Stephen J. Cannell, who died just a few days ago, overcame severe learning disabilities (and flunking three grades) to become one of modern televisions most prolific writers. He wrote more than 400 episodes including some of the most popular TV shows of their day; Adam-12, Baretta, The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street, and The A Team.
Dennis McLellan in the Los Angeles Times wrote that “in the spring of 1986, (Cannell) had six hourlong shows on in primetime.” The LA Times also quoted writer David Chase (The Sopranos), who worked with Cannell back in the 70s, as saying that Cannell’s characters displayed “weaknesses — they were fallible human beings. That was the beginning of viewers seeing a TV protagonist as someone like themselves.”
Cannell, who did not even know he was dyslexic until he was in his 30s, also wrote 15 novels.
“When I was 13-years-old (my father) said to me, ‘you’re going to work,’ and I said, ‘Dad, it’s summer all my friends are going to the tennis club and the golf club and down at the beach’—and he said, ‘No, no you’re going to work.’ So I had to get a work permit—because at 13 you had to have a work permit to work—and I went to work at his wallpaper company. It was about four acres under a roof in Burbank and I was down there working on a screenprinting machine…and I used to come home and think, ‘What am I doing this for?’…(My father) said, ‘This is what people do to feed their family. You’re going to see what this is all about.’ And I was really angry about that, but you know what, he instilled in me a work ethic…and one of the reasons I’ve been so successful is that work ethic.”
Stephen J. Cannell
Interview on TV Legends