The Stephen J. Cannell-produced detective series The Rockford Files was introduced as a 90-minute NBC TV movie on March 27, 1974. James Garner starred as Jim Rockford, an ex-convict turned private detective. Recently exonerated and released from jail, where he had been serving time for a crime he did not commit, Rockford dedicated himself to re-opening "closed cases," digging up new evidence to prove that the authorities had been wrong with the original verdict, thereby belatedly serving the cause of justice. This penchant frequently put Jim at odds with his friend Detective Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), but made him very popular with his clients. Though he generally charged a daily fee of 200 dollars plus expenses, Jim was nearly always broke due to his occasional willingness to accept a case gratis, or because of duplicitous clients or heavy fines for "bending" the law. Thus, he lived in a ramshackle trailer with his dad Joseph "Rocky" Rockford (played in the 90-minute pilot by Robert Donley), a retired trucker. For his first case, Rockford set out to prove that the death of a skid-row derelict was actually murder. To help him in his investigation, Rockford called upon his former cellmate Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin), who, unlike Jim, actually had been a crook and still retained several embarrassing criminal associates. When the weekly, one-hour series version of The Rockford Files premiered on September 13, 1974, Garner, Santos, and Margolin were still in the cast, but Noah Beery Jr. had replaced Robert Donley as Jim's dad Rocky. Also added to the cast at this time were Gretchen Corbett as Jim's attorney girlfriend Beth Davenport, who helped him gather evidence and sometimes brought worthy clients to his attention; and Tom Atkins as Dennis Becker's boss Lt. Alex Diehl, who could not entirely dissuade himself from the belief that Rockford had deserved his prison time and was still on the wrong side of the law. Beginning with the series' third season, Diehl was replaced by Lt. Doug Chapman, played by James Luisi. Although Rockford was regularly beaten up for his troubles, habitually lied to by his clients, and damaged materially in the course of his investigations (his battered car and his tiny living quarters seldom survived an episode without being given a going-over), Jim managed to keep his sense of humor, cynical and jaundiced though it was. In real life, star James Garner had a predilection for performing his own stunts, leaving him with a multitude of injuries that were ultimately a factor in his abruptly leaving the series just before the end of its sixth season (accordingly, the show was prematurely canceled by NBC on July 25, 1980). Even so, Garner returned to star in nine Rockford Files TV movies produced between 1994 and 1999.
by Hal Erickson synopsis