DISCOVER--the television series of Stephen J. Cannell

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, Stephen J. Cannell was the single most influential figure in populist action/adventure television. His fusion of the B-movie plots and values of 1940s pulps, westerns and cliffhanger serials to the post-Watergate cynicism of 1970s cinema refreshed popular culture, from the smart, wry humour of The Rockford Files to the comic-book exploits of The A-Team. Although he was so heavily copied that his innovations eventually became cliches themselves, his shows directly inspired such movie franchises as the Die Hard and Lethal Weapon series. Today, there is nothing quite like them on television, yet during the 1980s, every adventure show either was a Cannell show, or was copying his style.
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1.
The Rockford Files (1974 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
The cases of an easy going ex-convict turned private investigator. (60 mins.)
“ As the 1970s began, and several creative spirits began to reinvent certain film and TV genres that had stagnated or become outdated and redundant, western and detective cliches in particular were either swept away or parodied. The Rockford Files did a little of both for the private eye genre, starting out under the guidance of TV veteran and former pulp novelist Roy Huggins as a fairly straightforward contemporary detective series, set--as was the '70s style--in the sunlight. By the third season, writers such as Cannell, Juanita Bartlett, and David Chase (The Sopranos) had, with the willing collaboration of lead actor James Garner, while retaining the enjoyably convoluted plots, moved the series into the realm of satire and character comedy, zinging numerous well-deserving aspects of the 1970s in the process. 120 episodes, incorporating the pilot, and including several two-part stories and extra-length episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
2.
Baretta (1975 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
The cases of maverick undercover New York City detective Tony Baretta. (60 mins.)
“ 81 episodes, no pilot. ” - jonabbott56
 
3.
City of Angels (1976 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Weekly adventures of hard-boiled '30s detective Jake Axminster. (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and ten episodes; pilot sometimes incorporated into the series as a three-parter (!). ” - jonabbott56
 
4.
Black Sheep Squadron (1976 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
The dramatized World War II adventures of US Major Gregory "Pappy" Boyington and his Marine Attack Squadron 214, AKA The Black Sheep Squadron. (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and 34 episodes. Also known as Black Sheep Squadron, and briefly before that, Baa Baa Black Sheep. Pilot sometimes marketed as The Flying Misfits. ” - jonabbott56
 
5.
Richie Brockelman, Private Eye (1978 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
A private detective in his early twenties uses his youthful looks to an advantage in his work. (60 mins.)
“ Five episodes and a pilot. Dennis Dugan's youthful investigator (first introduced as an irritant in The Rockford Files) was far too annoying to hold down this series about a nerdy amateur with Chandler and Spillane fantasies. ” - jonabbott56
 
6.
The Duke (1979 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.3/10 X  
Ex-boxer Duke Ramsey becomes a Chicago private eye. (60 mins.)
“ Four episodes and a pilot. Encouraged by the moderate success of Black Sheep Squadron, Cannell and Conrad re-teamed for this rather dull and old-fashioned detective show. A major snooze. ” - jonabbott56
 
7.
Stone (1979 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Sgt. Daniel Stone has been moonlighting as a writer and after he becomes a success with lots of fans, it leads to resentment on the force. Former friend Chief Paulson is among those unhappy, not so rookie Buck Rogers. (60 mins.)
“ Nine episodes and a pilot. After spending almost the entire 1970s in the Cannell-ish cowboy cop show McCloud, it was way too soon for Dennis Weaver to present himself to the public in a new cop series... especially one that wasn't anywhere near as good. ” - jonabbott56
 
8.
Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (1980 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.8/10 X  
A con-man and a accountant-wanna-be private eye team up to fight crime. (60 mins.)
“ Twelve episodes and a pilot. One of Cannell's personal favourites, this Rockfordian p.i. series was just a little too quirky to catch on with a large audience. ” - jonabbott56
 
9.
The Greatest American Hero (1981 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
A teacher is asked to be a superhero using a special alien suit with powers he can barely understand or control. (60 mins.)
“ Pilot, 42 episodes, and a dismal reboot pilot. Cannell did for American television what Stan Lee did for American comics, and so his send-up of super-hero comics was always going to be interesting, at the very least. While the production values were poor, the cast was superb, and former Rockford writers ensured the scripts and satirical elements were up to scratch. ” - jonabbott56
 
10.
The Quest (1982 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.5/10 X  
The sovereign state of Glendorra has a problem. It seems that through an old agreement with France, unless there's a monarch... (60 mins.)
“ Five episodes and a pilot. Almost immediately cancelled as soon as it went on the air, this was a brave attempt to do something different but still belongs in the WTF were they thinking column. At least it connected Cannell with Perry King for Riptide. ” - jonabbott56
 
11.
The A-Team (1983 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
Four Vietnam vets, framed for a crime they didn't commit, help the innocent while on the run from the military. (60 mins.)
“ 93 episodes and a pilot (with a different actor playing Face). ” - jonabbott56
 
12.
Hardcastle and McCormick (1983 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
A retired judge and his last defendant follow up on cases that were dismissed due to technicalities. (60 mins.)
“ 65 episodes and a pilot. Ridiculous rubbish about a vigilante judge who forces a parolee to help him bring malcontents who have exploited the legal system to justice. The likeable cast made it work, and as the series wore on, the writers spent more time avoiding the premise than using it... ” - jonabbott56
 
13.
The Rousters (1983 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  
Wyatt Earp III is a bouncer for a small carnival which travels from town to town. He also works as a bounty hunter to keep his family's law enforcement legacy alive. (60 mins.)
“ Twelve episodes and a pilot. Cannell's attempt to do another A-Team. Never quite worked. ” - jonabbott56
 
