Ontario lawyer David Shore, who created House for Universal, is now going to develop a show for Universal’s sister network NBC — a remake of The Rockford Files.
Shore said as a fan of the show himself, he’s well aware of how high the bar is set for the remake.
“It’s one of the shows that made me want to become a writer,” Shore said. “I had no interest in adapting any old stuff, but this was the one exception.”
Shore’s just starting to think about an approach to bring “The Rockford Files” into the present day, but he intends to stick with the basic foundation of a private eye in L.A. just trying to make a living.
“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.”
Shore is an excellent writer and producer, and (since networks haven’t picked up his other pilots/ideas since House) I don’t blame him for wanting to do the remake; he’s living out the fantasy of every TV viewer, getting a chance to write new adventures for an iconic character. (This happens surprisingly rarely with remakes. A lot of the recent remakes have been based on iconic concepts, like Battlestar Galactica, rather than iconic but low-concept characters like Rockford.) And bringing Rockford into modern TV isn’t a bad idea, because he is a flawed, fairly complicated character who was bigger than the ’70s episodic format: he never changed, but you kind of got the feeling that he could have if the format had allowed for it.
The reason I’m not really enthusiastic about the idea — apart from the whole question of who you can cast to replace James freakin’ Garner — is that Rockford‘s uniqueness depended heavily on things that broadcast network TV can no longer allow: a leisurely, even slow pace, long scenes, lots of moments of character or quirkiness that weren’t directly related to the story. All these things are still possible on some cable networks (AMC most notably) but it may not be possible with 42 minutes instead of the original Rockford‘s 50, more commercial breaks, and a general broadcast-network ban on slowing down at any point. My gut reaction is that Rockford with a fast pace and fewer irrelevant moments would just leave people wondering what was so intriguing about this franchise in the first place.
This does give me a chance to link to this example of how the Rockford Files main title might work in an era where there is only about 20 seconds for the intro. Plus it includes one of the very best of the answering-machine messages. (I expect them to use that gimmick, or something like it, in the remake. It’s too iconic to leave out.)
Finally, somebody once mentioned to me, years ago, that if a Stephen J. Cannell show is remade it should be Greatest American Hero. That’s a show with the usual attributes of shows that are successfully remade (great concept, flawed execution) plus at least two really strong characters. They keep talking about a movie version, but a new TV version would actually work a lot better… if they could find room for the theme song.