“This is Jim Rockford…” How Jim Rockford Became One Of The Greatest Characters In Tv History.
When it comes to iconic television characters you get your normal votes by the public like Archie Bunker, Homer Simpson, George Jefferson, Tony Soprano, Michael Scott, Cookie Lyon, Walter White etc. but one name in particular should always be on the list, if not number one, and his name is James “Jim”, “Jimmy” or “Jimbo” Rockford the wry, charming and lovable private detective from The Rockford Files. Played by the always excellent James Garner, Jim Rockford’s character has made such an impact on television and the way future crime\action shows developed their heroes that I thought it was time to dig into what made Rockford one of the greatest characters in tv history. But of course, like with every single episode of The Rockford Files, we can’t start without a certain iconic opening starting with a phone ringing….
It all started in 1974 when creators\writers Stephen Cannell and Roy Huggins decided that it was time for a new type of tv detective:
And from there James Rockford was born. Cannell didn’t have James Garner in mind for the role of Rockford but fate stepped in and that rare thing where an actor was born to inhabit a character happened. They even named the character after Garner for God sake! Cannell and Huggins also found the casting of Garner beneficial because of his status as a bonafide tv and movie star, he had the clout to get the network to back off and not make them change a thing about the pilot script. The pilot movie “Backlash of the Hunter” premiered on March 27th, 1974 and introduced the world to Jim Rockford and his colorful friends for the very first time.
The highest tested moment in the pilot movie was when Jim Rockford beat his huge opponent who also happened to be a black belt in martial arts not by foolishly taking him on directly when we all know (including him) that he’d never stand a chance, but by using his wits and ingenuity. This scene perfectly illustrated how unique and compelling Jim Rockford was as a different type of hero. While Jim would indeed get into many fist fights with (and occasionally lose) with the many big gorillas he had run ins with, what usually helped Jim get the edge on his opponents 9\10 times was his outwitting or simply cheating in the fight by using both his phenomenal street smarts and quick resourcefulness.
What also made the character of Jim Rockford so unique and different from all the other private detectives on television at the time was his relationships with his father and friends. PI’s didn’t have families or real friends but The Rockford Files gave Garner’s smooth PI a whole host of ’em. The ties Jim had with Rocky, Beth, Angel, Dennis and even Gandy were deep, rich and complex. Jim’s soft spot was reserved for those he loved and sometimes that got him in trouble more than anything else because his unending loyalty to the likes of Angel Martin knew no bounds even though a slimy con artist like Angel often didn’t deserve it. All of those relationships helped to flesh out the character of Rockford and give him a depth that made his character all the more well rounded and fleshed out.
Another element of Jim Rockford’s personality that never disappoints is his big fat smart mouth. Very few leading men have the crazy comedic timing and delivery that James Garner had. Jim’s reactions to the shenanigans that went on in his life were always a comic highlight of the show, and we as the viewers always looked forward to Jim’s clever little quips:
And nobody has ever had his home invaded and roughed up more than Jim, either. Just another day in the life of Jim Rockford:
Rockford was a true everyman and a survivor. He endured a lot over the six seasons and the eight made for tv movies in the 1990’s. From beatings to constantly being harassed or arrested by the cops, and of course kooky clients who rarely actually paid his famous fee of $200 a day plus expenses.
Poor Jimbo has seen it all, but at the end of the day he keeps going on and doing his thing which you gotta admire. Stephen Cannell, Roy Huggins and James Garner himself have succeeded in creating a character who was a complete original in every way: A hero that was vulnerable, a hero that was flappable, a hero that was all about paying his bills, a hero who’d rather fish with his dad than get into a fight or solve a big crime, a hero that wasn’t much of a hero at all but more of an anti-hero for the most part.
The influence of Jim Rockford was often imitated but perhaps never bettered in future television shows and movies in the genre such as Burn Notice’s Michael Westen, Krysten Ritter’s Jessica Jones, Denzel Washington’s Easy Rawlins, Andy Griffith’s Ben Matlock, James Roday Rodriguez’s Shawn Spencer and especially Tom Selleck’s Thomas Magnum, who just so happened to get his breakout role on Rockford as super perfect PI Lance White aka the anti-Jim Rockford. Selleck himself was so inspired by the character and the show and the way it was ran by Jim and Cannell that he pushed for a similar vibe and tone for his show Magnum, PI years later. All of these popular and beloved characters definitely had the flappable, reluctant hero, flawed, in over their head and witty personas that Jim Rockford originated but if anyone asks Jim did it best.
So basically this whole article was just to say that Jim Rockford truly is one of the greatest characters in tv history and the proof is how The Rockford Files has stood the test of time and still holds up beautifully today. The character of Rockford has influenced many television and film characters in the detective\mystery genre that has come out over the past forty years. If I had to choose a private detective to hire on a case you can bet that my first and only real choice would go to Jim Rockford… Hopefully I’d have two hundred bucks handy… oh, plus expenses. Till next time, folks!