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Stephen J. Cannell, Wise Guy of Primetime, Dies at 69

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Stephen J. Cannell, creator or producer of dozens of TV series over several decades, is reported to have died at age 69. Cannell’s extensive list of achievements includes a number of well-known TV series, especially cop and crime shows, and likely The Rockford Files and The A-Team will lead most lists of his hits. (Among many, many more—Baretta, The Greatest American Hero, 21 Jump Street…—as well as the groundbreaking but short-lived Profit.) But another of his shows which may have had the longest-term effects on the ambitions and style of TV was Wiseguy.

The dark CBS crime drama introduced Kevin Spacey (above) in a memorable arc as villain Mel Profitt, but it also was influential in popularizing the idea of long-running serial stories in primetime series (something that had evolved as well with earlier shows like Hill Street Blues).

If Cannell had a tremendous effect on big-network TV over the years, he also, with Wiseguy, helped establish the template for cable dramas as we now know them. You can draw a line from the organized-crime investigations and complex morality of Wiseguy and, for instance, The Sopranos. (Whose David Chase, incidentally, did his early work in TV on Cannell’s Rockford Files.) RIP.

Update: Incidentally, besides having a gargantuan influence on network TV over his year, Stephen J. Cannell Productions also had one of the most memorable production logos in TV. A YouTube montage:

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