❉ With the first of its six seasons arriving on Blu-Ray, this wry and charming series can now be enjoyed fully restored and in high definition.
“Despite his apparent lack of aspirational qualities, Jim Rockford became one of TV’s favourite heroes – the epitome of the character that women want and men want to be. A testament to the series’ writers, as well as Garner’s old-school Hollywood charisma.”
“This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message, I’ll get back to you.”
Running from 1974 to 1980 and repeated on an almost constant rotation ever since, The Rockford Files was one of the biggest detective shows on television. One of the decade’s highest-rated programmes, it would be nominated for multiple awards, including the win of an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. With the first of its six seasons arriving on Blu-Ray, this wry and charming series can now be enjoyed fully restored and in high definition.
The Rockford Files was co-created by Stephen J. Cannell, who had written for Columbo and would go on to create, amongst others, The A-Team and 21 Jump Street. Envisioning his cold-case private investigator as a quick-witted antihero in the same mould as Maverick, it was no surprise that he would choose James Garner – whose big break had come in that series – as his star. For the role, Garner would go on to receive an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
The Rockford Files aired on the NBC television network from 1974 through 1980, starting with a TV movie titled, simply, The Rockford Files. During the series run, there were a number of two-part episodes, as well as feature-length episodes that were split into two parts for syndication.
With Rockford built around Garner’s affable, laid-back persona, the series presents a lead character distinctly at odds with the other TV stars of the time. Rather than a crusader for justice, Rockford’s main concerns are his salary – $200 per day plus expenses, which he rarely manages to receive – and avoiding the nagging of his father (Noah Beery) that he find himself a real job.
Although his profession brings him into the orbit of tycoons, gangsters and heiresses, private investigator Jim Rockford works from his beat-up trailer home, situated in a parking lot by a beach in Malibu, Los Angeles, his discount store clothing placing him at odds with the alarmingly high-waisted trousers of the Southern California set. An ex-con (although his five years in San Quentin has been fully pardoned) Rockford rarely carries a gun due to not having a license. Relying instead on his sharp wits and easy charm, he adopts a series of aliases and disguises with the ease of a born conman.
Jim has small ad in the yellow pages, drives a gold Pontiac Firebird Esprit and has an answering machine, which plays the familiar message; “This is Jim Rockford. At the tone leave your name and message and I’ll get back to you”. A person then leaves a message, almost always from someone who owed money to Rockford, someone to whom Rockford owed money, or from women Rockford owed an explanation.
Each episode of Rockford follows a solid formula: Jim Rockford encounters a client who retains his services, then gets drawn into the middle of a dangerous situation he knows nothing about, usually involving some element of the Southern California underworld. But there is no shortage of action: fist-fights (which Rockford was as likely to lose as win) and car chases feature heavily in the series, with Garner performing his own stunts. In time, Rockford cracks the case, and everything ends on a joyful freeze frame and a reprise of Mike Post’s memorable theme tune.
Despite his apparent lack of aspirational qualities, Jim Rockford became one of TV’s favourite heroes – the epitome of the character that women want and men want to be. A testament to the series’ writers, as well as Garner’s old-school Hollywood charisma. Also contributing to the show’s popularity was its blues-inspired theme co-written by Mike Post, whose prolific list of compositions includes Hill Street Blues, The A-Team and Quantum Leap. Conceiving his works as ‘one-minute hit singles’, the Rockford Files theme would spend four months in the US charts, peaking at number ten.
Future Sopranos creator David Chase was the only writer to ever win a writers’ award for The Rockford Files. Chase won his Edgar Award for season three’s The Oracle Wore A Cashmere Suit, a tightly plotted murder mystery giving Garner some sharp quips.
Tranmere Rovers have run out to The Rockford Files theme tune since 1979. Then chairman Bill Bothwell bemoaned the poor attendance at Prenton Park on Friday nights saying “I can only conclude that the people of Wirral prefer to watch The Rockford Files on TV on a cold Friday night than support their local football team.”
With the series’ generous budget always being shown on-screen, its filmic location work lends itself perfectly to the Blu-Ray format. 1970s California has never looked as enticing to the fan of classic TV as it does here.
The set contains all twenty-two episodes of the first season, including the two-part pilot. In the 1990s, Rockford returned to the air in a series of eight TV movies on CBS.
❉ ‘The Rockford Files: The Complete First Season’ released by Fabulous Films Ltd/Fremantle Media Enterprises on Blu-Ray, October 8th 2018. Certificate: PG. Running Time: 1228 mins. Price: £39.99.
❉ Stephen Graham keeps the British end up on Twitter at @PlopGazette.