Review

  • American television audiences were very undemanding in the 1970s, so we ended up with innumerable average-to-bad detective shows. All of these were pretty much variations on the same whodunit theme, but networks tried (generally unsuccessfully) to liven things up by giving their characters "unique" personal qualities. Thus, we were barraged with endless variations on the "unique detective": a fat, grumpy detective (Cannon), a wise old detective (Barnaby Jones), a blind detective (Longstreet), an ethnic, bald detective who liked candy (Kojak), a mumbling, slouching detective in an old overcoat (Columbo), a blue-collar detective with a cute pet bird (Baretta), a WASP-ish detective (Mannix), husband-and-wife detectives (McMillan and Wife), a young guy-old guy detective team (The Streets of San Francisco, Switch), a flashy Las Vegas detective (Vega$), a cowboy detective in New York (McCloud), a buddy detective team with a fast red car (Starsky and Hutch), and so on.

    Most of these series were mediocre to poor as entertainment, primarily because they were so ridiculously unrealistic. "Starsky and Hutch" and "Baretta" were probably the worst, which means they were REALLY bad. One series was unpretentious and had an established star, however. Of course, I'm talking about James Garner in "The Rockford Files", which ran from 1974 to 1980. Garner's tremendous easygoing appeal carried the show without gimmickry, and the scripts were generally excellent. Sure, there were car chases and fights, but "The Rockford Files" was easy to take, and was without the contrived ridiculousness of the others. Noah Beery, Jr., an established character actor in his own right, contributed to the show's charm.

    I miss "The Rockford Files" quite a bit. The show didn't take itself too seriously and James Garner was fun to watch. You can keep all the other detective shows of the 1970s, but let me have this one and its memories.