NOTE: The following is taken from the instruction manual for “Stephen J Cannell: The Game”, by Milton Bradley, recently discovered in the Terminal Laughter vaults. While the original was a board game with a VHS content component, we have, for your viewing pleasure, located online copies of clips featured in the game.
Like TV? Love TV? Think you can be the next Stephen J Cannell? Here’s your chance to prove it! Stephen J Cannell: The Game gives you the chance to come up with pilot ideas just like the master himself!
As you know, some of Cannell’s shows were big hits: the Johnny Depp-launching 21 Jump Street, sleuthing-with-a-side-order-of-sexy Silk Stalkings, perennial fatherly favourite The Rockford Files, the impossibly A-Teamish The A-Team, beloved TV murderer Robert Blake’s bread and butter Baretta, and the nation’s longest-running showcase for cops who solve cases by shooting suspects dead, Hunter.
But there were many, many more. In fact, nobody knows just how many pilots he actually pitched. Burbank legends speak of undiscovered pilots buried underneath studio lots. Producers often tease each other with their supposed details, sometimes leading to studio parking lots being dug up to find a nonexistent film roll. In Stephen J Cannell: The Game, you try to sell fake Cannell pilots, while sniffing out the real ones for yourself!
For those who’ve forgotten, or maybe never knew (as if!): every Stephen J Cannell show has an against-the-grain protagonist team up with a smart-mouthed sidekick* to help people out when The System fails them. They either drive a unique vehicle or work in a colourful location – or both. But no matter what they do, they do it their way. With a catchy theme song.
There are optional bits, too – after all, you don’t sell the same pilot forty times without a few changes. There’s usually an attractive, responsible-yet-reachable lady still on the ins with the system who helps them out and has an ambiguously romantic fondness for one or both of them. If not, their locale will allow for lots of bikini girls to show up and wave as the protagonists speed by in their vehicle. And because crime fighters fight crime, here’s a rotating cast of guest villains and/or temporary sidekicks played by check-cashing character actors, popular musicians with an album to plug, aging celebs with a fading career to plug, and contemporary stars with an afternoon to spare.
There are two ways to play: Simple and Advanced. In Simple Stephen J Cannell, only the general premise and leading man will be described. Advanced Stephen J Cannell requires that the recurring love interest, principle antagonist, most famous episode, and catch phrase also be described. Everyone comes up with their fake, then has one person read them out – if you buy the real Cannell, or sell a fake one, you get a point! Most points after five fall schedules wins!
Let’s do a test game. Try and guess which ones are genuine, bankable Cannell, and which ones are hack shitshows written by an idiot who’ll never see a dime.
Sonny Spoon: Mario Van Peebles is a cool, black, spoon-clackin’ private eye with a winning personality and knack for disguises. When the police can’t get the job done, Sonny Spoon can – maybe as an Arab tourist, maybe as an old lady, but always, always the Sonny Spoon way.
Cobra: Robert “Scandal” Johnson is a wise-crackin’, conscientious Navy SEAL who refuses to kill innocent civilians that the system wants dead, goes AWOL. He then teams up with an attractive lady from the Cobra organization, which doles out justice where the system fails. He then fights crime all over the Bay Area’s famous hills in his AC Cobra (no relation to the Cobra organization).
Hardcastle & McCormick: a tough-on-crime judge and a wisecrackin’, streetsmart car thief team up to track down the crooks the judge had to let off on technicalities. They take a bite out of crime their own way, burning rubber from locale to locale in their one-of-a-kind supercar, which the car thief happened to acquire legally.
The Last Precinct: Adam West is a police captain in charge of a bunch of oddball, quip-spouting loser cops that the fat cats downtown want off the force. With an Elvis impersonator, a female impersonator, and even an East Indian man in their ranks, the supporting players provide their own colourful backdrop as they clean up the streets their own way.
Riptide: two ex-army buddies move from the front lines to the backwaters when they open up a floating detective agency. With the aid of a helicopter, a nerd, his robot, and their trusty boat Riptide, they soak criminals and leave crime high and dry – and damn if they don’t do it their own way.
The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage: an on-the-lam Wall Street trader teams up with the wise-crackin’, sea-smart ghost of a Caribbean pirate to save 100 souls or risk damnation. Against the colourful backdrop of the Caribbean, they zip around in their high-tech superboat and keep folks from sinking in hot water.
J.J. Starbuck: Cornpone-prone Texan millionaire Jerome Jeremiah Starbuck and his ten gallon hat drive around in his steer horn-festooned limo and help out folks in need of a southern gentleman’s idiosyncratic problem-solving ability.
Happy with your choices? Think you know boffo from boo? Let’s see how you did:
Sonny Spoon: REAL! Fast Forward to Section 59!
Cobra: REAL! Fast Forward to Section 14!
Hardcastle & McCormick: REAL! Fast Forward to Section 31!
The Last Precinct: REAL! Fast Forward to Section 47!
Riptide: REAL! Fast Forward to Section 54!
The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage: REAL! Fast Forward to Section 3!
J.J. Starbuck: REAL! Fast Forward to Section 40!
You’ve been tricked! They were all real! And Stephen J Cannell is rich beyond your wildest dreams! This game is over – you’re ready to play on your own now, after you Fast Forward to Section 63!
*: note: occasionally, the protagonist will be both against-the-grain AND smart-mouthed, thus forcing the sidekick to either be a girl in a bikini or not exist.