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The Rockford Files is an American detective (private investigator) television drama originally aired on the NBC television network between September 13, 1974 and January 10, 1980; it has remained in constant syndication to the present day. The show is notable for the quality of its writing, largely from Stephen J. Cannell, Juanita Bartlett, and David Chase, the easy charm of James Garner, who starred as Jim Rockford, and an agile Pontiac Firebird.

The show was created by Roy Huggins and Cannell. Huggins had created the television show Maverick, which had also starred Garner, from 1957 to 1962, 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 in association with Cherokee Productions and Universal Studios. 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' memorable theme by composers Mike Post and Pete Carpenter received Top 40 radio airplay, went to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100, stayed 44 weeks on the charts, and won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement.Knight, Judson. Mike Post - at eNotes.com

The series continues to air in reruns today; as of 2008, Sleuth, RTN and a handful of syndicated affiliates carry the program. All six seasons can be viewed in "streaming-only" format on Netflix as well as the first three seasons on Hulu.com.

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. James Scott Rockford, usually called Jim (sometimes "Jimmy" or "Jimbo"), played by veteran movie/television actor James Garner, served time in California's San Quentinmarker 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 allowed him to maintain his dilapidated mobile home (which doubled as his office) in a parking lot on the beaches of Malibumarker, Californiamarker. His often-uncollected rate was "$200 a day, plus expenses", which many of his mid-1970s era clients considered steep.

In early episodes in the show's first season, the trailer was located in a crowded parking lot alongside the highway and near the ocean; for the rest of the series, the trailer was located at Paradise Cove, adjacent to the pier, and a restaurant, "the Sandcastle". In the series of TV movies from 1994-99, Rockford was still living in a trailer, but it had been extensively enlarged and remodeled, and could no longer be described as "dilapidated".

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 carried a gun (a Colt Detective Special for which he did not have a permit; he kept it in his cookie jar in the kitchen). In contrast to most nattily dressed TV private eyes of the time, Rockford wore off-the-rack, low-budget, slightly tacky clothing (favoring tan, brown and beige jackets, much to the amusement of a high-fashion model in one episode).

As Rockford preferred talking his way out of trouble over violence, he typically worked on cold cases, missing persons 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 was stressed he "specialized in closed criminal cases," so as to avoid conflict (and trouble) with the police. This point was mostly ignored in the later seasons, to allow Rockford to become involved in more dramatic cases like murder, kidnapping, and extortion.

Cast

Starring:

Also starring:
  • Noah Beery, Jr. — Joseph "Rocky" Rockford – Jim's father, a retired truck driver. (The role was played by actor Robert Donley in the 1974 pilot episode.)
  • Joe Santos — Sgt. Dennis Becker — Jim's friend in the LAPD (promoted to Lieutenant in season 5)


Recurring Stars:
  • Stuart Margolin — Evelyn "Angel" Martin – Jim's former cellmate / con artist friend
  • Gretchen Corbett — Elizabeth "Beth" Davenport – Jim's lawyer / girlfriend (seasons 1–4)
  • James Luisi — Lieutenant Douglas J "Doug" Chapman (seasons 3–6)
  • Tom Atkins — Lieutenant Alex / Thomas Diehl (seasons 1–2 and 4)
  • Bo Hopkins — John "Coop" Cooper – Jim's disbarred attorney friend (Season 5)
  • Pat Finley — Peggy Becker, Dennis' wife
  • Isaac Hayes — Gandolph Fitch, another friend of Jim's from his prison days who annoyingly refers to Jim as "Rockfish"


Characters

Rockford's pursuit of these cases would often lead to difficulties with his friend in the LAPD, Sgt. Dennis Becker (played by character actor Joe Santos), a homicide detective struggling to advance in the department under a series of overbearing lieutenants. The two most notable were: "Alex/Thomas Diehl" (Tom Atkins) during the first, second and fourth seasons and "Doug Chapman" (James Luisi) in the third to sixth seasons of the show's run. Those higher-ups invariably hated Rockford (and private investigators generally) because of their perception that either he meddled in open cases or was trying to make the LAPD look incompetent in its handling of closed ones. Further, Rockford often called Becker asking for favors such as running license plates through the state computer system, sometimes annoying the already overworked cop. Eventually, by the fifth season, Becker was 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. Lt. Chapman also intensely disliked the fact that Becker had become his "equal". Becker appeared in 89 of the 123 episodes during the run, and the chemistry of Garner and Santos was one of series TV's most enduring friendships.

