The Rockford Files

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The Rockford Files
The Rockford Files (title screen).jpg
Created byRoy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell
StarringJames Garner
Noah Beery, Jr.
Joe Santos
Gretchen Corbett
Stuart Margolin
Theme music composerMike Post
Pete Carpenter
Composer(s)Mike Post
Pete Carpenter (co-composer with Post)
Artie Kane (two episodes)
Dick De Benedictis (one episode)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes122 (+ 8 TV movies) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Stephen J. Cannell
Running time60 minutes
Production company(s)MCA/Universal
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Original runSeptember 13, 1974 – January 10, 1980
 
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The Rockford Files
The Rockford Files (title screen).jpg
Created byRoy Huggins
Stephen J. Cannell
StarringJames Garner
Noah Beery, Jr.
Joe Santos
Gretchen Corbett
Stuart Margolin
Theme music composerMike Post
Pete Carpenter
Composer(s)Mike Post
Pete Carpenter (co-composer with Post)
Artie Kane (two episodes)
Dick De Benedictis (one episode)
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons6
No. of episodes122 (+ 8 TV movies) (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s)Stephen J. Cannell
Running time60 minutes
Production company(s)MCA/Universal
Broadcast
Original channelNBC
Original runSeptember 13, 1974 – January 10, 1980

The Rockford Files is an American television drama series starring James Garner that aired on the NBC network between September 13, 1974, and January 10, 1980, and has remained in syndication to the present day. Garner portrays Los Angeles-based private investigator Jim Rockford with Noah Beery, Jr., in the supporting role of his father, a retired truck driver nicknamed "Rocky".

The show was created by Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell. Huggins created the television show Maverick (1957–1962), which starred Garner, and he wanted 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 (1973–1974, NBC), to create The Rockford Files.

The show was credited as "A Public Arts/Roy Huggins Production" along with Universal Studios and in association with Cherokee Productions. Cherokee was owned by Garner, with partners Meta Rosenberg and Juanita Bartlett, who doubled as story editor during most of The Rockford Files run.

The series theme music 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 16 weeks. and won a Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Arrangement for 1975.[1][2][3]

In 2002, The Rockford Files was ranked #39 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.[4]

A pilot for a remake of the series was written and produced for NBC by David Shore in 2010, with Dermot Mulroney playing the title character, but was not picked up by the network. Complaints were voiced that it was not written well and that Mulroney was miscast.[5] NBC gave the property to Peter Berg to rewrite and produce. As of January 2011, the project is still in development at NBC.

Premise[edit]

Rockford's investigation of a missing woman takes him to a local cemetery.
Rockford has a few heated words with would-be private eye Freddie Beamer.

Producers Roy Huggins and Stephen J. Cannell devised the Rockford character as a rather significant departure from typical television detectives of the time, essentially Bret Maverick as a modern detective.[6] Rockford had served time in California's San Quentin Prison in the 1960s due to a wrongful conviction. After five years, he was pardoned. 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.

In early episodes of the first season, Rockford's trailer is located in a parking lot alongside the highway (address 2354 Pacific Coast 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 ("The Sand Castle", now known as the "Paradise Cove Beach Cafe") (34°01′12″N 118°47′15″W / 34.02000°N 118.78750°W / 34.02000; -118.78750). In the television movies from 1994 to 1999, Rockford is living in a trailer that has been extensively enlarged and remodeled.

In contrast to most television private eyes, Rockford wears low-budget "off the rack" clothing and does his best to avoid fights. He rarely carries his Colt Detective Special revolver, for which he has no permit, preferring to talk his way out of trouble. He works on cold cases, missing persons investigations, and low-budget insurance scams, and repeatedly states that he does not handle "open cases" to avoid trouble with the police.[7][8]

Cast[edit]

Intermittently recurring players:

Valentino, a cat that either Jim has adopted, or is a stray who frequents Jim's trailer, is seen in one episode, and is referred to in another by the same name.

Characters[edit]

Rockford's pursuit of cases often leads to difficulties with his friend in the LAPD, Sgt. Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), a homicide detective struggling to advance in the department under a series of overbearing lieutenants. The two most notable are Alex/Thomas Diehl (Tom Atkins) during the first, second and fourth seasons and Doug Chapman (James Luisi) in the third to sixth seasons. Those higher-ups invariably dislike 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 cases. Further, Rockford often calls Becker asking for favors, such as running license plates through the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) computer system, often annoying the already overworked cop. By the fifth season, Becker is promoted to lieutenant; it was stated in the episode where Becker is promoted that Becker's association with Rockford, considered by LAPD brass to be a shifty ex-con, had hampered Becker's chances for promotion.[9] Chapman intensely dislikes it when Becker becomes his "equal". In season 6 episode The Big Cheese, the third-to-last of the series, Rockford gets a degree of revenge when Chapman inadvertently makes incriminating statements about his tax evasion before an undercover IRS agent who is with Rockford. Becker appears in 89 of the 123 episodes.

