Stephen J. Cannell

R called me Wednesday morning and said that Stephen J. Cannell had been on the radio and was going to be at Alamo Draft House that evening. Would I like to go? I said yes. I was thinking, “Hey, I actually know that name. Wasn’t he writing for Adam 12?”

So, we went.

It was a long drive out there. It’s on the west side of Houston and we’re NE. And the traffic was strong, though not bumper to bumper. (That was going the other direction.) –The interesting thing about the trip was we didn’t get home till 11:30 pm.

We arrived, went in, sat down. You can eat there–thank goodness. We ordered Abita Root Beer on tap. It was very sweet, without the twist I expect from root beer. But still good. We ordered and ate potato skins. Bland. The salsa with them was a bit sweet, not spicy. Then we had pizza. R’s is much better. But it wasn’t bad.

Eventually SJC began to speak.

He talked about making the A-Team. The big TV guy told him he wanted it to kind of be Dirty Dozen, Magnificent Seven, crazy guy chewing on feet, Mission: Impossible, and The Road Warrior. And the show is what SJC came up with. It was interesting.

He said that Great American Hero was a “super hero show.” And when they told him to do it, he said, “I’ll do it if I can have it be about the suit. The powers are in the suit.” So they said yes. And then, they left. The next powers that be were not as impressed with the idea of it being all about the suit. They wanted space aliens and monsters… He gave them that once. And, of course, the suit comes from a close encounter of the alien kind.

We watched a Great American Hero episode. Then we watched the A-Team pilot.

Then he answered questions. Someone asked him whether he always knew he would be a writer. He said that he has major learning disabilities, that he had failed three grades by the time he got out of high school…. But then he was at University of Oregon and he signed up for a Creative Writing class. He went to ask Ralph Salsbury, the teacher, about his grading policy, because SJC couldn’t spell worth a lick. The teacher said he wanted SJC to use all the words he knew, not just the ones he thought he could spell. (That night he used verisimilitude and excoriate.)

When he’d been in the class a while, he got a note: “Come see me during office hours.” SJC said he was used to teacher conferences, so he went with dread. Ralph Salsbury closed the door and said, “You are one of the best two students I’ve seen writing in the last 15 years of teaching. You have a God-given talent.”

He said he enjoyed writing novels, because he got to cover everything. But writing for TV was good too because he got to interact with lots of folks.

You pronounce his name “can-uhl” not “cuh-nell,” like I thought.

He wrote for or created and wrote some of my favorite shows:
The Commish
The A-Team
Murder She Wrote (You know, I can’t find a thing that says Cannell wrote on this, but the beginning scene in the typewriter is SJC’s from earlier shows, so he must have had some connection.)
Baa, Baa Black Sheep
Hardcastle and McCormick

He also did The Rockford Files, which was my dad’s favorite show back when we got a TV in 1974.

SJC is now writing novels. He’s been writing one a year since 1996. They’re mysteries. They’re investigative police work.

I bought three copies of the first one, one for me and two for guys in Iraq. I should have just had him put his name on mine. He asked me about Bryan, where he was and when he’d be home. I don’t think I said that Donald was a Soldier. But one was for me, one for a Soldier, and one for a Marine.

And then I bought one hardback of his newest book.

At the end, R said it was strange to go to a theater for dinner and to watch TV.

Two interesting sites I found while surfing for SJC:
Cannell’s Seminar on Writing
best general article on SJC I saw