Television viewers of a certain age are likely to have fond memories of The Rockford Files, which aired on NBC from 1974 to 1980 and starred the wonderful James Garner as private detective Jim Rockford. The show was noteworthy for successfully straddling the fine line between comedy and drama and for its anti-hero leading man — instead of a square-jawed, all-American hero, we got a square-jawed, all-American guy who was mostly just trying to get by.
While the show was a classic in the private eye genre and was definitely a product of its time, it had an enduring comic sensibility that worked in large part because of the laid back way in which Garner played the title character — consistently down on his luck and caught eternally between the cops and a hard place, Rockford was a charming underdog we couldn't help but love.
Having fond memories of the show, it was with mixed feelings that I heard the news that NBC (along with Universal Media Studios and Steve Carell's production company, Carousel Television) has tapped House creator and executive producer David Shore to remake the show. In discussing the news in Variety, Shore said he's only just started thinking about an approach. "What makes 'Rockford' timeless is that he's vulnerable, he's flawed. He's used to hustling and getting hustled," Shore said. "Sometimes he's a hero and sometimes he runs away." I've no doubt that Shore gets the show's vibe, but if part of Rockford's charm was its portrayal of the late '70s zeitgeist and the other part was its leading man, any successful rebirth will have to figure out a way to transplant the heart of the show into the Age of Irony — and of course the title role has to be perfectly cast.
Needless to say, reaction on the Internet has ranged from the positive to the negative, and hitting all points in between. The question on everyone's mind, of course, is who will play Jim Rockford? Who on the current scene is big enough to fill James Garner's gumshoes?
Leaving aside the question of updating the show's cultural milieu, let's think about the character of Jim Rockford. He's not exactly a model citizen, although he's pretty damn good at what he does. He's done time in prison (and has the ne'er-do-well ex-con friends to prove it), and he probably owes as much money to creditors as some of his deadbeat clients owe him. He lives in a trailer on the beach in Malibu. Oh, and there's that kick-ass Firebird he drives. Garner was a handsome man in his prime, but was also a regular sort of guy, which meant that he appealed to both male and female viewers, and I think it's essential that the actor who takes up the gauntlet have that same broad appeal and be able to walk the fine line between disreputable and sexy.
Now that I think about it, I'd like to see the remake happen, but I'd like to see it happen the right way. Remakes of classics, whether they be TV shows or movies, are risky — do them well and you'll make an awful lot of people happy and, if you're lucky, you'll create a whole new generation of fans. Do them poorly and there's hell to pay. And of course it won't just be the grumpy old fans who saw the show's original broadcast who'll be irate — in this day of TV-on-DVD, the ire will span the generations.
So without further ado, here's my casting suggestion: Bruce Campbell. There's no question in my mind that this would be a good fit. Campbell has the square-jawed, slightly dissolute good looks of a man who's an hour past his sell-by date. He does seedy well. He's a credible action guy, and we already know he can be funny. Plus, he comes with a built-in fan base. Yeah, I really like this idea. I like it a lot. I'd watch this show. You listening, Mr. Shore? I'm thinking your people should call Bruce's people.
What do you think? Is the Rockford remake a good idea or a bad idea? Who do you think could play Jim Rockford?