The Rockford Files

The Rockford Files

1977 - United States

Trading heavily on the genially infectious natural charisma and star quality of its leading actor, the ever excellent James Garner (born James Bumgarner, the winner of two Purple Hearts in the Korean War), The Rockford Files quickly established itself as one of US television's most popular entries in the firmly established and perennially popular private eye sub genre.

The series was created by Roy Huggins, who had earlier created the hugely influential running man series The Fugitive and the western series Maverick, (also with Garner in the lead role), and prolific writer/producer Stephen J. Cannell.

In the pilot episode, the viewing public was introduced to Jim Rockford, a private detective who had served time for a crime which he hadn't committed, but who had been eventually cleared when new evidence of his innocence had come to light. Living and working out of his beachfront trailer home in the Los Angeles area, and charging $200 per day plus expenses, Rockford's speciality, one which didn't particularly endear him to the police, was taking on cases marked as satisfactorily closed, and unearthing new evidence which would bring the true culprit to justice.

Jim Rockford was ably supported by his ex truck driver father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford (Noah Beery Jr.), Det Sgt. Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), Jim's long time friend in the LAPD who was continually torn between his friendship to the ex con and his duty as a police officer, and Evelyn "Angel" Martin (Stuart Margolin), Rockford's devious, forever on-the-make, but likeable former cell mate. There was also tough guy Gandy Fitch (Issac Hayes) and rounding out the core character set was Jim's on-off girl-friend, attorney Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) who could always be counted on to bail him out following his frequent brushes with the law.

The show's writers clearly had a lot of fun during the course of the series by utilising a variety of plots and story devices which enabled them to exploit and showcase Garner's understatedly innate sense of comedic timing to the fullest. These included such private eye staples as Jim impersonating others in order to gain information, a variety of amusingly cheap disguises, the obligatory acts of petty bribery and shameless eavesdropping. But at the end of the day it was always clear that it was the detective's sharp powers of reasoning and persistent hard work that ultimately solved the case. 

Another aspect that added a very human appeal to the character was his all to believable aversion to violence. Rockford was no superhero. He frequently he got beaten up, suffered damage to his car, and actually got seriously injured on more than one occasion. During the final season a further element of humour was added to the ingredients by having him display open jealousy and resentment for the newly introduced character of fellow private investigator Lance White (a pre Magnum, P.I. Tom Selleck), who, apart from being handsome, seemed to possess an intuitive grasp of a case's complexities as well as the good luck to have everything fall into his lap without undue effort. 

The series final season caused a wholly unexpected disappointment to the show's world-wide legion of admirers, when it was cut short due to star Garner's initial shock announcement that a combination of boredom with the role and a number of long standing injuries had led to his decision to abruptly quit the show. However, it was later reported that the US network, NBC, cancelled the series whilst Garner, on the advice of his doctor, was recuperating from his injuries. This eventually led to a legal dispute which ran for a number of years. Garner would revisit the Rockford character in eight well received TV movies during the 1990's, the movies picking up nearly 15 years later from where the show ended.

The instantly recognisable theme music from the series composed by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter made the US music charts in mid 1975.

By 1989, the show had grossed $125,000,000 from network and syndicated runs. In the UK, where it proved hugely popular, the series was broadcast on BBC1 from 18 March 1975.

Published on January 25th, 2019. Written by Robin Humar for Television Heaven.

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