Thursday, October 14, 2010

Stephen J. Cannell tribute wrap-up

Before I move on to other topics, I have to share some of the wonderful things I've been reading about Stephen J. Cannell. I read reams of articles and the NYTimes obit and watched footage of his interviews. No matter what the context, he was a funny, accessible and fascinating man. He approached his work in such a grounded, unfussy way and seemed to enjoy himself immensely. How many mega producers marry their grade-school sweethearts and never get divorced? What kind of man actually achieves his level of success yet appreciates their life enough to avoid becoming a megalomaniac? Well, let's see what he says.

"I don’t struggle because I was always the stupidest kid in the class and the idea that I would ever be brilliant was knocked out of me in the third grade. So I’m not sitting around trying to be brilliant, or Shakespeare. I’m just trying to get the work I have in my head down on the page in the best way I possibly know how without putting that horrible pressure on myself of saying 'I’m going to write it today and in 200 years at Princeton they will be studying these words.' Yeah, I want my stuff to be as good as I can conceivably make it, but I am not going to put that on my head."
His Legacy:
"I just don’t take myself that seriously. For me, all of those kinds of things tend to make you different than the person I am. I think when you start worrying about legacies, and how you are going to be remembered, it’s all about pretension, it’s all about how will they kneel at my altar when I’m gone. Who cares? That’s the way I look at it. can’t force a legacy anyway, no matter how hard you try. If they don’t want to remember you, they won’t."
(Both quotes are from an interview with the Archive of American Televison)

In all his interviews, he was….happy. Happy to talk about what worked, what didn't, his creative process, his history. He was a generous man to share all of that with as many people as he did, and I can think of no more fitting end than this: a good-bye from the people at Castle. Not only did he create the model for a character like Rick Castle, he guest starred on the show a couple of times, and was responsible for one of the producer's big break on The A-Team 25 years ago. (Read the fun story at the Entertainment Weekly Popwatch blog).

Finally, one of my personal favorites--a montage of all his sign-offs:


  1. Just catching up on all of your posts from the week! Loved them all. You really captured the essence of Cannell's brilliance and why his characters are so endearing! :)

    I have to say I have a love/hate relationship with House. I am intrigued by the fact that we (as a country) are so enamored with his caustic-ness. Is it just that he is saying what so many are thinking but afraid to say? Is it that civility is just not respected? Does his arrogance capture the imagination in some way?

    I agree that Cannell's dapper Dans are all both flawed and loveable. And, more importantly, they get the job done with a sense of humility (ok, maybe not the A-Team, though they do have their moments).

    I certainly enjoy my time with Rick Castle every week, and "enjoy" is not the word I use for the time I spend with Gregory House.

    Do you have any thoughts on Bones -- agent Booth has the chivalry of some of those great Cannell heros and "Bones" is more like House. Together they are an uncomfortable couple but there is something about them... endearing? likeable? balanced?? Not sure... the show itself could use some more enlightened writers, I enjoy the relationships more than the mysteries they solve.

    Looking forward to next week's posts!

  2. Thanks for reading! I really enjoyed finding out all about Cannell and his creative process, it's very inspiring to read about someone so productive, but so grounded and humble.

    There's definitely been a shift and I think it coincides with our collective disillusionment as a culture and country. It's like the 70's thrillers and paranoid conspiracy movies reflected the death of optimism. Then the 80's swagger rebound: everyone's manly, recovering, but awesome. The 90's have spawned a nihilistic element where freedom seems to exist in being so "empowered" you don't give a fuck and say what you want but are so necessary people HAVE to put up with you. A fantasy of how we wished we could live our lives whenever we want to tell the world to go to hell. We admire it because we don't have it and feel helpless. At least that's my current theory.

    I have watched past episodes of Bones on Sidereel when I travel. I think we grant grace to Bones because caustic is "endearing" in women and people find that surprising and compelling, plus she really pulls off the cluelessness and confidence. Booth is her humbleness, because he's who we relate to. And for Bones (not House) you see the vulnerability underlying her behaviors.

    It's funny, Cannell mentioned in an article that he liked Castle because although Castle was arrogant, when C was at home, interacting with his mother & daughter you could see what was important to him and how that balanced the arrogance of the character and made him endearing.


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