Noah Beery, Jr. as "Rocky" Rockford, Jim's father

Rockford's father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, is an ex-Seabee, semi-retired, semi-truck driver who nags his son to find 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 becomes involved (like it or not) in his son's cases. Occasionally, he hires Jim himself. Jim Rockford's mother is never shown or named, and is referred to indirectly. Although never directly stated, the way Jim and Rocky talk about her would seem to indicate she had died (before the series' start). Rocky was portrayed by Noah Beery, Jr., nephew of actor Wallace Beery.

Rockford's scheming former San Quentin cellmate, Evelyn "Angel" Martin (something of a comic relief character played by Stuart Margolin), almost always gets Rockford in trouble, usually by involving him in hare-brained scams, which as often as not result in his arrest or being placed on somebody's hit list. In spite of this, 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 (Gretchen Corbett). It is implied that the two become romantically involved for a time. After Corbett was dropped from the show following the fourth season (allegedly due to contract disputes between Universal, which owned her contract, and Cherokee Productions, Garner's company), a new legal adviser (John "Coop" Cooper, a disbarred attorney who befriends Jim), and a new romantic interest (Kathryn Harrold as Dr. Megan Dougherty) for Rockford were added. Megan Dougherty was a blind highly independent psychiatrist, who makes three appearances in the fifth and sixth seasons. Rockford has romantic flings with numerous women, but none become permanent.

Garner's brother, Jack Garner, made 23 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.

Credits[edit]

The show was written in the main 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 "The Greatest American Hero", and In the Heat of the Night); David Chase (16 episodes; Northern Exposure and The Sopranos); and Roy Huggins (often as John Thomas James), among others. Directors included William Wiard (23 episodes), Lawrence Doheny (10 episodes), and Ivan Dixon (previously on Hogan's Heroes) (9 episodes). Veteran actor James Coburn directed an episode. Coburn had co-starred with Garner in the classic movies The Great Escape (1963) and The Americanization of Emily (1964). Garner directed one episode, "The Girl in The Bay City Boys' Club", in the second season (Garner's only directing credit).

Firebird Esprit[edit]

Familiar to viewers was Jim Rockford's gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit car. One oft-recurring element of the show was the famous "Jim Rockford turn-around" (also known as a J-turn or "Rockford", commonly employed as an evasive driving technique taught to Secret Service agents driving for the President of the United States).[10][11] When evading a tail or when otherwise cornered, Rockford would shift into reverse, speed up backwards in a straight line, sharply turn his wheels causing the front end to swing around; Jim always matched his steering to his speed allowing him to spin his car around 180 degrees and then quickly shift into forward gear, speeding off to escape while maintaining a straight course. James Garner claimed in a Season One DVD interview that he performed this stunt for the duration of the series. The car's license was 853 OKG, although the license in some early episodes displayed the number 835 OKG. Garner writes in his autobiography, The Garner Files, that he believes that the letters OKG stands for "Oklahoma Garner" but that he does not know the origin of the numbers 853. The number was last assigned to a look-alike Firebird driven in and around the city of Riverside, California.[citation needed] As of April 5, 2013 the California DMV shows no record on file for license plate 853 OKG.[citation needed]

Starting with the 1974 model year, Rockford would get a new model-year Firebird Esprit each year throughout the series, though they have identical "copper mist" color with a corresponding upgraded interior (and, occasionally, sharp-eyed car connoisseurs would spot the different model year cars used in various chase scenes that differed from those in an actual episode, especially in later seasons). Although the series ran until early 1980, no Firebird was used past the 1978 model year as Garner reportedly was displeased with the restyled front end of the 1979 and later Firebird models and as such did not wish them featured on the show (although an answering machine message in one episode in the final season indicated his car was 1979 Firebird).

Answering machine introduction[edit]

The show's title sequence began with someone leaving a message on Rockford's answering machine, which was still novel in 1974.[8] 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. 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 write a different joke every week. Suggestions from staffers and crew were often used.

