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Parallel Lives
Stephen J. Cannell

Stephen J. Cannell

. . . television, film, novel writer. Mr. Cannellís 40 television series include "Rockford Files," "The A-Team," and "The Commish." The Viking Funeral, exposing the role of corporate America in drug money laundering, is among his best-selling novels, often adapted for film. In addition to acting stints, Mr. Cannell revolutionized the American television business, moving production into Canada in the 1970s. He is a leading spokesperson on issues relating to dyslexia. Mr. Cannell succumbed to melanoma in late September, 2010.


Billions of illegal drug dollars are laundered in a "parallel market" of which American Fortune 500 companies and other giant corporations are part, according to once-skeptical Stephen J. Cannell. He focuses on this apparently massive money laundering industry in his novel, The Viking Funeral. But the parallel market itself is no fiction, he insists. Only the American public seems unaware of it, he says, pointing to Congressional hearings, people in law enforcement and penalties paid.

Stephen J. Cannell is legendary in the entertainment world. In addition to writing, he is a producer and savvy business man, having spearheaded forty series in all, from "Rockford Files" to "21 Jump Street." He also revolutionized the American television industry by relocating much of his production to Canada. Now Mr. Cannell writes novels. He works hard to combine serious investigative reporting with entertainment, weaving newspaper headlines into bestsellers. And perhaps surprisingly, he attributes much of his success in all of his work to his dyslexia, a "learning disability" associated with geniuses from Einstein to Edison.

Mr. Cannell says this parallel market story is available but at best, it's been buried in the business page, pushed off front pages by sex scandals. This novel, like his others he says, is the result of serious research which allows him to feel sure his fiction could be fact. A conservative Republican, Mr. Cannell wants to make sure people understand that he believes in the American economy and in America's corporate system of profits. But he also trusts his friends in law enforcement. They assure him that the Justice Department knows about this parallel market and so does the U.S. Congress and major American corporations which have paid multi-million dollar settlements for participating in it. Mr. Cannell wants the rest of us to know, too.

Mr. Cannell's fascination with law enforcement is a common theme throughout his work. Why? Historically, great drama depends on life-or-death issues he points out, noting the murder at the heart of "Hamlet." Enter law enforcement. In addition, Mr. Cannell's drawn to morality plays. He knows they've gone out of fashion in television and literature. He thinks that's because people find more shades of gray in life. That's fine with him -- "gray" is where he wants to be. So "Good and Evil," meet "Achilles' Heel" while investigative reporting weaves itself into entertainment. When the result is a Stephen J. Cannell story, you can be pretty sure there is a moral to it.

[This Program was recorded January 16, 2002, in Atlanta, Georgia, US.]

Conversation 1

Steven J. Cannell tells Paula Gordon and Bill Russell how he weaves headlines into best-sellers, overlapping entertainment and investigative journalism.


Conversation 2

Historical accuracy is important to him when creating plot lines, Mr. Cannell says, articulating his own standards. He compares writing novels and screenplays and describes his approach to research. He gives the factual basis for The Viking Funeral, starting with a conversation with a real customs agent about what he says is the actual "parallel market": Fortune 500 companies in the USA using their products to launder Colombian drug cash.


Conversation 3

Because he believes in the American economy and corporate system of profits, Mr. Cannell recalls his initial skepticism about this "parallel market," remembering his dismay in finding that it seems to be secret only to the American public. He expands on Congressional hearings, actions of law enforcement agencies and public record settlements by major American corporations. Suggesting reasons these stories haven't been in the headlines, Mr. Cannell details how both these money laundering schemes and his novel work. He explains why he is a big believer in the L.A. Police Department, citing challenges for all law enforcement.


Conversation 4

Mr. Cannell gives his learning disability -- dyslexia -- credit for his enormously successful career. He describes dyslexia and what is being learned about its strengths and associated challenges. He gives personal examples of how powerfully this brain anomaly has worked for him, including his "Eureka" moments. He wonders aloud about tobacco company practices. Similarities between good fiction and good journalism are noted, citing Congressional hearings on money laundering.


Conversation 5

The importance of fact-based fiction is considered. Mr. Cannell describes the lucrative industry fostered by America's "war on drugs." Describing himself as a conservative Republican, he nevertheless supports an end to today's "Prohibition," so that profit can be removed and treatment encouraged. Connections are drawn between business, illegal drugs and politics, both national and international. Mr. Cannell remembers how differently several U.S. Administrations have approached illegal drugs. He applauds the integrity of law enforcement people who maintain their integrity in the face of strong inducements which reinforce the traffic in illegal drugs.


Conversation 6

Mr. Cannell celebrates law enforcement dramas, from "Hamlet" to the present.  He notes the power of dramas that build from life-or-death issues.  He affirms his taste for morality plays, highlighting issues of justice. He again applauds good law enforcement people.



Mr. Cannell’s willingness to take on tough subjects is admirable.  We thank him for his courage and applaud him both for putting his own dyslexia to work and for helping others maximize this considerable challenge.

Related Links:
Stephen J. Cannell's many talents are highlighted at his website.
The Viking Funeral is published by St. Martin's Press

Other references:
A PBS broadcast on the subject.
U.S. Department of State statement.
Related testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.
United States Department of the Treasury 1999 Advisory regarding the Black Market Peso Exchange (BMPE) .
A Report by "The Guardian" on the role cigarettes play.
The European Union vs. RJR.

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