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The Rockford Files

The Rockford Files
Rockford files.JPG
Title card showing the famous answering machine
Format Crime drama
Created by Roy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell
Starring James Garner
Noah Beery Jr.
Joe Santos
Gretchen Corbett
Stuart Margolin
Theme music composer Mike Post
Pete Carpenter
Country of origin United States
Language(s) English
No. of seasons 6
No. of episodes 122 plus 8 TV movies (List of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Stephen J. Cannell
Running time 60 minutes
Original channel NBC
Original run September 13, 1974 ' January 10, 1980

The Rockford Files is an American drama series which originally aired on the NBC television network between September 13, 1974 and January 10, 1980; it has remained in regular syndication to the present day. The show stars James Garner as Los Angeles based private investigator Jim Rockford.

The show was created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell. Huggins had created the television show Maverick (1957'1962), which had also starred Garner, and wanted to try to recapture that magic in a "modern day" detective setting. He teamed with Cannell, who had written for Jack Webb productions such as Adam-12 and Chase (1973'74, NBC), to create Rockford. The show was credited as "A Public Arts / Roy Huggins Production" along with Universal Studios and in association with Cherokee Productions. Cherokee was the name of Garner's own company, which he ran with partners Meta Rosenberg and Juanita Bartlett, who doubled as story editor during most of Rockford's run.

The series' theme by composers Mike Post and Pete Carpenter was released as a single and went to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, remaining on the chart for 44 weeks and won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement.[1][2][3]

The series continues to air in reruns today. A pilot for a remake of the series was produced for NBC, in 2010, with Dermot Mulroney playing the titular character, but was not picked up by the network.


[edit] Premise

Producers Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell devised the main character to be a rather significant departure from typical television detectives of the time. Essentially Maverick as a modern detective,[4] James Scott Rockford, usually called Jim (sometimes "Jimmy" or "Jimbo"; and played by veteran movie and television actor James Garner), had served time in California's San Quentin State Prison in the 1960s due to a wrongful conviction for armed robbery; after five years, he received a pardon. His infrequent jobs as a private investigator barely allow him to maintain his dilapidated mobile home (which doubles as his office) in a parking lot on the beaches of Malibu, California. Each episode begins with a cold open of a telephone answering machine recording, usually made by a client giving an excuse for not paying Rockford's rate of "$200 a day, plus expenses", which many of his mid-1970s era clients consider steep.

In early episodes in the show's first season, the trailer is located in a crowded parking lot alongside the highway and near the ocean; for the rest of the series, the trailer is at Paradise Cove (address 29 Cove Road), adjacent to a pier and a restaurant. In the series of TV movies from 1994'99, Rockford is still living in a trailer, but it has been extensively enlarged and remodeled.

Unlike the almost uniformly macho and trigger-happy gumshoes on other shows of that day (and before), Rockford would just as soon duck a fight as swing his fists, and he rarely carries a gun (a Colt Detective Special for which he does not have a permit). In contrast to most nattily dressed TV private eyes of the time, Rockford wears off-the-rack, low-budget clothing, favoring tan, brown and beige jackets (much to the amusement of a high-fashion model in one episode).

As Rockford prefers talking his way out of trouble over violence, he typically works on cold cases, missing persons investigations, and low-budget insurance scams. He repeatedly states in the series that he does not handle "open cases". In the pilot (and in Rockford's Yellow Pages ad), it is stressed he "specialized in closed criminal cases," so as to avoid conflict (and trouble) with the police.[5]

[edit] Cast

Also starring:

Recurring stars:

  • Stuart Margolin as Evelyn "Angel" Martin, Jim's former cellmate. Angel is an untrustworthy con artist who constantly gets Jim in trouble, yet Jim remains his friend.
  • Gretchen Corbett as Elizabeth "Beth" Davenport, Jim's lawyer and sometime girlfriend (seasons 1'4)
  • James Luisi as Lieutenant Douglas J. "Doug" Chapman (seasons 3'6), Becker's boss (until Becker's promotion). He and Jim despise each other.
  • Tom Atkins as Lieutenant Alex / Thomas Diehl (seasons 1'2 and 4)
  • Bo Hopkins as John "Coop" Cooper, Jim's disbarred attorney friend (Season 5)
  • Pat Finley as Peggy Becker, Dennis' wife
  • Isaac Hayes as Gandolph Fitch, an acquaintance of Jim's from his prison days

