to help children with dyslexia.”
In 1979, Cannell formed his own production company, Stephen J. Cannell Productions. Seven years later, he formed The Cannell Studios, which excelled in production (films, mini-series, commercials), merchandising, and first-run/off-network programming. It was purchased by New World Communications Group in 1995. Among his many awards were the The Marlow Lifetime Achievement Award from Mystery Writers of America (2005), and the WGA Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing Achievement (2006), the NATPE Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Award (2007) and the 2008 Final Draft Hall of Fame Award, “which recognizes entertainment industry luminaries who foster the art of screenwriting and nurture and inspire the creative process.” He was inducted into the SOJC’sin 2002.
Later in his career, he turned to writing books. His debut novel, The Plan (1995), became a national bestseller. He followed that book’s success with sixteen more popular novels, the critically acclaimed Shane Scully series, about a “tough, hard-nosed cop who often bends the rules in order to get the job done.”
, poet, fiction writer and professor emeritus of the UO English Department said at the time of Cannell’s Hall of Achievement induction, “As a TV writer and producer and as an author of well-informed anti-crime novels, Steve Cannell has realized the talent I first saw in a University of Oregon under-graduate writing class. He has struggled and prevailed against dyslexia. He deserves our admiration.”
Cannell’s 16th novel, Prostitute’s Ball, the tenth in the Shane Scully series, will be released October 12.
A tribute onreads in part: “Through the legacy of his body of work, with which he was able to entertain and enrich the lives of millions of viewers and thousands of readers, he will always be with us, living on in our hearts and minds, with fond memories forever.”
Cannell is survived by his wife of 46 years, Marcia; their three children; and three grandchildren.