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The Rock Ford Files
Closing Out The Rockford Files:
A Look Back at The Original Must See TV

by Ed Robertson

James Garner PART TWO

You actually could break down "Rockford" into three different series: the episodes from the first year, when it was a Top Ten hit; the shows from the second year, when it lost a huge chunk of audience that it would never recover; and the episodes from the last three years, when it started winning all those Emmy Awards.

"Rockford" in the first season (1974-75) was to private-eye shows what "Maverick" was to Westerns in the 1950s: fresh, irreverent, and clever.

At a time when network TV was saturated with flatfoots and gumshoes, "Rockford" took all the cliches and turned them inside out. NBC programming executives may not have understood the show's sophisticated sense of humor, but the viewers certainly did, taking to Garner like a long-lost friend. "Rockford" suddenly made it cool to stay home on Friday nights.

Stephen J CannellWhen the first season ended, exec producer Roy Huggins left "Rockford" in the hands of his protege Stephen J. Cannell (now the author of such best-sellers as "King Con, "Final Victim" and "The Plan").

Though Cannell understood Maverick/Rockford almost as well as his mentor, and had himself created two of the show's greatest characters (Rocky, our hero's salt-of-the-earth dad, and Angel Martin, Jimbo's former stir mate), he initially lost sight of what made the "Files" work - and the show suffered as a result.

The key to Rockford was that, no matter what, he was smarter than anyone else (especially, the bad guys). But that wasn't the case in the early going of the second season (1975-76) when, week after week, Jimbo found himself taken advantage of, particularly by his own friends.

Roy HugginsBoth "Maverick" (and "Rockford," under Huggins) dared to invert that most sacred of TV rules: the hero always comes out on top in the end. Maverick/Rockford was occasionally done in by his own mercenary tendencies, often to hilarious effect. But Huggins also knew that the key to breaking the rules was doing so with restraint. The audience was bound to grow tired of watching if Rockford ended up looking stupid every week.

That's exactly what happened in the second season.

By Halloween, "Rockford" had lost nearly 20% of its total audience, and was finishing third in a time slot it once owned. Though Cannell recognized the problem with the stories, and was able to steer the series back on track, "Rockford" would never see the Top Ten (or even the Top 20) again.

NEXT: The Soprano's producer
on board to save the showcomes



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Rockford Files - part one

Rockford Files - part two

Rockford Files - TV Movies

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  Noah Berry in Rockford Files

(above) Noah Beery as Jimbo's lovable dad Rocky, a character that co-creator Steve Cannell based on his own father.

Rockford Files photo

(above) Tightly-wound Lieutenant Chapman (James Luisi) was no match for Jimbo's quick wit. Rockford once likened him to "a giant bag of gas in a three-piece suit."

Rockford Files

(above) Gretchen Corbett as Jim's lawyer Beth Davenport, who "collected lost causes like they were rare coins."

(above) Stuart Margolin won two Emmys as the exasperating Angel Martin, Rockford's permanent cross to bear.

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