Hauling Like A Brooligan

Stephen Gallagher

Rockford Redux

So here I am, midway through my boxed set of The Rockford Files season two, when I see the news today that David Shore, creator and showrunner of House, is lining up a revival of the show.

It’s a task both enviable and unenviable – Rockford is probably the best show of its kind, but it’ll be a tough challenge to match it. Jim Rockford was a Philip Marlowe who’d survived the Summer of Love with his old-fashioned principles intact. The format was deceptively simple. Tone was everything, and the show was one of those where its magic was an alchemical product of stylish, witty screenwriting and charismatic lead.

One of the things I’ve come to realise is there’s an underlying principle common to many a long-running show, which is “the world is scary but your dad’s here.”

I noticed it first in The Equaliser, because I couldn’t make out why the show worked; the hero wasn’t dashing, nor was he intimidating, but when he showed up you knew everything was going to be OK. Then I started noticing how many shows depended on the dad principle, or variants of it. Grissom’s a dad figure, Mac of CSI: NY is a dad figure. All the way back to James Arness in Gunsmoke and Lorne Green in Bonanza (literally), Mark Harmon in NCIS. Our own Doctor Hood.

Jim Rockford was more your big brother, but same principle… with him on the case, you could have faith in the outcome. Columbo and The Mentalist are your funny uncles. It seems to be the key to a strong format that never burns out whereas a heavily-engineered, Pushing Daisies kind of format… doesn’t matter how much you love it at first, after a while you’re going to tire.

8 responses to “Rockford Redux”

  1. I read the piece this morning and my first thought was, oh no, he’ll have a mobile phone in this day and age, which means we won’t get the great answerphone messages at the beginning of each episode.

    Surely one of the biggest problems facing this new production is finding someone with the same easy charm as James Garner. I loved the show when I was a kid and was pleased to see the BBC toss the odd episode into the weekend schedules a while back simply to see Garner on screen. Not to do the writers a disservice but in the end it didn’t really matter what the actual plot was. The same could be said for Magnum PI.

    I know what you mean by the dad principle. There’s Bartlet in The West Wing and of course in the recent Battlestar Galactica I guess we had not just a dad but a mom as well in Adama and Roslin. It may seem easy to come up with but everything depends on getting just the right actor for the role.

    I mean, David Shayler as the crazy auntie. …Anyone?

  2. "Hi, this is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message and I'll get back to you."

    Nothing wrong with that for the message on your mobile, surely??

    (OK, obviously, it helps if you are called Jim Rockford…)

  3. Loved The Equaliser with ol' Ewar Woowar ('s an old joke…) 😉

    You're right: it's definitely the dad-principle.

  4. Stephen – thanks so much for mentioning my very favorite US show from the 80's – The Equalizer – in your blog. I just received some Edward Woodward CDs from a wonderful gentleman over the pond at Ebay UK who converted his albums to CDs.
    Chris – thanks for reminding of Dame Judi Dench's nickname for Edward Woodward – what a hoot!

  5. I loved reading your "Wickered" blog about your autograph album. Now that I think of it, The Wicker Man could easily have been written by you! Thanks for pointing me to that. I'm a newbie to your blogs which I found towards the end of the season for Eleventh Hour (US) which I still miss terribly.

    I envy you that you were able to see the TV version of Callan. Amazon US recently added Callan: Set 1 (1970) for US DVD players. It's actually the 3rd season April-June 1970. Do you think a yankee would be able to follow the episodes without having seen seasons 1 or 2? I'm not concerned about accents or British slang (which I love) but sometimes it's hard to jump into the middle of a long running series. I realize the film quality might not be the best but I would love to see that character. Any thoughts would be much appreciated!