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Legendary television scribe Stephen J. Cannell has found success with his latest series. But this one isn’t on the small screen.


ANYONE WHO WATCHED TELEVISION in the 1980s would likely recognize Stephen J. Cannell. As the closing credits finish scrolling on The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, and almost all of the prolific producer’s more than 40 shows (an American record), there appears a shot of Cannell pounding away on his typewriter, right before the logo for his independent production company flashes on-screen.

Cannell is still typing away at the age of 68. But since selling his company in 1995 (for a cool $30 million), he’s been writing mystery novels rather than screenplays -- with the same smashing success.

“I always wanted to be a novelist. It’s what I started out to do,” Cannell says. “But I had severe dyslexia, severe enough that it caused me to flunk three grades before I got out of high school. So I didn’t think I had the ability to do it. After 30 years of writing screenplays, I had the discipline to sit down and plot something and write it.”

Cannell’s latest mystery, On the Grind (St. Martin’s, $26), is his 15th novel and the eighth in his best-selling Shane Scully series about a maverick Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective. Throughout the action-packed series, Cannell has deftly probed both the professional and personal perils of Shane’s work; the detective’s cases, especially his undercover work in On the Grind, threaten both his marriage and his life.

Cops, intrigue, and romance are all familiar to the man who created The Rockford Files, Baretta, and The Commish. But Cannell seems happy with his new medium, having found greater freedom to explore terra cognita in novel form. “As a novelist, you have a tremendous tool, and that is the omniscient author: the ability to go into a character’s head and delve directly into his innermost thoughts,” he says. “When you’re writing a screenplay, everything has to come out of a character’s mouth.”

Cannell still keeps his hand in Hollywood. His vast network of former collaborators and employees includes hot producers such as The Sopranos’ David Chase, 24’s Joel Surnow, and CSI’s Carol Mendelsohn. He’s been working the wires hard lately, shepherding adaptations of The A-Team, 21 Jump Street, and The Greatest American Hero to the big screen. And he’ll keep typing away, working on his next best seller, even after the credits fade to black.

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Strategic Acceleration: Succeed at the Speed of Life
by Tony Jeary
Vanguard Press $26

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