Co-writer/co-producer David Chase would go on afterwards to create another iconic series; The Sopranos (1999). As a little tribute to this series, a scene in a first season episode of The Sopranos (1999) set in a retirement home, where the residents are watching television. Though the picture can't be seen, the theme music for The Rockford Files (1974) can clearly be heard.
Rockford drove a Pontiac Firebird Esprit, not a Trans-Am as is often thought (though they are very similar). Although the colour of the car was referred to during the series as brown, light brown, or even brown on brown, the actual "official" Pontiac colour of the car was "copper mist". The car used was a new model for the 1974 to 1978 years, which for the first time was carried over to the sixth season and not replaced with a new model, because James Garner was not a fan of the new front end fascia of either the 1979 or 1980 models of the car.
The character of Jim Rockford was originally written in an unproduced script for the ABC series Toma (1973). That script was re-written as the pilot for this show. ABC (which initially rejected the script for Toma (1973)) and NBC had problems with the "Rockford" scripts. Executives at both networks thought the dramatic series scripts were too funny. The writers were always ordered to take out the funny lines. The writers, and eventually James Garner, refused
James Garner became ill (his knees which had been repeatedly pummeld.Mr Garner rarely used a stunt double esky on) during (what became) the final season, and was forced to quit the show with ten episodes left to film.
James Garner accused Glen A. Larson of plagiarising episodes of the show and using them for his own shows. Garner filed a complaint with the Writers Guild, which found Larson guilty, and he was fined. Larson then visited the set to make amends with Garner. According to Garner, he punched Larson so hard, he crashed through a trailer.
The character of Rockford's father was named "Joseph". He was named after co-writer Stephen J. Cannell's father, but rather than Joseph or Joe, he was most often called "Rocky", a nickname derived from his last name, not his first. The name of "Rockford" was used after Cannell found the name listed in the Universal Studios employee directory.
During the first season, Rockford's trailer moved twice (if the pilot movie location is included), from a parking lot located at 2354 Ocean Boulevard, Los Angeles, California in the pilot, (in Rockford's Yellow Pages ad), then it moved to just off Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in Malibu, California. After the first session the trailer moved to another Malibu location, known as Paradise Cove, and remained theIr for the t series ' duration. The second location's address was 22968 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California, and the final location had an 'approximate' address of 28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California, but was given the (fictional)) address of 29 Cove Road, Malibu, California.
The show was a co-production among three companies, the production companies owned by Roy Huggins and James Garner and Universal Television. Garner sued Universal claiming he was not being paid his share of the syndication profits. After several years of litigation, "Universal" settled out of court. Exact terms are not known, and it was agreed between the parties that the settlement would remain confidential. Cherokee Productions was the name of Garner's production company, which was known to own 37.5 percent of the series, leaving 62.5 percent to be split between Huggins' company and Universal, but it was not known how much of the show was owned by each after Cherokee's share.
Rockford's friends had several nicknames for him. His father, Joseph "Rocky" Rockford (Noah Beery Jr.) called him "Sonny", sergeant/lieutenant Dennis Becker (Joe Santos) called him "Jimbo", Beth Davenport (Gretchen Corbett) called him "Jim", Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin) and Rita Capkovic (Rita Moreno) called him "Jimmy", and Gandolph Fitch's (Isaac Hayes) nickname for him was "Rockfish". He was comfortable with all of the nicknames, except for "Rockfish", also a remnant from his prison days, which he hated, and told Gandy so several times.
Many first-season stories were credited to "John Thomas James", that was a pen name for Roy Huggins. The name comes from the first names of Huggins' three sons.
Rockford's telephone number is shown to be (311) 555-2368 during the opening credits, The '555' prefixed numbers (of every area code) were set aside by AT&T ('Ma Bell', that is) as "safe" numbers which would never be used as a real phone number, and can be seen in many American-made films and TV shows (also, the '311' area code was not used - in California, nor elsewhere at the time. The only LA-area code was 213. 310 and others later arrived).
This show has appeared on many top 50 or top 100 lists of the best series of all time, and has occasionally appeared on top 10 lists. The reasons often cited were the quality of the writing and acting, but also because the show broke with so many conventions, such as Rockford not being a "glamorous" private investigator; not always being very successful financially; not always being on friendly terms with the police; getting arrested fairly often; not always winning fist fights, including getting hurt or plain old beaten up; and even hurting his own hand when punching someone.
James Garner explained in an interview that Jim Rockford's license plate number, 853-OKG, was created by his agent, Meta Rosenberg (who was a producer and sometime director of the series), at the start of the show, and stands for August, 1953, when Garner got his first acting job, and OKG which stands for Oklahoma, his home state, and his own last name, Garner, thereby making "August 1953 Oklahoma Garner" the full meaning of the Firebird license plate. (However, in his autobiography, Garner states that he never knew the origin of the license plate number.)
One of Rockford's favorite food was tacos, as demonstrated by his frequent consumption of tacos.