End[edit]

The show went into hiatus late in 1979 when Garner was told by his doctors to take time off because of bad knees and back trouble, as well as an ulcer. He sustained the former conditions largely because of his insistence on performing most of his stunts, especially involving fist fights or car chases. Because of his physical pain, Garner eventually opted not to continue with the show some months later, and NBC cancelled the program in mid-season. It was alleged that Rockford became very expensive to produce, mainly due to the location filming and use of high-end actors as guest stars. According to sources, NBC and Universal claimed the show was generating a deficit of several million dollars, a staggering amount for a nighttime show then, although Garner and his production team Cherokee Productions claimed the show turned a profit. Garner told a story to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show that the studio once paid a carpenter $700 to build a shipping crate for a shoot-out on a boat dock, though there were shipping crates on the dock. The script often called for Garner to damage his car, so the car could be sold, repaired, and repurchased for each episode.

Aftermath[edit]

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 then for a show running on a network) in 1979 and aggressively marketed it to local stations well into the early and middle 1980s. This accounts for its near-ubiquity on afternoon and late-night schedules in those days. From those showings, Rockford developed a following with younger viewers, with the momentum continuing throughout the 1990s and 2000s (decade) on cable. The show was broadcast for a few months in 2006 on Superstation WGN, before the station cancelled it in favor of Matlock. In 2007, the Retro Television Network began broadcasting the program nationwide, as did the digital cable channel Sleuth and Chicago TV station WWME-CA. ION Television has rights to the show and it is slated for future broadcast. In the fall of 2009, the show reappeared in Canada on Deja View. The series was broadcast in the UK on BBC1 and has since been repeated on BBC2 and ITV 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 and on 7Mate. Currently the series airs in the United States on the Me-TV digital subchannel network, and the series is available in full via Netflix Watch Instantly, with the first three seasons available on Hulu Plus.

Rockford's style was said to have influenced the creation of many 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 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 Lance White.

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

Episodes[edit]

Main article: List of Rockford Files 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 were referred to in "Thirty Years of the Rockford Files" by Ed Robertson (2005). There is no mention of these episodes being filmed. This would appear to be the source of the unsubstantiated rumor that four filmed but unaired Rockford episodes were destroyed in a fire in 1980.

Movies[edit]

Eight Rockford Files reunion TV movies were made from 1994 to 1999, airing on the CBS network (whereas the original series 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[edit]

Ratings[edit]

SeasonRankingTimeslot
1974-75#12Fridays at 9:00 p.m.
1975-76#32
1976-77#41
1977-78#46
1978-79#59Fridays at 9:00 p.m./Saturdays at 10:00 p.m.
1979-80#??Fridays at 9:00 p.m./Thursdays at 10:00 p.m.

Awards[edit]

Golden Globe Awards

YearCategoryNominee(s)Result
1978Best TV Actor - DramaJames GarnerNominated
1979Best TV Actor - DramaJames GarnerNominated
1980Best TV-Series - DramaNominated
Best TV Actor - DramaJames GarnerNominated

Primetime Emmy Awards

YearCategoryNominee(s)Episode(s)Result
1976Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama SeriesJames GarnerNominated
1977Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama SeriesJames GarnerWon
Outstanding Continuing Performance by a Supporting Actor in a Drama SeriesNoah Beery Jr.Nominated
1978Outstanding Drama SeriesWon
Outstanding Lead Actress for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy SeriesRita Moreno"The Paper Palace"Won
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama SeriesJames GarnerNominated
1979Outstanding Drama SeriesNominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama SeriesJames GarnerNominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesRita Moreno"Rosendahl and Gilda Stern are Dead"Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama SeriesStuart MargolinWon
Noah Beery Jr.Nominated
Joe SantosNominated
1980Outstanding Drama SeriesNominated
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama SeriesJames GarnerNominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama SeriesLauren Bacall"Lions, Tigers, Monkeys and Dogs"Nominated
Mariette Hartley"Paradise Cove"Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama SeriesStuart MargolinWon
Noah Beery Jr.Nominated

Writers Guild of America Awards

YearCategoryNominee(s)Episode(s)Result
1977Episodic DramaJuanita Bartlett"So Help Me God"Nominated
1978Stephen J. Cannell, Booker Bradshaw, & Calvin Kelly"Beamer's Last Case"Nominated
David Chase"Quickie Nirvana"Nominated
1979Stephen J. Cannell"The House on Willis Avenue"Nominated
1980David Chase"Love Is The World"Nominated

