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« Licenses to kill | Main | Sleeper still wide-awake »


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Mike Schilling

Selleck's character was everything Rockford wasn't: lucky, charismatic, heroic, and because of (*not* in spite of) all that, someone you could take only in small doses.


As someone who writes in Hollywierd, I constantly hate the Seventies, because that was when I could have written what I like to write, and gotten away with it,unlike nowadays when the only things I do that get made have to tunnel under the wire and present their forged documents to the Volkssturm guard at the bahnhof to get away and get seen.

Seventies TV shows, seventies movies - the least of them light years better than the "product" the multinationals dump on us nowadays.

I think Rockford can be successfully held up to The Shield for good writing and good work. Certainly not the same stuff, but definitely equally-talented.


Does anyone really give James Garner the credit he deserves? Bret Maverick and Jim Rockford are two of the most indelible male characters of television. You cite below that Roger Moore brough his baggage of Beau Maverick (among others) to James Bond. I think Garner transcended his Bret Maverick baggage in Rockford. Some will argue it's the same character, but I don't agree.

Also, Noah Beery, Joe Santos and especially Stuart Margolin (Angel) form an excellent supporting cast.

It was a well written, well casted show.


The Lance White character was great.


The Rockford Files was one of the delights of the '70s. Not only was it my favorite show of the era, it was one of the few shows where the protagonist lived a truly American bohemian existence. I don't think anyone else could make living in a trailer seem so attractive. Strangely enough, it reminded me of not only The Long Goodbye, but an earlier TV PI show called Harry O. While Harry O wasn't nearly as good (I'm relying on 30+ year-old memories here), it did have an oceanfront California atmosphere similar to Rockford, albeit without the humor, but with the compensation of having Anthony Zerbe as a regular. Janssen was more of the tough-guy Mannix-type detective, so the charm was lacking, and IIRC the cases were seedier, but Zerbe could make me smile at the most banal line of dialogue, just by his delivery. Even in his heyday he was criminally underused.

fly on wall

The best of Harry O was as good as the best of Rockford, IMO, and that's high praise.

The writing in most of the Harry O shows contained strong narrative and very much evoked a Lew Archer feel. Here's a couple of examples from one of the best of the series, Elegy for a Cop.

ORWELL, VOICEOVER: Any honest policeman knows that if he's shot and killed in another city where he's not supposed to be, and his body is found with $2400 on it, then there has to be a scandal, and people have to question his honesty. But he can't answer for himself when he's dead—-he knows that…$2400 is a funny amount of money: it's $200 a month, $50 a week for a year, like a cheap and rotten policeman on a weekly payroll. Not a big crook, just a little crook without self-respect.


ORWELL, VOICEOVER [WHILE WRITING MANNY'S NAME ON BOTTLE OF LIQUOR]: My mother is dead, so is my father, and I never had a sister. Even Sherlock Holmes had a brother, but not me. All I have are my friends: you take one of them away from me, you steal a piece of my life.
ORWELL, to bartender: Put it up there by the light--I want to be able to read the name.
BARTENDER: Whatta we do, open it when he comes in?
ORWELL: He's not coming in, not in this lifetime…He had a previous engagement.

The episode was interesting in that the producers had moved the show to Los Angeles from San Diego to save production costs. Manny Quinlan (played by Henry Darrow) was Orwell's cop buddy in San Diego and was brought back to die in Elegy for a Cop. Orwell was certainly a wounded character (literally with a bullet lodged in his back)and the antithesis of Lt. Trench (Anthony Zerbe), the smooth organization man.

Harry O did fine in the ratings but Fred Silverman came to ABC and remade the schedule in his image.

Harry O repeats are running Monday nights on the American Life network, just before 77 Sunset Strip...


Thanks for that, fly on wall! Much more rushed back to me when I see the names of the characters. I remember the voiceovers now, as well as the bullet, and even his neighbor Farrah Fawcett. The move from SD to LA is much more hazy, though. My memories of the show were so old that I knew I couldn't trust them. I remember Henry Darrow's being killed off, too, but I liked the cynical Trench because of Zerbe. It may have been the first time I liked an actor rather than a role, but I was just a kid at the time. From your description, it really sounds more like the gritty detective novels I read than any other show I can remember. I also remember an ep with Sal Mineo playing a rather sleazy drug dealer(?) that I liked.

Damn it - if I only had cable, I could see these shows again. I remember liking them quite a lot pre-Rockford.

fly on wall

Well, the producers began to tinker with Harry O in season 2, bringing in an occasionally recurring guest character, Lester Hodges, for some humor. (The Hodges character was supposed to be spun off.) Those episodes really didn't work -- Rockford did humor much better than Harry O.


Wow, Lester Hodges doesn't register in my memory at all. Comedy on Harry O seems very out of place, maybe that's why I remember Rockford somewhat more fondly than Harry O - Rockford could do serious nearly as well as Harry O and was much better at comedy, although there were some episodes of Rockford that grated on me. At least neither was like the cop/PI shows I remember seeing prior to that, like Adam-12, Mannix or Hawaii Five-O. For all their stalwart knights of law-and-order act, the heroes seemed rather cold and inhuman to me, and I was often more amused by the crook-of-the-week on a show like Five-O (especially if it was someone like Khigh Dheigh playing the recurring arch criminal Wo Fat). For all the wit of Columbo, he was still Inspector Porfiry to me. Not until Harry O did I see something which felt like the detective novels I read. If they put that on DVD, they could make me a happy man. They've already put enough insipid tosh on DVD, how about something good for a change?

Kevin Wolf

Thanks for the link, Lance. But for days, I completely missed this post. I don't know how.

I'll probably post on Rockford again, since I'm just about obsessed. I hope to have more to say about the supporting cast, and I am very much looking forward to the Lance White episodes. The best features a whole gang of Rockford's fellow PIs; not just Lance but the return of Vern St Cloud (Simon Oakland).

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