The character Joseph "Rocky" Rockford was ranked number forty-five in TV Guide's list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" (June 20, 2004 issue).
Before becoming a semi-regular, or recurring character, as Lieutenant Doug Chapman in the fall of 1976, at the beginning of the third season, James Luisi made a guest appearance during the latter half of season two, as a criminal antagonist of Rockford, named Burt Stryker, in the episode; The Rockford Files: Joey Blue Eyes (1976).
Three cast members from Magnum, P.I. (1980), (Tom Selleck, Roger E. Mosley, and Larry Manetti), did guest spots on this show. An unconnected episode of Magnum, P.I. (1980) features a discussion of an episode of this show sometime after the last original broadcast of the series had taken place.
Even though Jim didn't have a permit to carry a gun, he did have one that he kept either in the cookie jar or in the coffee canister in his kitchen. "The coffee keeps it from rusting", which is actually true, coffee grounds absorb moisture.
Despite being a very observant and astute investigator, Rockford often fails to correctly remember a suspect's license plate; even moments after seeing it. This is a frequent gag throughout the series.
The English football (soccer) league club Tranmere Rovers, based in Birkenhead, Merseyside, have run out onto the pitch at the start of a game with this show's theme tune as their entrance music since about 1984.
There have been at least two attempts to make a feature film or to remake the series. The best known was the 2010 attempt at a new series, with proposed casting of Dermot Mulroney as Jim Rockford, Alan Tudyk as Dennis Becker, and Beau Bridges as Joseph "Rocky" Rockford. The most recent feature film attempt was to star Vince Vaughn, but has been "in development" with Universal Pictures since 2012. As of July 2014, those attempts have been unsuccessful, in large part, because of the difficulty in casting the particularly personalized roles of Jim, Rocky, and Becker.
James Garner's name on this show was James Scott Rockford. Garner's full name in real life was James Scott (Bum)Garner.
In an early first season episode, when Jim calls the police station and asks for Dennis, he refers to him as "lieutenant Becker". The character became sergeant Becker for the first four seasons, until Dennis was promoted to lieutenant during season five.
After Joe Santos' death in March 2016, Gretchen Corbett and Stuart Margolin are the only surviving major cast member of the series.
Noah Beery Jr. (born August 1913), who portrayed Jim Rockford's father Joseph "Rocky" Rockford, was fourteen years older than James Garner (born April 1928).
When Rockford pretends to be someone else in order to get information, his phony name is almost always "Jim Taggert". When he is working a con, he usually uses his other favorite alias, Jimmy Joe Meeker.
In every episode, during the opening theme, is a shot of Jim Rockford, taken through (what appeared to be) store shelves. Behind him, on a pegged-board wall, is either a child's toy, or forty-five rpm single record, and pictured on its cover are a very young Kim Richards and Trent Lehman, who played the children on another NBC series, Nanny and the Professor (1970). The placement must have been coincidental, as Nanny and the Professor ran three seasons, ending during the 1971 season.
In France, the show was called "Deux cent dollars plus le frais", referring to Rockford's "200 Dollars a day plus expenses" rate.
When the show was being developed, Robert Blake was considered for the lead. He was cast instead in Baretta (1975), also created by Stephen J. Cannell.
Jim was a Korean War veteran, to which was referred various times throughout the series. There was a late season one episode which dealt with Rockford's service in more detail, and included a clip from a supposed "home movie" taken while he was in the service, along with his squad mate, portrayed by Hector Elizondo, but unfortunately it is very clear that for the creation of the "look back" footage, that the make-up artists were unable to make Garner look like he would have in 1952.
Even though Tom Atkins' character is "Alex Diel" early in the series, later episodes have him working out of an office that has "lieutenant Thomas Diehl" stenciled on the door.
Jim Rockford's trademark move, the J-turn, or reverse 180 (later named a "Rockford", as in "pulling a Rockford" in his honor), did not appear in the first season, nor was it used in the sixth and final season.
Besides detectives (Richie Brockelman, Private Eye (1978) - who was to become the main character of a short-lived spin-off series) (two episodes, one of which was a two-parter) and Lance White (two episodes), other significant recurring characters on the show were bail bondsman Solly Marshall (three episodes plus five other episodes as different characters, all portrayed by Joe E. Tata); Becker's wife Peggy (six episodes, portrayed by Pat Finley); reformed prostitute Rita Capkovic (hree episodes, portrayed by Rita Moreno); client-turned-girlfriend Dr. Megan Dougherty (two episodes, one being1 was a two-parter, portrayed by Kathryn Harrold); private investigator Vern St. Cloud (three episodes, portrayed by Simon Oakland); mechanic turned bumbling private investigator Freddy Beamer (two episodes, portrayed by James Whitmore Jr.); disbarred lawyer John "Coop" Cooper (four episodes, portrayed by Bo Hopkins); Jim's ex-cellmate Gandolph "Gandy" Fitch (three episodes, portrayed by Isaac Hayes); and parole officer turned private investigator Marcus Aurelius "Gabby" Hayes (two episodes, portrayed by Louis Gossett Jr.), There was one other notable repeating character, Sara Butler, who made more than one appearance, but technically, the first appearance was not part of the series per se, since that first appearance was in the pilot, now often referred to as episode zero (two parts in syndication) of the first season. Sara showed up again late in season one, and was portrayed by Lindsay Wagner each time. But perhaps the most frequently recurring character was Beth Davenport (portrayed by Gretchen Corbett), appearing in 33 episodes.