Other Awards

YearAwardCategoryNominee(s)WorkResult
1977American Cinema Editors, USABest Edited Episode for a Television SeriesRod Stephens"No Fault Affair"Nominated
1977Bambi AwardsTV Series InternationalJames GarnerWon
1977Edgar Allan Poe AwardsBest Television EpisodeDavid Chase"The Oracle Wore A Cashmere Suit"Nominated
1978Juanita Bartlett"The Deadly Maze"Nominated
2005Special Edgar AwardDavid ChaseWon
2005TV Land AwardsFavorite Private EyeJames GarnerNominated

DVD releases[edit]

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.[12] Universal Playback has released the first 5 seasons on DVD in Region 2. the pilot for The Rockford Files is in the season 2 set

DVD NameEp#Release dates
Region 1Region 2Region 4
Season One23December 6, 2005August 29, 2005February 6, 2008
Season Two22June 13, 2006August 21, 2006February 6, 2008
Season Three22February 27, 2007May 7, 2007September 2, 2009
Season Four22May 15, 2007July 30, 2007TBA
Season Five22January 15, 2008May 12, 2008TBA
Season Six11January 20, 2009November 19, 2009TBA
Movies Collection, Volume 14November 3, 2009March 1, 2013TBA
Movies Collection, Volume 24TBAMarch 1, 2013TBA
Season 1 – 4 Collection89TBAOctober 22, 2007TBA
The Complete Series130TBATBATBA

Remake[edit]

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, was tapped to head the series.[13] In February 2010, it was announced[14] that Dermot Mulroney would play Jim Rockford in the series. In January, a casting call had been issued, listing series regular roles for Rocky, Angel, Dennis Becker, Beth Davenport and Lt. Doug Chapman.[15] As of March 12, 2010, Alan Tudyk had been cast as Det. Dennis Becker.[16] On March 16, 2010, Melissa Sagemiller was cast as Beth Davenport,[17] and on March 19, Beau Bridges was cast as Rocky.[18]

On May 13, 2010, the Rockford Files remake was canceled by NBC, although there may still be a redevelopment of the concept.[19]

In April 2012, it was announced that Vince Vaughn will be producing and starring in a theatrical version of Rockford Files.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Knight, Judson. Mike Post — at eNotes.com
  2. ^ Post and Carpenter — Grammy.com
  3. ^ The Rockford Files (theme) — at Billboard.com
  4. ^ "TV Guide Names Top 50 Shows"
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ Strait, Raymond (1985). James Garner. New York: St. Martin's. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-312-43967-5. 
  7. ^ "Pilot Yellow Page advertisement". TheSandBox.net.
  8. ^ a b Micheal Moynihan (23 July 2014), James Garner in the 'Rockford Files' was an irresistible force on our TV screens, Irish Examiner 
  9. ^ The Rockford Files - Season 5, Episode 5 - "Kill The Messenger"
  10. ^ Melanson, Philip H. (2005). The Secret Service: The Hidden History of an Enigmatic Agency. Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 187. ISBN 978-0-7867-1617-3. 
  11. ^ Straub, Bill (April 20, 2002). "Agent Bush: President Tries Out Secret Service Driving, Gun Skills". Seattle Post-Intelligencer. 
  12. ^ "The Rockford Files DVD news: Announcement for The Rockford Files - Movie Collection, Volume 1". TVShowsOnDVD.com. 2007-05-25. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  13. ^ By (2009-07-29). "NBC rewinds 'Rockford' - Entertainment News, TV News, Media". Variety. Retrieved 2009-08-19. 
  14. ^ Dermot Mulroney to Headline NBC's 'Rockford Files' Remake
  15. ^ By. "Rockford Files - Remake - Casting Call and Plotline". 
  16. ^ Televisionary - Alan Tudyk cast as Becker (2009-03-12)
  17. ^ Breaking News - Development Update: Tuesday, March 16. TheFutonCritic.com. Retrieved on 2012-04-24.
  18. ^ "Entertainment News, Celebrity Interviews and Pop Culture", ABC News (2010-11-26). Retrieved on 2012-04-24.
  19. ^ "Primetime Pilot Panic: Rockford Files Is Now Dead At NBC", Deadline Hollywood, May 13, 2010
  20. ^ "Vince Vaughn, 'The Rockford Files': Star To Head Reboot Of Famed TV Series", Huffington Post, April 17, 2012

External links[edit]