[edit] Characters

Rockford's pursuit of these cases often leads to difficulties with his friend in the LAPD, Sgt. Dennis Becker, a homicide detective struggling to advance in the department under a series of overbearing lieutenants. The two most notable are Alex/Thomas Diehl during the first, second and fourth seasons and Doug Chapman in the third to sixth seasons. Those higher-ups invariably hate Rockford (and private investigators generally) because of their perception that either he is meddling in open cases or is trying to make the LAPD look incompetent in its handling of closed ones. Further, Rockford often calls Becker asking for favors, such as running license plates through the state computer system, sometimes annoying the already overworked cop. By the fifth season, Becker is promoted to lieutenant; it was stated in the story line that Becker's association with Rockford, considered by LAPD brass to be a shifty ex-con, had probably hampered Becker's chances for promotion. Chapman also intensely dislikes it when Becker becomes his "equal". Becker appears in 89 of the 123 episodes.

Rockford's father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, is an ex-Seabee, semi-retired semi-truck driver who often nags his son to get more stable (and less dangerous) employment, often urging him to follow in his footsteps as a truck driver (especially in early seasons). The relationship of father and son was an integral part of the show. Rocky appears in 101 episodes, and usually gets involved (whether he likes it or not) in his son's cases. Occasionally, he even hires Jim himself. Adding to the credibility of the casting was the physical resemblance between Garner and Beery. Jim Rockford's mother is never shown or named, and is only referred to indirectly.

Jimmy, Angel, and Rocky

Rockford's scheming former San Quentin cellmate, Evelyn "Angel" Martin (something of a comic relief character), almost always gets Rockford in trouble, usually by involving him in hare-brained scams, which as often as not result in either his arrest or being placed on somebody's hit list. In spite of this, however, Jim considers Angel as one of his best, if most exasperating, pals.

Rockford has a close relationship with his attorney, the idealistic, tenacious Elizabeth "Beth" Davenport. It is implied the two become romantically involved for a time. After Corbett was dropped from the show after the fourth season (allegedly due to contract disputes between Universal, which owned her contract, and Cherokee Productions, Garner's company), a new legal adviser (Jim's disbarred attorney friend John "Coop" Cooper), and a new romantic interest (Kathryn Harrold as Dr. Megan Dougherty) for Rockford were added. Megan Dougherty was a blind yet very independent psychiatrist, who makes three appearances in the fifth and sixth seasons. Rockford also has romantic flings with numerous other women, but none that last.

Garner's brother, Jack Garner, made 23 guest appearances playing (at various times) a policeman, a gas station attendant, and a stranger in a bathroom. The most regular character Jack played was that of police "Captain McEnroe" a number of times in the final season.

[edit] Credits

The writing on the show was penned by co-creator Cannell (36 episodes); one of the show's producers and Garner's partner at Cherokee Productions, Juanita Bartlett (34 episodes; also Scarecrow and Mrs. King and In the Heat of the Night); David Chase (16 episodes; Northern Exposure and The Sopranos); and Roy Huggins (as John Thomas James), among others. Directors included William Wiard (23 episodes), Lawrence Doheny (10 episodes), and Ivan Dixon (previously a star on Hogan's Heroes) (9 episodes). Veteran actor James Coburn also directed an episode. Coburn had co-starred with Garner in the classic movies The Great Escape (1963) and The Americanization of Emily (1964). Garner himself directed one episode, "The Girl in The Bay City Boys' Club," in the show's second season (as of 2008, Garner's only directing credit).

