Series / The Rockford Files

"This is Jim Rockford. At the tone, leave your name and message. I'll get back to you. [Beep]"

Popular crime/action series, co-created by Roy Huggins (Maverick, The Fugitive) and Stephen J. Cannell, that aired on NBC from 1974 to 1980. James Garner played Jim Rockford, an innocent ex-con working as a private detective in the Los Angeles area. Rockford lived in a trailer parked on the Malibu beach, and drove a gold Pontiac Firebird.

In the earlier episodes, Rockford would only take cases that the police were not actively investigating: cases that they had closed in some way that was unsatisfactory to the client, cold cases, or something that the police were not giving any priority to—cases that the police lieutenant antagonist disparaging referred to as "the Rockford files."

Rockford preferred to outwit his opponents, rather than resorting to violence (though he was very good at it when violence was required.) While Rockford had been cleared of the armed robbery that he had been wrongfully accused of, he had also been a Con Man who had never been caught, and on multiple occasions he used his con artist skills to entrap the guilty party.

In many ways, the Rockford character was a 20th-century updating of Garner's Bret Maverick character.

This show provides examples of:

  • Aloha, Hawaii!: "Dirty Money Black Light", "The Hawaiian Headache"
  • Always Someone Better: Lance White (Tom Selleck), Rockford's friendly rival private investigator who appears in the episodes "White on White and Nearly Perfect" (season 5) and "Nice Guys Finish Dead" (season 6).
  • Audit Threat: People in official positions often threaten to have Jim Rockford's private investigator's license reviewed to get him to cooperate.
  • Badass Driver
  • Base on Wheels: Rockford's dilapidated mobile home — which served as both his office and residence — usually remained parked on a Malibu beach, but on a few occasions, when he needed to skip town in a hurry, he hitched his trailer up (with the help of his retired trucker dad) and took home with him.
  • Being Watched
  • Born Lucky: Lance White, played in two episodes by Tom Selleck.
  • Bounty Hunter
  • Clear My Name: Featured in many episodes such as “Pastoria Prime Pick.”
  • Clear Their Name: A frequent occurrence, often at the request of Beth Davenport.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Rockford prefers to avoid fighting, but when he fights, he fights dirty.
    Rockford: You know what's wrong with karate Jerry? It's based on the ridiculous assumption that the other guy will fight fair.
  • Con Man: Rockford himself, occasionally; Angel Martin, always.
  • Cool Car: Subverted with Rockford's Firebird. Yeah, a Firebird should be cool, but his is an ugly brown color, is the base model, and is constantly out-cooled by other cars on the show.
  • Courtroom Episode: In the episode "So Help Me, God", Rockford is held in contempt of court after tangling with D.A. William Daniels.
  • Couch Gag: the message on Rockford's answering machine in the title sequence.
  • Crossover: The title character from the short-lived Richie Brockelman, Private Eye appeared in several Rockford episodes.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Rockford
  • Defective Detective: Rockford was an ex-con, with all the associated bad karma it brought.
  • Detective Drama
  • Dramedy
  • Drop-In Character: Seemingly everybody broke into Rockford's trailer.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In the pilot we see a close up of Jim's telephone ad, which seems to lack a listed phone number. Wonder how all those people manage to call in for the Couch Gag to come. (He does have a phone in the pilot, he uses it to check the credit rating of his new client).
    • Jim must really like blew up in the pilot, guess he ether bought a new/old one in the same beat up condition or else he has one heck of a mechanic.
      • It's blown up again in the second season episode Gearjammers Part 1.
  • Friend on the Force: Dennis Becker
  • Guile Hero: Rockford is one of the purest examples.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Beth Davenport
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Rita Capkovic.
  • In-Series Nickname: Rockford is routinely addressed as "Jimbo" (by Dennis) and "Jimmy" (by Angel). And, of course, everyone calls Joseph Rockford "Rocky".
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged
  • Instrumental Theme Tune: One of the funkiest ever, composed by Mike Post. An extended version was released as a single and hit #10 on the Billboard chart in 1975.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: A Stalker Shrine to Beth makes a mysterious disappearance.
    • Immediately subverted: she says "I saw them," Lt. Becker says "I'm sure you did," usually a lead-in to a patronizing "you're just stressed" until he points to tiny holes in the walls, saying "They were put up with pins."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Rockford himself is one in the early episodes. He seems to only be in it for the money, and will require much persuading to work on a dangerous but just case, but once he's on to something, he will make sure that justice is served. In later seasons there is significantly less jerk and more heart of gold.
  • MacGuffin: Played with in "A Material Difference". The elusive "Formula D" American and Soviet agents have been fighting over throughout the episode? The D stands for "denim". It's an extra sturdy new type of fabric. Angel is not amused that he risked his life for pants.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Gandy always referred to Rockford as "Rockfish". May not be malicious but it did bug Rockford a lot.
  • Noodle Incident: In "The Aaron Ironwood School of Success", Rockford limps badly all the way through the episode. The real cause was Garner's severe injuries from doing his own stunts.
    Rocky. You're limping. What happened?
    Jim. Oh, I was fishing and fell off the pier.

