There was some doubt as to whether Universal was ever going to release the sixth and final season of The Rockford Files on DVD, but they’re finally going to bring it out early next year. This season was only 13 episodes; James Garner had to stop production on the show due to poor health — brought on in part by the exhaustion of doing such a demanding show — and NBC decided to cancel it rather than wait for him to come back.
That may actually mark a turning point in the way hour-long TV shows were done. For many years, it was very common for a show to have a lead character who was in almost every scene, or at the most, one sidekick character who could do some scenes and give the star some time off.But Rockford was tough to produce in part because James Garner was in nearly every scene, meaning that, one, he literally wrecked his health, and two, scheduling the production was probably really tricky. Over the ensuing decade, dramas would increasingly shift toward having more characters who could carry a bigger share of the workload. Today, you will never see a detective show where the detective has as much screen time as Rockford or Mannix or Baretta or other detectives with less cool names.
As the TV Shows on DVD post says, this won’t complete all the Rockford material because there are still all those ’90s reunion movies. Unlike most such TV movies, these were not embarrassing, because Garner was still cool and the original writers all came back to work on them. (David Chase wrote and directed one instalment, and in his introduction to a book on The Sopranos, Stephen J. Cannell describes how Chase helped out in adding some black humour to a scene in another movie.) Still, it’ll be nice to have the complete original series in that format.