Unlike many 1960s and 70s TV private eyes, who typically lived in penthouse apartments or ritzy houses, Rockford resided in a decidedly humbler abode: a trailer house in Malibu on the Pacific Coast Highway, not far from the small bungalow home of his father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford (played by veteran actor Noah Beery Jr., nephew of screen legend Wallace Beery). Rocky (Jim usually called his dad by his nickname) was an ex-Seabee, semi-retired semi-truck driver who often nagged 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 this father and son was an integral part of the show. Rocky appeared in 101 of the 123 episodes, and was usually involved (whether he liked it or not) in his son's cases. Occasionally, he even hired Jim himself. Adding to the credibility of the casting, there was also a physical (and facial) resemblance between Garner and Beery.

Jim Rockford's mother was never shown, never named, and only referred to once (indirectly) over the run of the series. Whether Rocky was a widower or a divorcé was never discussed in the storylines.

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

Rockford had a close relationship with his beautiful attorney, the idealistic, tenacious Elizabeth "Beth" Davenport (Gretchen Corbett). During the show, though never made explicit, it was understood the two had been romantically involved at one time. At other times in the series, the two shared an "open relationship", dating others and openly discussing their respective romances with each other.

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 which produced "Rockford"), a new legal adviser (Jim's disbarred attorney friend John "Coop" Cooper), and a new romantic interest for Rockford were introduced: Dr. Megan Dougherty (Kathryn Harrold), a blind, yet very independent and gorgeous psychiatrist, who made three appearances in the fifth and sixth seasons. Rockford also had romantic flings with numerous other women on the show, but none appeared to last for any significant period. Most episodes had a "leading lady" figure.

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" in a number of appearances in the final season.

Credits

The writing on the show was penned by co-creator and TV icon 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).

Firebird Esprit

Very 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, and commonly employed as an evasive driving technique being taught to Secret Service agents driving for the President of the United States). 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.

Famous answering machine introduction

Main article: See List of Jim Rockford's answering machine gags.

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, and which Rockford was leasing, at apparently significant cost (as mentioned in several episodes).

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.

Aftermath

The still-successful 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.

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 ITV1 and also on Granada +Plus which later became ITV3. In Australia, the series runs Monday - Friday on cable and satellite channel Fox Classics. Within the U.S., full episodes of the show can be viewed online at Hulu.com.

Rockford's style was said to have influenced the creation of many other detective shows, including Magnum, P.I. and Tenspeed and Brown Shoe (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 later tap Selleck in the next 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.

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 (2006). There is no mention of these episodes having been filmed. This would appear to be the source of the rumour that four filmed and completed Rockford episodes were destroyed in a fire in 1980, before ever airing. No substantiation of this rumour has ever been offered.

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.

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"; Brockelman was Rockford's nephew. 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.

The 1969 film Marlowe, which featured Garner as a Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, the most famous of all wisecracking detectives, is an acknowledged inspiration for the "Rockford" series.

Ratings

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


DVD releases

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has released all 6 seasons of The Rockford Files on DVD in Region 1. Universal Playback has released the first 5 seasons on DVD in Region 2. The Rockford Files- Movie Collection, Volume 1, will be released on November 3, 2009.

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


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.

References

  1. Post and Carpenter — Grammy.com
  2. The Rockford Files (theme) — at Billboard.com
  3. Pilot Yellow Page advertisement @ TheSandBox.net


External links




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