April 14, 2024

News Release: November 17, 2005

Veteran Writer/Producer Stephen J. Cannell to Receive Paddy Chayefsky Television Laurel at 2006 Writers Guild Awards

2006 Award Recipient

Award-winning television writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell is slated to receive the Writers Guild of America, west's prestigious Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television at the 2006 Writers Guild Awards on February 4, 2006.


“For more than a generation, Stephen J. Cannell put 'prime' in primetime television. He is undoubtedly a member of our profession's A-Team,” said WGAw President Patric M. Verrone.

It's hardly surprising that the logo for Stephen J. Cannell Productions is a piece of paper curling out of a typewriter, and he closed each show with a clip of himself at a typewriter - writing is a primary passion for the Emmy- and Writers Guild Award-winning writer/producer and best-selling author. As one of TV's most prolific writers, Cannell has scripted an astounding 350 episodes of series he himself created, as well as produced or executive produced more than 1,500 TV episodes during his 30-year career. Over the years, he has created or co-created more than 42 shows, including The Rockford Files, The Greatest American Hero, The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, Wiseguy, Hunter, The Comish, Baretta, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Renegade, Silk Stockings, Stingray, and City of Angels, Riptide, and Hardcastle and McCormick.

What is surprising about the sheer volume and decade-spanning success of Cannell's writing career is the fact that the veteran TV writer/producer is dyslexic. Nonetheless, Cannell optimistically listed “author” as his ambition in his high school yearbook.

Raised in Pasadena, the third-generation Californian received his college diploma from the University of Oregon. Soon after, Cannell took a job at his father's interior design firm to support his young family. Still, every night he focused on his own television writing pursuits, soon selling several story ideas to Mission: Impossible and an episodic script to It Takes A Thief. His TV career took off in 1966 when, after submitting a spec script for police drama Adam-12, Universal was so impressed by his storytelling skill, they immediately offered Cannell a position as head writer/story editor on the hit show. During his lengthy tenure at the studio, Cannell went on to create a host of popular series, including The Rockford Files, Baretta, and Baa Baa Black Sheep.

A six-time Emmy nominee, Cannell earned an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series in 1978 for The Rockford Files. A seven-time Writers Guild Award nominee, Cannell earned a WGA Award for Episodic Drama in 1981 for his pilot episode of Tenspeed and Brownshoe, the hit series starring the unlikely pair of Ben Vereen and Jeff Goldblum that launched Cannell's own independent production company, Stephen J. Cannell Productions, in 1979. His eponymous company went on to produce such successful series as The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, and Hunter.

In 1986, Cannell formed his own parent company, Cannell Studios, to oversee all aspects of the organization's operations. Cannell Studios surpassed the $1 billion mark in production outlays and diversified into commercials, merchandising, movies, mini-series, and first-run and off-network programming - not to mention holding one of the highest percentage records of TV pilots that have gone to series. On the big screen, Cannell has several series-to-features in development, including The A-Team at 20th Century Fox, 21 Jump Street, and The Greatest American Hero. The Cannell Studios production company has successfully wrapped a series of independent horror/thrillers with IDT Entertainment and is in pre-production with Spyglass Entertainment on the Mario Van Peebles-directed thriller, The Yellow Wood.

In addition to the small screen, in 1995, Cannell made a successful transition to the literary world, with the publication of his debut novel, The Plan, a political thriller which became a national bestseller. He followed up that book's success with two more critically acclaimed bestsellers, Final Victim (1996), a cyberspace thriller, and King Con (1997), both of which are currently in feature film development. In addition, Cannell has penned a series of popular mystery thrillers, all New York Times bestsellers, featuring his “Shane Scully” character, the fifth of which, Cold Hit, was recently published by St. Martins Press and is in talks for a feature film version of the literary franchise. With good timing, Cannell was honored this past August by the Mystery Writers of America with their prestigious Marlowe Award for career achievement. Next up, Cannell is at work on his new thriller, White Sister, set in the world of the rap/hip-hop scene.

In addition to numerous statuettes, Cannell received his own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Finding time to step from behind the camera to perform in front of it, Cannell has also managed to moonlight as an actor, appearing in several feature films and series, including Diagnosis Murder, Magnum P.I., Silk Stalkings, Renegade, and Pacific Blue, as well as hosting the nationally syndicated series, U.S. Customs Classified, and Scene of the Crime, the late-night series he created and wrote for CBS.

Perhaps one of Cannell's most enduring legacies is his generosity for giving new talent their first big break in the industry, having helped usher a new crop of today's successful TV showrunners. In fact, former Rockford writer/producer and Sopranos creator David Chase once noted that, out of all the people he's ever met, “no one has seemed to love writing as much as Stephen J. Cannell.” To repay Cannell's well-known behind-the-scene generosity, last summer several prominent industry veterans, including  Juanita Bartlett, Don Bellisario, Steven Bochco, Reuben Cannon, Mike Dubelko, Len Hill, Floyd Johnson, Kim LeMasters, Kerry McCluggage, Mike Post, Peter Roth, Stu Segall, Jo Swerling, and Ken Ziffren, helped underwrite The Stephen J. Cannell Gallery featured at the Writers Guild Foundation's recently renovated Webb-Shavelson Library “in appreciation of his masterful storytelling and in recognition of his legacy of friendship and generosity.”

Named after one of the most acclaimed writers in television history, the Paddy Chayefsky Laurel is the guild's highest award for television writing, given to writers who have advanced the literature of television throughout the years and made outstanding contributions to the profession of the television writer. Previous award recipients include Steven Bochco, Jess Oppenheimer, Larry Gelbart, Rod Serling, Carl Reiner, David E. Kelley, Loring Mandel, and last year's honoree, Susan Harris.