Rob Reiner guest-starred in an episode as a washed-up football quarterback. To separate himself from his All in the Family (1971) character, Michael "Meathead" Stivic, Reiner played this part without his hairpiece.
There are two interesting commonalities between this show and Hill Street Blues (1981). The first, which is fairly well known, is that the composer of the themes for both series was Mike Post, and the themes from both were Billboard music chart hits. The second, lesser known commonality is that both shows featured a strong female attorney named Ms. Davenport; on this series, it was Beth Davenport, and Joyce Davenport in the case of Hill Street Blues (1981). Additionally, Hill Street Blues (1981) premiered (15 January, 1981) almost exactly one year after the final original broadcast of this series (10 January, 1980). Both were (and still are) considered groundbreaking in terms of style and emerging dramatic structures and elements; and both series were broadcast on NBC during their original runs.
In 1975, the theme song peaked at number 10 on Billboard's Hot 100 list of the top 100 songs based on radio airplay frequency, and record sales.
Angel's brother-in-law Aaron Kiel was the publisher of the newspaper, for which Angel worked. Aaron later became deputy police commissioner of Los Angeles, California.
Before Tom Selleck would have a recurring role on the show, in the fifth season, he was an avid fan of James Garner, by watching the show.
Besides Rockford's signature Pontiac Firebird Esprit, some major characters had signature cars as well. Joseph "Rocky" Rockford (Noah Beery Jr.), Jim's father, drove a two-tone gray and maroon 1975 GMC K-15 Sierra Classic pickup truck. Elizabeth 'Beth' Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), Jim's lawyer and sometime girlfriend, drove a 1975 Porsche 914 during the first season, and a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL (R107) for the second through fourth seasons. Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin), Jim's shifty best friend, drove a white 1965 Cadillac DeVille convertible he nicknamed "Lucille".
There were plans to spin the characters of Gandolph "Gandy" Fitch (Isaac Hayes), and Marcus Aurelius "Gabby" Hayes (Louis Gossett Jr.) off onto their own series, to be titled "Gabby & Gandy", but the plan never came to fruition. What was supposed to be the backdoor pilot ended up being slightly re-edited, and was broadcast as The Rockford Files: Just Another Polish Wedding (1977).
During the run of the series, a green Chevrolet Vega can be seen often. This car is usually parked some where nearby during filming. This Vega was also used during some car chases, usually pulling out and blocking one of the chase vehicles and at least in one episode, it was used by a character as his car.
During the show's run, the actors in the cast received several Emmy nominations. James Garner received five nominations, and won once for the show's third season. Noah Beery, Jr. was nominated three times without winning. Joe Santos was nominated once, and also didn't win. Stuart Margolin was only nominated twice and won both times. In 1979, all four were nominated; Garner lost in the lead actor category, and Margolin beat Beery and Santos for Best Supporting Actor. In 1980, the top three were nominated again, even though the show had been cancelled halfway through the season.
The character of Richie (Dennis Dugan) first appeared on a ninety-minute made-for-television movie, intended to be a pilot, Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24 Hours (1976). The pilot was not entirely successful, but NBC was still interested in the character and possibilities for a show based on him, so the character of Brockelman was re-introduced in 1978 on this show. This show's appearance led to the short-lived summer series Richie Brockelman, Private Eye (1978), which ran for six episodes, but was not renewed. Other than Dugan, the only actor to make an appearance on this show and Richie Brockelman, Private Eye (1978) was Robert Hogan, who portrayed Sergeant Ted Coopersmith, who appeared once on this show, and in all six episodes of the Brockelman series. One other character appeared on this show and the Brockelman series, Mr. Brockelman, Richie's father, but was portrayed by a different actor in each series.
Rockford's home and office is a 1959 Nashua House mobile home. The fourth wall on the set for the interior was mostly removed to allow the customary shots of the room from the point of view behind Rockford's desk; for the occasional camera angles facing the opposite direction, a portable wall would be fixed into place.
Angel had two different Cadillac convertibles. For a while, he had a 1965 model (which was destroyed at the end of The Rockford Files: The Man Who Saw the Alligators (1979)) and earlier on, he had a 1959 model, which Rockford wrecked in The Rockford Files: Paradise Cove (1979).
James Garner (Rockford) enjoyed working with actors he had worked with before. One example is his work with Louis Gossett Jr. in the film Skin Game (1971).
Reza Badiyi, who directed seven episodes of this show, also conceived the iconic title sequences for Hawaii Five-O (1968), The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970), and Get Smart (1965).