Cannell’s Warning

Legendary TV producer Stephen J. Cannell was also a strong voice for indie producers

In the late 1980s, the broadcast networks begin to aggressively lobby the Federal Communications Commission to repeal the financial interest and syndication rules. Those rules basically prohibited broadcast networks from owning the shows that they aired on prime time. The rules protected independent producers as well as the major studios who feared that if the networks could own their programming it would be harder for others to get their shows on the air.

The networks successfully argued that the media landscape had changed dramatically since when the rules were created. For starters, the Fox network was born and given a waiver from the rules and cable was just starting to emerge as a force, although at that time it was not the hotbed of original programming that it is today.

Cannell was one of the most prominent producers to speak out against the networks. He warned — accurately, it turned out — that indie producers would be shut out unless they sold out. When the broadcast financial interest and syndication rules, widely known as fin-syn, were relaxed (and eventually gutted), it cleared the way for Disney to buy ABC, Viacom to acquire Paramount and NBC and Universal to merge and most indie producers went away.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

Most people don’t understand that there was a real reason behind Stephen J. Cannell disappearing from their TVs.

It wasn’t his choice.

The game had been overthrown, the Christians fed to the lions, the fix was in, and you were either going to be an employee toady to The Man or you couldn’t even set foot in TVLand anymore.

He saw what was happening, and what would happen — as inevitably as the logical conclusion of a syllogism — and he sold his company.

But he was a writer.

He had to write.

And if you think he just swanned into the world of print publishing because he once did TV, you’re out of your freakin mind.

He stated more than once in interviews that none of it was ever a sure thing. And when his first book was picked up and — hallejulah! people liked it and it sold — he was grateful for having the beginnings of a new career.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but TV’s been poorer due to the absence of Stephen J. Cannell.

The next time someone warns you about the power of money crushing creativity — listen, goddammit!

Previously here:

R.I.P. Stephen J. Cannell


1 Comment

Filed under Rights, Writers, Writing

One response to “Cannell’s Warning

  1. He was a very smart man and this is not the only industry that should shut up and pay attention!!!


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