14.
Riptide (1984 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Three vietnam veterans (Nick Ryder, Cody Allen and Murray Bozinsky) now work as private eyes in sunny southern California... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and 55 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
15.
Hunter (1984 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
Rick Hunter is a renegade cop who breaks the rules and takes justice into his own hands. Partnered with the equally stunning and rebellious Sgt. McCall, the tough-minded duo set out to crack down on L.A.'s slimiest criminals. (48 mins.)
“ 150 episodes and a pilot; several multi-part stories. ” - jonabbott56
 
16.
Stingray (1985 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
"Ray", a man of mystery, gets people out of trouble, asking for favors in return. (48 mins.)
“ Pilot and 23 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
17.
The Last Precinct (1986 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.0/10 X  
Adam West plays the Captain of a police precinct. Unfortunately, the cops at this precinct are assorted goof-balls... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and seven episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
18.
21 Jump Street (1987 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.3/10 X  
The cases of an undercover police unit composed of young looking officers specializing in youth crime. (60 mins.)
Director: Jonathan Wacks
“ Pilot and 101 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
19.
Wiseguy (1987 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.9/10 X  
Vinnie Terranova does time in a New Jersey penitentiary to set up his undercover role as an agent for... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot, 72 episodes including double-length reboot, and later TV movie. ” - jonabbott56
 
20.
J.J. Starbuck (1987 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.1/10 X  
Texas billionaire J.J. Starbuck drives around the country in a 1961 Lincoln convertible, with horns on the hood... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and fifteen episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
21.
Sonny Spoon (1988 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.0/10 X  
A slick, street-smart private eye and top disguise artist solves various crimes with a little help from his friends and also takes care of his dad, a bar owner. (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and fourteen episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
22.
Unsub (1989 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
A special team of FBI forensics experts investigates serial murderers and other unsolved violent crimes. (60 mins.)
“ Seven episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
23.
Top of the Hill (1989 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Thomas Bell's father is a congressman but poor health forces him to resign, so Thomas decides to run for his father's vacated position and wins... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and twelve episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
24.
Booker (1989 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.3/10 X  
Dennis Booker, an ex-cop, is hired by the US office of a large Japanese company to investigate some suspect insurance claims... (60 mins.)
“ 22 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
25.
Broken Badges (1990 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
Jack Bowman is a cop from New Orleans who doesn't exactly play by the rules. When he is sent to California on a brief assignment... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and six episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
26.
The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage (1991 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Long ago the evil pirate Black Jack Savage ruled over the sea. However, he was finally captured and... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and six episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
27.
Scene of the Crime (1991 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.7/10 X  
An anthology mystery show presenting a stand-alone story each episode. The creative twist: each episode featured a regular cast in varying roles and billing. (60 mins.)
“ 23 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
28.
The Commish (1991 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Slightly offbeat television police comedy/drama. Tony Scali is the police commissioner in a small town... (60 mins.)
“ 91 episodes incorporating pilot. ” - jonabbott56
 
29.
Street Justice (1991 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Adam Beaudreaux was a soldier in Vietnam, when he got wounded. He was fortunate that a young boy named Grady Jameson... (44 mins.)
“ 44 episodes, incorporating pilot. ” - jonabbott56
 
30.
Silk Stalkings (1991 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
Cassandra "Cassy" St. John and Tom Ryan are the new duo in town. It is now their job to catch the killers of Palm Beach... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and 175 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
31.
Palace Guard (1991 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.2/10 X  
Tommy Logan is an expert jewel thief who has just gotten out jail. He is hired by Arturo Taft as a security expert for his hotels around the world. Christy Cooper is her boss, and she doesn't like it one bit. (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and seven episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
32.
Renegade (1992 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.0/10 X  
After crooked cop Lieutenant "Dutch" Dixon kills his girlfriend and frames him for murder, Reno Raines escapes from jail and goes on the run... (45 mins.)
Director: Fred L. Miller
“ 110 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
33.
The Hat Squad (1992 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.6/10 X  
A cop and his wife adopt three young boys whose parents were cops and/or killed in the line of duty... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and twelve episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
34.
Missing Persons (1993 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Follows a special police department which deals with cases where people have disappeared. (120 mins.)
“ Pilot and 16 episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
35.
Cobra (1993 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.6/10 X  
When the traditional judicial system fails, there is an alternative: a special government agency that focuses on the victims. (60 mins.)
“ 22 episodes, incorporating pilot. ” - jonabbott56
 
36.
Traps (1994)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 6.8/10 X  
(98 mins.)
Director: Pauline Chan
“ Five episodes. ” - jonabbott56
 
37.
Hawkeye (1994 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
The further adventures based on characters created by James Fennimore Cooper. Hawkeye the woodsman meets a brave English woman trying to free her husband from the French. Set during the French and Indian War in the area of the Hudson Valley. (60 mins.)
“ 22 episodes incorporating pilot. ” - jonabbott56
 
38.
Marker (1995 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Richard DeMorra has been estranged from his father, a self-made man with a fortune made in the rose growing business in Hawaii... (60 mins.)
“ Pilot and 12 episodes. a second shot for Richard Grieco.


Jon is not on Facebook, but can reply to comments here, at the base of this list.


Obsessed with the popular culture of the 1960s and surrounding decades, Jon Abbott has been writing about film and TV for over thirty years in around two dozen different publications, trade, populist, and specialist. He is the author of several books, including

Irwin Allen Television Productions 1964-1970,
Stephen J. Cannell Television Productions: A History of All Series and Pilots,
The Elvis Films,
Cool TV of the 1960s: Three Shows That Changed the World, and Strange New World: Sex Films of the 1970s.

See his Amazon author's page, and his other lists on the IMDB, all under the pre-fix DISCOVER. ” - jonabbott56 ” - jonabbott56