Tuesday, August 4, 2009

NBC Continues the Idiocy: Steve Carrell's Production Company to Remake Rockford Files

File this under stupidity. NBC will remake the Rockford Files. Set to run the show is "House" co-creator David Shore ("Law and Order," "Family Law"). NBC has no clue. A remake, destined to fail, of one of the all-time great TV shows, when NBC cancelled an existing show that had great promise ("Life") as well as one of the most engaging and tough characters on TV (Damien Lewis's "Charlie Crews")


Failed attempts to revive "Knight Rider," and "the Bionic Woman" have not taught NBC a thing. Both shows were light-hearted male-oriented science-fiction oriented (though not strictly science fiction) action romps that depended on being light and bright and untaxing to gain an audience. A talking, intelligent car helps a cop with a new face, backed by a billionaire, bust crime. A woman gets bionic implants and gains superpowers to ... fight crime. Lesbian one night stands and random threesomes do not a boy's show make, nor do complex and indecipherable "government conspiracies." Which is exactly what both "Knight Rider" and "Bionic Woman" were. If anything, the overly edgy/dark/violent remake of "Bionic Woman" was even worse. Both failed. Miserably.

This is because today's Hollywood creative teams cannot replicate what those thirty years ago could, which is make light, fun shows that attract young men and boys. From Glen A. Larson (the original Knight Rider and Battlestar Galactica) to Kenneth Johnson (Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman, the Bill Bixby "Incredible Hulk") the creation of light-hearted male oriented shows was something done as a matter of course, and executed well.

The Rockford Files remake is doomed to failure. There's no actor who can even come close to matching what James Garner did, arguably at the peak of his career. None with his charisma, masculine presence, wry humor, and patiently honed acting ability. Not even ("Life," "Band of Brothers") Damien Lewis can pull that off. Certainly not the "updated" (read, man-boy pretty face) actor certain to be casted. Nor can the supporting actors of Joe Santos, Noah Beery, and Stuart Margolin be equaled. Certainly not when Hulu has the real deal available for free, online.

What's interesting of course, is that the "Rockford Files" itself was a remake — but of a failed TV show. The 1968 "Outsiders" created by Roy Huggins ("Maverick") starred Darren McGavin as an orphaned ex-con Private Eye who lived in a trailer, and had to hustle to solve the case and collect from his clients. Sound familiar? It lasted one season. Huggins teamed with Stephen J. Cannell ("the A-Team," and "Greatest American Hero") to retool the concept, make it lighter, give the character a family and friends and connections, and make the character and show more optimistic, with the character mostly winning rather than losing. Even the end of the opening credit photos transitions from Rockford being arrested to fishing with his father at the end of a pier. A triumph all it's own.

What made the Rockford Files great (and you can see for yourself at the link above at Hulu.com) was the cheerful cynicism of the lead character. Forever convinced that a con was in the works (it always was) and the venality, rashness, and stupidity of the bad guys leading to their undoing (which was generally the case). Both Huggins and Cannell studied the failure of "the Outsider" (and McGavin was no mean actor himself, as his continued cult popularity in both "the Night Stalker" and "Christmas Story" prove) carefully to avoid the same fate with Rockford Files. Even the different (and humorous) messages left on Rockford's answering machine in each opening credits was there to grab viewer's attention.

And while the show itself had no lack of female fans who appreciated the matinee idol quality of Garner's leading man looks and sheer presence, the show itself was absolutely male. The character was not the female fantasy of the powerful, brooding bad boy ("Angel," "Forever Knight," "Dexter," "Moonlight") nor that of the uber-Alpha guy ("Mr. Big" in "Sex and the City," "the Mentalist," and "Gossip Girl"). The character lived in a trailer, never had much money, while the person he loved the most and trusted the most was his father, who was constantly wanting him to quit being a Private Eye and become a trucker. While women were in and out of his life (Rockford was a good looking guy) they were mostly out, and the character was resigned to a lack of any real romance or love in his life. The character still mostly won over the bad guys, even if he himself didn't profit and took a beating doing it.

The Rockford Files was very, very male. Something NBC and the current crop of creative people simply cannot understand, much less replicate.

