The Big Picture with Stephen J. Cannell

When people think of Stephen J. Cannell they think of a man who cemented himself as one of Television’s most prolific writers and series creators of shows such as “The Rockford Files”, “Wiseguy”, “The A-Team” and “The Greatest American Hero”. They don’t necessarily think of Stephen J. Cannell as a businessman but an entrepreneur he was and quite frankly one of the best in the business!

The irony is that the great Stephen J. Cannell pretty much failed in school and lost a football scholarship at the University of Oregon due to severe dyslexia and an appalling academic record but this did not deter the man. Discovering a talent for writing whilst in college he decided to try and break into television writing. Cannell quickly worked out that he had a real knack for the job. He played to his strengths and that was that he was quick and dependable and wasn’t afraid of hard work.

From his early works on shows like “Toma” and “It Takes a Thief”, Cannell quickly became a hugely successful television writer most favourably known in the industry for his incredible work ethic and prolific out put of work. As his star began to rise he was not afraid to take on more demanding ideas and write more serious work like scripts for the notoriously challenging “Columbo.”

After over a decade working at the University lot, Cannell decided that he was going to go out on his own and start his own production company so with the help of his lawyer Ken Ziffren Stephen J. Cannell Prods was formed. He wanted to work for himself and be his own boss. He wanted more than just royalties. He wanted to own the rights to his own work.

Cannell quickly proved to be savvy and skilled businessman and a rare breed of entrepreneur who was not afraid to back and bet on himself. He knew his skill set, had a powerful work ethic, a passion for the profession he was in and proved to have a very sharp brain for business. Cannell was a forward thinker, a problem solver and a man who thought outside the box.

One of Cannell proudest professional achievements was that he and his wife Marcia were the sole owners of their production company. They built the business from the ground up with no external backing or investors. The cash flow he generated was his own. He was not playing with anyone else’s money so the buck stopped with him and the responsibility for success lay squarely on his shoulders.

Stephen J. Cannell Prods evolved into Cannell Entertainment and then later Cannell Studios. Stephen J. Cannell and Mvarcia Cannell remained sole owners of the production houses until they sold to New World Entertainment in 1995 for a cool $30 million.

So what was the secret to Stephen J. Cannell’s phenomenal success? How did a severely dyslexic television writer become one of the most successful creative entrepreneurs in the business rivalled only by the likes of Aaron Spelling and Norman Lear?

In an article for Success Magazine titled Character Development by Michelle Medley, Cannell shared a series of footnotes to success – his advice on how to get to the top!

Stephen J. Cannell’s Footnotes to Success

Lighten up. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t grow.

You can create business opportunities for yourself if you’re willing to bet on yourself.

Pour energy into your career, and it will make a difference.

When you hire somebody, make sure they share your emotional philosophy and your human philosophy. Don’t get somebody who has a different take on what is right and wrong.

It’s better to be underpaid. You won’t be the first one fired when times are bad.

Finish what you start. Broken manuscripts teach you nothing.

Avoid saying no to an idea when you’re on the room. Always bring it back to the den and kick it around before you throw it out in the sand.

Hire people who are better than you, the secret to being successful.

Don’t just play safe. Don’t just throw your fastball. Get out there and really mix it up.

The joy must be in the doing. If you’re focused on awards, on money, you’re in the wrong place.

Decide what you want to do. Don’t let other people grade your paper.

Root for your friends.

Refuse to fail. Keep smiling, keep punching. Don’t quit on your dreams.

Great advice from a man who went from being a studio writer to the head of a television empire.