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Tuesday, October 05, 2010

My Five Favorite Stephen J. Cannell Shows

I spent the entire weekend just trying to wrap my head around what I wanted to say about Stephen J. Cannell, who died Thursday at the age of 69.

In the past four days, I’ve read a lot of things about Cannell and his shows. One article I read called the over 40 shows Cannell helped create “meat and potatoes” shows. In other worlds, there were no complicated backstories or high concepts. I think the writer meant that as a bit of a slam, but I think that’s what made them appealing. They were pure escapist entertainment with characters that were not your normal heroes.

I’m saving my most personal thoughts for my Thursday column, but I had to say something here too. Here are my top five favorite Stephen J. Cannell shows…

5) “The Rockford Files”
This show, which reinvigorated the career of James Garner, premiered five days before I was born. But thanks to syndicated reruns, I was able to enjoy it every night at the dinner table when I got home from school. Private Detective Jim Rockford (Garner) was a classic character, but my favorite episodes were the ones with Angel (Stuart Margolin), his former cellmate, who always found a way to get Rockford in trouble.

4) “Stingray”
This one is probably known more for the car than the premise as the mysterious Ray (Nick Mancuso) traveled around Southern California in his 1965 Corvette Stingray, helping those who answered his mysterious ad. I can still hum the show’s classic Mike Post and Pete Carpenter theme song.

3) “The Greatest American Hero”
Having just recently seen the premiere episode again, I can tell you this one still stands the test of time. Ralph Hinkley (William Katt) was just a normal schoolteacher until aliens gave him a suit that gave him super powers. The only problem was that Ralph lost the instructions and didn’t really know how to make the suit work. Robert Culp was Bill Maxwell, the FBI agent who partnered with Ralph.

2) “Hunter”
This one went a little astray in its later years—somewhere around the time star Fred Dryer signed on as an executive producer—but in its early years, it was classic TV. Detective Rick Hunter (Dryer) was like a small screen Dirty Harry, doing whatever it took to get the bad guys. Stefanie Kramer was his partner, Dee Dee McCall, who was supposed to help keep him in line, but ended up supporting his methods.

1) “The A-Team”
Ah, yes. My beloved “A-Team.” For the record, I did not go see the movie this summer, partly because I was afraid it would destroy my happy childhood memories. “The A-Team” was my first real TV obsession—the “24” of its day, if you will. And Dirk Benedict (Face) was my first celebrity crush. In fact, I still think he’s pretty cool.

So what about you guys? What are your favorite Stephen J. Cannell shows? With over 40 to choose from, you can come up with a lot of combinations.

Post a few in the comments or send an e-mail to

Photo Credit: Michael Desmond/ABC