Far better for NBC to copy failed but interesting shows, with obvious but fixable flaws. "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe" (from 1980) with an upright, straight-laced accountant teaming with a con man (Jeff Goldblum, Ben Vereen respectively) to become Private Investigators. Or "JJ Starbuck" (from 1988), with an older billionaire (Dale Robertson) traveling the country seeking to help the helpless after his wife and son die. Both were light-hearted, both had obvious but fixable flaws, neither are remembered, and both are different enough from what's on today to stand out in the clutter. Both have the ability to appeal to older as well as younger viewers, an important feature in today's declining youth cohort that is switching to online, streaming media anyway.

For "Tenspeed and Brown Shoe" (it doesn't matter what the remake would be called), the relationship between the two friends needs to progress, with the account better at improvising cons, and the con-man better at being a straight-laced diligent fact-checker. For JJ Starbuck, less folksy sermonizing, and more scenes like the one where Starbuck, after a low-level worker is fired for helping him right a wrong, gets on his phone and buys the entire company, forcing the manager to re-hire the worker. At a higher pay.

But the creative teams in Hollywood, from executives to writer-producers, are incapable of seeing the obvious and learning from past successes. Instead, we'll probably get John Cusack (in full mope mode) as a sexually ambiguous Private Eye with a sado-masochistic streak uncovering a season long conspiracy by oil company executives to "warm the planet" or some-such nonsense. That's about all Hollywood can do these days.

If NBC really wanted to revive it's fortunes, it would bring back "Life" to the schedule. A show with an existing following and the potential for strong male appeal, if properly and patiently promoted.

21 comments:

ganttsquarry said...

Hi whiskey,
You have an interesting and provocative blog. I especially enjoy your insights on television.
I'd say I am around your age but most of my favorite tv shows are from 25 to 30 years ago. My experience certainly supports many of your theories on the changing landscape.
Rockford Files is one of my favorite shows even though I was in diapers when its run ended. Rockford was a man that "Joe Sixpack" could relate to. I always liked the fact that he would get beat up, make mistakes, or have to get out of jams because of loyalty to friends. Very relatable. He wasn't Superman, wasn't rich or powerful but always tried to do the right thing. Like you said, he was rewarded for it most of the time. Not with money or broads but from the general satisfaction of doing the right thing.
I can't imagine the Hollywood of today capturing that spirit. Since I no longer watch network television (except for the NFL)it will be easy for me to avoid seeing a great show butchered.
ps: Let me know though if updated Rockford is tooling around Malibu in a Toyota Prius as opposed to the Firebird. heh

Jason said...

Great show. Great man.

Nine-of-Diamonds said...

Semi - OT: Some very interesting diary entries here from the Pittsburh shooter. Not too sure how much longer they'll be accessible:

http://georgesodini.com/20090804.htm

As soon as I found out that it happened in a gym I was quite sure that the perp was a Marc Lepine type who had issues with/trouble attracting women.

Whiskey said...

Yeah, link is dead. Wasn't Marc Lepine a son of an Algerian Muslim immigrant, and a Muslim himself? I've seen conflicting accounts as to Lepine's confessional status.

I am not surprised at more Lepine/Cho type shootings. I have not followed though the Pittsburg shooting.

kurt9 said...

NBC has no business producing a re-make of "Rockford Files". I agree with everyone else's comments here. I loved the "Rockford Files" in the mid to late 70's. There is no way on Earth they can replicate James Garner as Jim Rockford. Leave the classic shows alone.

The fact they want to make new version of classic shows makes it clear that Hollywood has a complete lack of creative talent these days.

Anonymous said...

OT:

Whiskey, you often talk about how Hispanics tend to watch Spanish-language programming.

Have you heard of Si TV? I recently discovered it on my new cable package. It's a Hispanic channel, but all the content I've seen is in English. They even subtitle when people speak Spanish! Most intriguingly, they ran a promo commercial about a guy who "was encouraged to explore other cultures outside of my Hispanic roots" and decided that "Rockabilly" was his style. Could the barbarian hordes be... assimilating?

http://www.sitv.com/

Anonymous said...

OT:

Whiskey, you often talk about how Hispanics tend to watch Spanish-language programming.

