Monday, September 12, 2005

You're Humming the Theme Song Already

The Rockford Files: The Complete First Season. At last. Little more need be said.

Well, I'll say that this was one of the few Stephen J. Cannell creations that actually got better after its first season, largely due to the fact that David Chase joined the series in mid-run. There used to be a good potted history of the show online, detailing how the show started strong in a serio-comic vein, faltered a bit in its sophomore year when the co-creator, Roy Huggins, left the reins to wunderkind Cannell, and recovered when Chase joined the staff alongside Cannell and Juanita Bartlett.

In an essay about Chase, Cannell told a story about how a Rockford script was devised: he, Chase and Bartlett would pitch ideas for a writer's next script (in this case, Bartlett's), Chase suggested the most cliche'd idea possible -- the prostitute with the heart of gold -- and proceeded to spin an original variation on it. That was the Rockford way, to take stuff we all knew from TV viewing and twist it around a little; the very first episode after the pilot, written by Cannell from a story by Huggins, gets one of its biggest laughs based on a villain's anticipation of a cliche'd trick that Rockford is about to pull on him. In this, it was quite a bit like Huggins and James Garner's previous series, Maverick, but took the detective genre more seriously than Maverick took the Western.

Incidentally, all Huggins's writing contributions to Rockford and a number of other shows were done under the pseudonym "John Thomas James," taken from the names of the veteran producer's three sons.

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