James Garner (L) and Joe Santos in "The Rockford Files," circa 1974. Garner will be a tough act to follow.
How far would $200 a day, plus expenses, get you these days?
That's the amount charged – but rarely collected – by 1970s TV detective Jim Rockford, who is about to get a modern makeover.
This is one retread, which, if patched up right, might have some mileage left: Jim Rockford can be an anti-hero for our times, too.
James Garner's knockabout private eye was former jailbird (albeit wrongly convicted) who lived in a trailer, decades before the foreclosure crisis and drove a souped-up, but battered Firebird worthy of a $4,500 clunker credit. Rockford was a schemer who wasn’t always as good at the con game as the bad guys or even his sometimes-devious clients.
He wasn’t above trickery – impersonation and the occasional breaking-and-entering were part of his stock and trade – or delivering a sucker punch, though more often than not, he ended up knocked cold.
Unlike most TV detectives before him, there was nothing glamorous about Rockford or his life, which amounted to scraping out a living while getting out of scrapes.
When Rockford debuted in 1974, the country was in the midst of a recession and an era of distrust spawned by Watergate. The economy today, of course, is faltering (Rockford’s $200-day fee would be $800-a-day now, adjusted for inflation – not that he’d get paid often). And we recently witnessed the biggest con job of them all, thanks to Bernie Madoff.
Seems like Rockford would feel at home in 2009.
But a new “Rockford Files” would need a lot more than good timing to succeed.
The original serio-comic show provided action, clever plots and laughs without a laugh track, thanks to co-creator Stephen J. Cannell (“The A Team”) and writers like David Chase (“The Sopranos”). The other key was Garner, whose rugged good looks, hang-dog face and charm combined to give him a world-weary, yet resilient Everyman quality.
Garner headed an unforgettable ensemble of characters that included Noah Beery Jr. as his befuddled but reliable-in-a-pinch father, Rocky, and Stuart Margolin as endearingly sleazy conman Angel, with occasional appearances by Isaac Hayes as Rockford’s boisterous ex-cellmate Gandy, and Rita Moreno in her Emmy-winning role as ex-prostitute Rita Capkovic.
And, of course, there was the great theme song by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter (note to producers: keep the theme song).
So “The Rockford Files” is a tough, but worthwhile act to follow. The new version will be in the hands of “House” creator David Shore, which is a good sign.
We put it to you, readers: What do you think about the planned Rockford revival and who would fit the bill as the new Jim Rockford?
Use the comments section below to play casting agent.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.