The A-Team writer Stephen J. Cannell would only write what he liked watching

By: H&I Staff     Posted: January 3, 2024, 11:38AM    Tags: The A-Team

Give Stephen J. Cannell an A for effort for his writing on the hit '80s series, The A-Team. Cannell is the writer and producer behind The A-Team, Riptide and Hardcastle and McCormick, among others. All three of these hit series topped Nielsen ratings in the '80s.

Although you may have never realized that Cannell was behind some of your favorite series, the success of the trio fits Cannell to a T. The A-Team would be one of his biggest successes of the '80s.

"I don't work on the premise of hits and non-hits," he said in a 1984 interview with The Press Journal. "Nothing ever clicks in my mind and says 'Hit!' I simply create shows that I would want to watch at home. I create to entertain and the only uplifting thing I do is make a viewer smile."

Cannell said that if he liked watching a show, he would hope the audience did too. Some writers would only write what they knew, others would write using a formula. Cannell only wrote what he liked.

"Everyone thinks I have a secret formula for hits, but I never know when I'm onto something hot," he said. "I haven't got a clue if a show will work. When I began A-Team, I realized it was going to either be a hit or a big mess, and that's because of how unusual its format was."

Despite all of his success, Cannell did have a few flops during his long writing career. Some of these included: Tenspeed and Brown Shoe, Richie Brockelman, Private Eye and The Duke.

But with more successes than flops, Cannell created or co-created nearly 40 television series, and scripted more than 450 episodes. He was also responsible for writing 18 hours of primetime TV programming in 1983.

"I'm like a fireman," he said. "I run from show to show, helping out whoever needs me."

According to the interview, Cannell would write 15-18 pages a day. He said it took him about four days to write a full script for The A-Team.

Even with all of Cannell's success across his series, and specfically with The A-Team, many critics would still target his writing. Cannell wasn't bothered by them. In fact, he defended The A-Team. 

"I don't listen to them because they insist that The A-Team is violent," he said. "We are a fantasty show; a cartoon. The A-Team is not meant to be taken seriously. We once dropped watermelons and heads of lettuce on the heavies. Now I ask you?: Is that an act of violence?"

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