Have you heard of Si TV? I recently discovered it on my new cable package. It's a Hispanic channel, but all the content I've seen is in English. They even subtitle when people speak Spanish! Most intriguingly, they ran a promo commercial about a guy who "was encouraged to explore other cultures outside of my Hispanic roots" and decided that "Rockabilly" was his style. Could the barbarian hordes be... assimilating?

http://www.sitv.com/

ERM said...

Pittsburg

I saw this on Half Sigma's blog as well. It's a small thing, but doesn't it embarrass you NYC/LA types to misspell the name of an important city in your own country?

Whiskey said...

My bad. I should know better too, my Mom is from PA.

I will have to check out Si TV.

TGGP said...

American-born hispanics assimilate. The trouble is that they assimilate to ghetto norms.

Off-topic, but a while back we were discussing what the demographic makeup of Hollywood writers, producers and so on are. An anti-semitic blog has a bunch of numbers, though many of them aren't sourced:
http://www.occidentaldissent.com/2009/08/05/on-judeo-americanism/
I imagine numbers on the gender-makeup of these positions will be easier to find (since feminists often make a point of publicizing such stats). The portion divorced would be harder to figure out.

Matra said...

Before the link to George Sodini's blog was killed a poster, 'Josh' at Vox Day saved it. Starts at 8/5/09 10:38 AM.

Anonymous said...

There a good Rockford Files substitute on right now: Burn Notice. No doubt its success-recently renewed-lead to NBC's interest in its sister network's ideas for shows.

Rose said...

Did anyone see the Adam-12 remake a few years ago? I’m curious about how it compares to the original. Which is unsurprising if the makers had the same attitude to the original material as one review who blasted its "cornball and dated ethics." I was previously unaware morality was subject to obsolescence like fashion goods. (The original Adam-12 wasn’t exactly a favorite of mine though. It needed less traffic citations and more shoot-outs.)

Rose said...

Insert "It didn't last long," after "...original."

Jesus Christ Supercop said...

Anonymous:
There a good Rockford Files substitute on right now: Burn Notice. No doubt its success-recently renewed-lead to NBC's interest in its sister network's ideas for shows.

Burn Notice is the best show currently on television. It should be exactly what whiskey is looking for.

The full episodes are up on the official site, but only for Americans.

Whiskey said...

For those who are outside the US, there are IP masking services that can allow you to view US only content.

Anonymous said...

I think that Damian Lewis could pull it off but I don't think he would want to - it's so unoriginal to remake a classis

M. L. Kiner said...

"The Hong Kong Connection" is a legal thriller about a gutsy female attorney who takes on high ranking International officials. It's a taut, rollercoaster of a ride from New York to Palm Beach to Washington D.C. to Hong Kong. The plot is expertly woven, the characters persuasive, and the dialogue snappy and spot on.
www.StrategicBookPublishing.com/TheHongKongConnection.html

slwerner said...

"If NBC really wanted to revive it's fortunes, it would bring back "Life" to the schedule. A show with an existing following and the potential for strong male appeal, if properly and patiently promoted."

It seems to me that from the "leaked" info about the upcoming Jay Leno show, it too will be somewhat geared towards male interests cars, racing, etc.

'm also guessing that you are aware of the dust-up going on between drama writers and NBC over Leno getting a prime-time slot which might normally have gone to weekly dramas:

"TV writers slam NBC for 'Leno Show'"
http://www.thrfeed.com/2009/08/fx-showrunners-slam-nbc-for-leno-show.html

In this article, Shawn Ryan, responding to the point of Leno's show being more profitable, makes this point:

"What's the value of ['Leno Show'] show after it airs?" Ryan asked. "They can't sell that on DVD. They can't sell it overseas. Nobody wants to watch it three weeks later. 'Heroes' is very expensive to make, but it has value all across the world. There's a reason they're in [the drama] business -- when it works, they make a lot of money."

Whiskey,

You and your posters here have had a lot to say about shows like "Heroes", so Id also be interested in hearing thoughts on this new Leno Show, if anyone would care to share.

Anonymous said...

Straight-laced accountant pharmaceutical rep teaming with a con man to solve crime....

Ten Speed and Brownshoe:
Psych.

Pierre said...

Great post, whiskey. Rockford Files was must see TV in my teen years. James Garner was great in that role. I don't look forward to the remake.