Jack Shannon (Shannon’s Deal)

Created by John Sayles

Dear Sir,

Just a thought, but if Perry Mason makes your list of detectives shouldn’t Jack Shannon of the show Shannon’s Deal be there as well? Certainly less well-known, but his show had a definite hard-boiled feel to it. Right down to the small office with the loyal secretary. Most of Shannon’s work was not in the courtroom but on the streets.

Dan Delgado

Well, when they’re right, they’re right.

JACK SHANNON was a successful corporate lawyer, a workaholic at Coleman & Weiss, a big, muckety-muck Philadelphia law firm. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as successful when it came to his compulsive gambling habit. It cost him his wife, his daughter and eventually his job, and although he tries to be a good dad (don’t they all?), there’s no doubt that his professional career is on the skids.

So he decides to set up shop as a general practitioner of law, complete with a tiny, cramped office, a loyal–if part-time–Cuban-American secretary, Lucy Acosta (Shannon helped spring her boyfriend from jail), and a rather colorful investigator in the person of Wilmer Slade, a self-educated motormouth who just happens to be an enforcer for one of the many shylocks to whom Jack is in debt.

With Wilmer’s help, Shannon takes a decidedly hands-on approach to his work. In fact, although he swears he’s given up gambling, Shannon continues to use his skill as a cardplayer to help him work out his cases, and isn’t above running a little scam every now and then–anything, in fact, to avoid having to go to court.

So don’t go expecting some fiery Perry Mason courtroom showdown–Shannon would rather strike a deal with opposing counsel, scam the DA into dropping charges, or otherwise work the system on his clients’ behalf.

Originally a two-hour pilot that aired in 1989, Shannon’s Deal was written by acclaimed indie film writer/director John Sayles (Matewan, Eight Men Out, etc.), and starred the under-appreciated Jamey Sheridan as Shannon. When the show was spun off into a series , Sayles even directed one of the episodes, and had a cameo in the “Words to Music” premiere, playing a jealous boyfriend who gets into a confrontation with Shannon.

Shannon was a likable fuck-up, a complex but sympathetic character struggling, as much as anything, to rebuild his life and regain his daughter’s love and trust, all the while doing his best to resist temptation. Alas, good writing, intelligent scripts, a suitably dressed down, hard-boiled tone, some strong acting, an engaging cast, a great “Ellingtonian” jazz theme by Wynton Marsalis, and even a 1990 Edgar for “Best Television Feature or Miniseries” weren’t enough to save Shannon’s Deal, and the show folded after just thirteen episodes, spread thinly over two “seasons.”


  • “I thought I was a big shot. Big money, big house, big car…I thought I held all the cards. I thought I could pick the winner every time, I thought I could smell it…but the whole thing was built on garbage. I treated my wife badly and I knew it and I didn’t stop and one day she walked. She took my daughter with her. I started gambling big time, crazy stuff, long shot stuff. I turned into the kind of man that I’d grown up hating. Making the big bucks and being made a partner wasn’t enough to buy that off. I’m just kinda starting from scratch, trying to keep things low pressure.”
    — Jack explains it all in the show’s opening credits narration
  • Lucy: ”In life, doors are always closing.”
    Jack: ”Cuban folk wisdom?”
    Lucy: ”I read it in Dear Abby.”
  • “You don’t have to heap more guilt on me. I’m doing just fine on my own.”
    — Jack


  • “Having ridden the success express and fallen off, Jack Shannon is now trying to find out what is important in his life. Proceeding with grace, wit and passion, he brings some welcome new dimensions to prime time.”
    — John J. O’Connor (April 1990, The New York Times)


  • Rocker Iggy Pop does a tongue-in-cheek lounge version of The Stooges’ “Search and Destroy” in “Strangers in the Night,” a second season episode. In an episode from the first season, “Words to Music,”  Pop had appeared as a rocker moonlighting as a studio singer, while Tanya Tucker played a country singer trying to stage a comeback and  David Crosby played a gun-toting songwriter.
  • But wait! Just in case you thought that was the only tie-in to pop music, Shannon’s young daughter, Neala, was played by then thirteen-year-old Jenny Lewis, who went on to sing and play rhythm guitar for the indie rock band Rilo Kiley, before launching a successful solo career.


    (1989, NBC)
    2-hour pilot
    Teleplay by John Sayles
    Directed by Lewis Teague
    Associate producer: Peter Chomsky
    Executive producer: Stan Rogow
    Original music by Wynton Marsalis
    Cinematography by Andrew Dintenfass
    Starring Jamey Sheridan as JACK SHANNON
    Also starring Elizabeth Peña, Richard Edson, Jenny Lewis, Miguel Ferrer, Martin Ferrero, Carla Belver, Michael Bowen, Claudia Christian, Jesse Dizon, Stefan Gierasch, Robert Gossett, Ronald G. Joseph, Andrew Lowery, Ely Pouget, Brian Smiar
    (1990-91, NBC)
    TV series
    Created by John Sayles
    Writers: John Sayles, John Byrum, David Greenwalt, Tom Rickman, Clayton Frohman, Mark Rosner
    Directors: Allan Arkush, Corey Blechman. John Byrum, Eugene Corr, Aaron Lipstadt, Thomas Rickman, John Sayles, Joan Tewkesbury, Betty Thomas
    Supervising producer: Allan Arkush
    Co-producer: James Margellos
    Executive producer: Stan Rogow
    Starring Jamey Sheridan as JACK SHANNON
    Also starring Elizabeth Peña as Lucy Acosta
    Richard Edson as Wilmer Slade
    Jenny Lewis as Neala Shannon
    Miguel Ferrer as D.A. Todd Spurrier
    and Martin Ferrero as Lou Gondolf
    Guest stars: Ralph Waite, Iggy Pop, David Crosby, Tanya Tucker

    • “Words to Music” (April 16, 1990)
    • “Inside Straight” (April 23, 1990)
    • “Art” (April 30, 1990)
    • “Custody” (May 7, 1990)
    • “Hitting Home” (May 8, 1990)
    • “Sanctuary” (May 16, 1990)
    • “The Bad Beat” (March 23, 1991)
    • “Greed” (April 9, 1991)
    • “Strangers in the Night” (April 16, 1991; two-hour episode; aka “Wrongful Death”)
    • “First Amendment” (April 23, 1991)
    • “The Inside Man” (April 30, 1991)
    • “Matrimony” (May 14, 1991)
    • “Trouble” (May 21, 1991)


Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, thanks to a lead from Dan Delgado.

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