Blame the Director -

Blame the Director


New York magazine has a piece on NBC’s disappointment with the new Rockford Files pilot with Dermot Mulroney, written by David Shore and produced by Shore and Steve Carell. I can certainly believe most of what the piece says: that the pilot didn’t turn out well and that the network would have dumped the project already if it wasn’t for the importance of keeping Shore and Carell happy. What seems more dubious is that the anonymous “insiders,” who appear to share Angel Martin’s ability to keep their mouths shut, put most of the blame on the director.

What went wrong? NBC isn’t talking, but two people familiar with the situation said Rockford turned out to be more rehash than reinvention. The insiders place most of the blame on pilot director Michael Watkins (a TV-drama veteran who has helmed episodes of everything from Quantum Leap to NYPD Blue to Justified), saying he severely weakened a solid script with lackluster, even listless direction.

“The pilot looked like it was shot in the seventies,” said one person familiar with NBC’s response, claiming everything from the lighting to the pacing looked dated — and not in a cool, retro way. “You didn’t even know it was the current day until Jim pulled out his cell phone. It looked like Stephen J. Cannell directed it himself.”

Now, I’m not saying that under no circumstances can a director screw up a TV pilot. But it does sound very convenient to place the blame on the member of the team who will not be continuing with the show if it gets picked up, and who NBC isn’t worried about alienating. The tone of the insider comments seems to imply that the writer-producer was an innocent bystander or perhaps even a wronged man (his “solid script” was destroyed by the director) and that he had no influence on the way the show was shot, lit and paced. (Not to mention that the rest of the blame in that piece is given to the lead actor, who was chosen by…) It could happen, but you have to think we’d be hearing different things if the showrunner was someone who wasn’t already producing a very valuable property for the studio. As Jeremy Mongeau put it, “the director is the screenwriter of the television world,” the perfect scapegoat.

By the way, you might notice that the comments section of the New York piece contains an angry comment from Steve Cannell’s loyal right-hand man Jo Swerling, responding to the insiders’ shot at Cannell’s directing abilities. Cannell hasn’t actually directed anything in 30 years, but he did a solid job in the few Rockford episodes he directed himself. Ironically, one of the episodes he directed himself was the Lance White episode, which includes a dead-on parody of the kind of poorly-shot ’70s cop shows that, according to the article, this Rockford pilot resembles.

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Blame the Director

  1. This kinda makes me wish I had seen even a single episode of the original Rockford Files so I would understand a bit more of this…

    Lacking any intelligent comments of my own, I'll just quote from Ben Folds Five's "Battle of Who Could Care Less" – "You think Rockford Files is cool, but there are some things that you would change if it were up to you."

  2. I blame the absolutely stupid miscasting of Dermot Mulroney. Josh Holloway from Lost is the only choice that could deliver the charm, looks, streets smarts, and attitude of the iconic character. I even started a facebook group in support of the recasting:

    If they insist on remaking this, at least do the character some justice, nothing against Mulroney but he is wrong for the part.

  3. Maybe that is why NBC lost its audience. If a show nowadays looks like it was made in the 70's, then it's probably good. The audience doesn't watch shaky home movie cameras. All the shows look the same…

  4. The test of a new Rockfish will be whether the new show features our "hero" getting the crap beaten out of him during the first half, then using his innate cowardice and desire for self-preservation as an advantage in overcoming the bad guys with guile and duplicity. I wonder if current-Hollywood is willing to portray a very shaky hero … It's what made Rockford work so well for so long.