[edit] Firebird Esprit

Familiar to viewers of the show was Jim Rockford's gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit automobile, which Rockford always took through its paces. One oft-recurring element of the show was the famous "Jim Rockford turn-around" (also known as a J-turn or "Rockford", and commonly employed as an evasive driving technique taught to Secret Service agents driving for the President of the United States).[6][7] When trying to evade someone tailing him or when otherwise cornered, Rockford would shift into reverse, speed up backwards in a straight line and sharply turn his wheels. This maneuver would spin his car around 180 degrees and he would then quickly shift back into forward gear, speeding off to escape while maintaining a straight course the whole time.

[edit] Answering machine introduction

The show's title sequence began with someone leaving a message on Rockford's answering machine, a device which was still something of a novelty in 1974. A different message was heard in each episode. These frequently had to do with creditors to whom Rockford owed money, or deadbeat clients who owed money to him. They were usually unrelated to the rest of the plot. As the series went on, this gimmick became a burden for the show's writers, who had to come up with a different joke every week. Suggestions from staffers and crew were often used.

[edit] End

The show went into hiatus late in 1979 when Garner was told by his doctors to take time off because of his bad knees and back, as well as an ulcer. He sustained the former conditions largely because of his insistence on performing most of his own stunts, especially those involving fist fights or car chases. Because of his excruciating physical pain, Garner eventually opted not to continue with the show a number of months later, and NBC cancelled the program in mid-season. It was also alleged that Rockford became extremely expensive to produce, mainly due to the extensive location filming and frequent use of high-end actors as guest stars. According to some sources, NBC and Universal claimed the show was generating a deficit of several million dollars, a staggering amount for a nighttime show in those days, although Garner and his production team Cherokee Productions claimed the show always turned a profit.

[edit] Aftermath

Later in the 1980s, after he attempted to fulfill his Rockford contract with a 1981 Maverick revival titled Bret Maverick, Garner became engaged in a legal dispute with Universal regarding the profits from Rockford that lasted over a decade, causing (and reflecting) significant ill will on both sides. The dispute was settled out of court (for an undisclosed amount) in Garner's favor, but because of this conflict, the Rockford character would not re-emerge until 1994.

Universal began syndicating the show (initially under the name Jim Rockford, Private Investigator due to standard practices at that time for a show still running on a network) in 1979 and aggressively marketed it to local stations well into the early and middle 1980s. This almost certainly accounts for its near-ubiquity on afternoon and late-night schedules in those days. From those showings, Rockford developed a cult following among younger generations of fans, with the momentum continuing throughout the 1990s and 2000s on cable. The show was broadcast for a few months in 2006 on Superstation WGN, before the station cancelled it in favor of Matlock. As of 2007, the Retro Television Network has once again begun broadcasting the program nationwide, as are the digital cable channel Sleuth and Chicago station WWME-CA. ION Television also has rights to the show and has it slated for future broadcast. In the fall of 2009, the show will be reappearing in Canada on Deja View. The series was also broadcast in the UK on BBC1 and has since been repeated on BBC2 and ITV (later named ITV1) and also on Granada +Plus, which later became ITV3, although none of these channels repeated the later seasons. In Australia, the series runs Monday - Friday on cable and satellite channel Fox Classics.

Rockford's style was said to have influenced the creation of many other detective shows, including Magnum, P.I. and Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (the latter also created by Cannell). Tom Selleck made two guest appearances on Rockford in the comic role of private investigator Lance White, a character who was everything Rockford was not ' wealthy, highly educated, debonair, irresistible to women, and ethical to a fault. Rockford's producers would tap Selleck in the TV season after the Rockford cancellation for Universal's Magnum, P.I., where he played a character similar in many ways to Rockford, although with wholesome, patriotic undertones in the context and plots. Several episodes of Magnum make reference to the character of Lance White.

In turn, Rockford was pencilled in to appear in the sixth season Magnum, P.I. episode "A.A.P.I." (1986; in which Cannell also guest starred), concerning a murder at a Private Investigator awards ceremony, but a dispute between Garner and Universal (Garner reportedly refused to even set foot on a single Universal film set until it was resolved) meant that the planned cameo had to be dropped.