    Beth. Why are you limping?
    Jim. I fell off my skateboard.

    Aaron. You're limping.
    Jim. Aw, I was dancing the other night, I got a little carried away, I started to dip and I slipped.
    Aaron. Dipped?
    Jim. Dipped.
  • Only Sane Man: In "The Oracle Wore A Cashmere Suit," everyone but Jimnote  is won over by a famed psychic working with the police on the week's case; Jim thinks the man's a fraud. The man is a fraud, but Jim can't prove anything.
  • Pilot Movie: "Backlash of the Hunter"
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: The episode "Just Another Polish Wedding" was intended to launch a spinoff show starring Louis Gossett, Jr. as private eye Marcus "Gabby" Hayes and Isaac Hayes as ex-con Gandolph "Gandy" Fitch. Gabby & Gandy was never picked up, however.
    • The show's penultimate episode, "Just a Coupla Guys", was also intended as one of these.
  • Private Investigator: Well, duh.
  • Recurring Character: Angel Martin, Beth Davenport, Lt. Chapman, Officer Billings
  • Reunion Show: The TV movies "I Still Love L.A." (1994); "A Blessing in Disguise" (1995); "If the Frame Fits...", "Friends and Foul Play", "Punishment and Crime", "Godfather Knows Best" (all 1996); "Shoot-Out at the Golden Pagoda" (1997); "If It Bleeds...It Leads" (1999).
  • Revealing Cover-Up: In the Pilot episode. The villains attempts to trail and later attack Rockford are what convinces Rockford to stay on with the case.
  • Shout-Out: In a couple of episodes, Rockford travels to the fictional Bay City, California (not to be confused with the real Bay City, Michigan), a location that originated in the novels of Raymond Chandler.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Maverick.
  • Stalker Shrine: One is made for Beth. See the trope page for more details.
  • Statute of Limitations: Plays an important role in one episode. A friend of Rockford's stole half a million dollars and the statute of limitations is nearly up. However, many criminals know about it and try to steal the soon-to-be clean money.
  • Syndication Title: Jim Rockford, Private Investigator
  • Tap on the Head: Rockford, the King of Concussion, got this about Once an Episode.
  • Those Two Guys: Garner and Stuart Margolin (Angel Martin). They had such good chemistry Garner made sure Margolin had a regular role in both of his later shows Bret Maverick and Man of the People.
    • $200 a day plus expenses doesn't seem so outrageous in 201X dollars.
  • Vehicular Sabotage: This is a very common occurrence on The Rockford Files, where someone seems to cut Jim's brake lines every third episode.
  • You Wouldn't Hit a Guy with Glasses?: Implied in "The Kirkoff Case": Rockford puts on glasses and pretends to be an insurance agent; when the disguise fails and he starts getting roughed up, he protests, "Didn't you notice I was wearing glasses?"