[edit] Episodes

(including TV movies)

The series pilot aired on NBC March 27, 1974 as a 90-minute made-for-television movie. In the pilot, Robert Donley played Rockford's father; Lindsay Wagner also starred and later made a return appearance. The pilot was titled Backlash of the Hunter for syndication.

Four written, but unproduced, season 6 episodes have been referred to in "Thirty Years of the Rockford Files" by Ed Robertson (2005). There is no mention of these episodes having been filmed. This would appear to be the source of the unsubstantiated rumour that four filmed but unaired Rockford episodes were destroyed in a fire in 1980.

[edit] Movies

Eight Rockford Files reunion TV movies were made from 1994 to 1999, airing on the CBS network (whereas the original series had aired on NBC) and reuniting most of the cast from the original show. Beery died on November 1, 1994, so the first of these movies, which aired later that month, stated, "This picture is dedicated to the memory of Noah Beery, Jr. We love you and miss you, Pidge." ("Pidge" was Beery's nickname.)

[edit] Spinoffs

The character of Richie Brockelman, played by Dennis Dugan, first appeared in a 1976 series pilot produced by Cannell, appeared in the 1978 Rockford episode, "The House on Willis Avenue". The limited-run series, Richie Brockelman, Private Eye appeared as a summer-replacement series, thus becoming the only Rockford spinoff to be aired, but was cancelled after five episodes. Episodes were also stitched together to air in syndication as two-hour movies. The character of Richie Brockelman returned to Rockford in the 1979 episode, "Never Send a Boy King To Do a Man's Job."

Universal made a pilot featuring the characters of Gandolph "Gandy" Fitch and Marcus "Gabby" Hayes, played by Isaac Hayes and Lou Gossett, Jr., respectively, titled Gabby & Gandy. The series never came to fruition, but the pilot was broadcast as an episode of Rockford.

[edit] Ratings

Season Ranking
1974-75 #12
1975-76 #32
1976-77 #41
1977-78 #46
1978-79 #59
1979-80 #??

[edit] DVD releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released all six seasons of The Rockford Files on DVD in Region 1. The Rockford Files- Movie Collection, Volume 1, was released on November 3, 2009.[8] Universal Playback has released the first 5 seasons on DVD in Region 2.

DVD Name Ep# Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Season One 23 December 6, 2005 August 29, 2005 February 6, 2008
Season Two 22 June 13, 2006 August 21, 2006 February 6, 2008
Season Three 22 February 27, 2007 May 7, 2007 September 2, 2009
Season Four 22 May 15, 2007 July 30, 2007 TBA
Season Five 22 January 15, 2008 May 12, 2008 TBA
Season Six 11 January 20, 2009 TBA TBA
Movies Collection, Volume 1 4 November 3, 2009 TBA TBA
Movies Collection, Volume 2 4 TBA TBA TBA
Season 1 ' 4 Collection 89 TBA October 22, 2007 TBA
The Complete Series 130 TBA TBA TBA

[edit] Remake

On July 30, 2009, it was revealed that NBC, Universal Media Studios and Steve Carell's Carousel Television, were teaming up to produce a revival of the show. David Shore, creator of House, has been tapped to head the series.[9] In February 2010, it was announced[10] that Dermot Mulroney would be playing Jim Rockford in the series. In January, a casting call [11] had been issued, listing series regular roles for Rocky, Angel, Dennis Becker, Beth Davenport and Lt. Doug Chapman. As of March 12, 2010, Alan Tudyk had been cast as Det. Dennis Becker.[12] On March 16, 2010, Melissa Sagemiller was cast as Beth Davenport,[13] and on March 19, Beau Bridges was cast as Rocky.[14]

On May 13, 2010, the Rockford Files remake was canceled by NBC, although it is possible that there may still be a redevelopment of the concept.[15]

[edit] References

[edit] External links

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