James Garner accused Glen A. Larson of plagiarizing episodes of the show and using them for his own shows. Garner filed a complaint with the Writers Guild and Larson was fined. Larson then visited the set to make amends with Garner. According to Garner, he punched Larson so hard that he crashed through a trailer.
The character of Rockford was originally written in an unproduced script for the ABC series Toma (1973). That script was rewritten as the pilot for the "Rockford Files." Both ABC (who initially rejected the script for "Toma") and NBC had problems with the "Rockford" scripts. Executives at both networks thought the dramatic series scripts were too funny. The writers were always ordered to take out the funny lines. The writers and eventually the star refused.
James Garner explained in an interview that Jim Rockford's license plate number, 853-OKG, was created by his agent, Meta Rosenberg (who was a producer and sometime director of the series), at the start of the show and stands for August, 1953, when Garner got his first acting job, and OKG which stands for Oklahoma, his home state, and his own last name, Garner, thereby making "August 1953 Oklahoma Garner" the full meaning of the Firebird license plate.
During the first season, Rockford's trailer moved twice (if the pilot movie location is included, or once if the pilot is not counted), from a parking lot located at 2354 Ocean Blvd., Los Angeles, California in the pilot (and as seen in Rockford's Yellow Pages ad in the pilot), then to just off Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, and finally to another Malibu location in an area known as Paradise Cove. The trailer remained at the Paradise Cove location for the remainder of the series. The second location had an address of 22968 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California, and the final location had an approximate address of 28128 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, CA., but was given the then fictional address of 29 Cove Road, Malibu.
David Chase, a writer/producer for "Rockford," went on to create The Sopranos (1999). An episode from "The Sopranos" first season shows a scene in a retirement home where the inhabitants are watching television. We can't see what they're watching but we can hear the theme to "Rockford" playing clearly.
Rockford's telephone number is shown to be 311-555-2368 during the opening credits, as his answering machine message is heard just before the music starts. This was also the phone number shown for the Ghostbusters in their in-movie ad.
The character of Rockford's father was named Joseph; he was named after writer Stephen J. Cannell's father, but rather than Joseph or Joe, he was most often called "Rocky," a nickname derived from his last name, not his first. The name of Rockford was used after Cannell found the name listed in the Universal Studios employee directory.
The address of Rockford's trailer was 29 Cove Road, Malibu, but the trailer was actually in a parking lot which was portrayed as either for a public beach or for a restaurant located on the opposite end of the parking lot. Paradise Cove Beach Cafe, an actual restaurant which still (as of 2014) exists, was where Rockford often went for Mexican food. Additionally, in a few episodes, there were references to Paradise Cove, or Cove Road, as the part of Malibu where Rockford lived. The address of that actual restaurant is 28128 Pacific Coast Highway (the address of the actual entry signs for both the restaurant and the development, thereby being the approximate real address for the trailer, with the fictional address of 29 Cove Road not then existing. In the time since the series ended, a "luxury" mobile home park (with prices up to $4 million) has been developed, adjacent to the parking lot for the restaurant, and overlapping the spot where Rockford's trailer was located during the series. It is named Paradise Cove MH Park, and where there is now a Cove Road within the development. As a side note, on the restaurant's website www.paradisecovemalibu.com, there is a picture of the beach (third picture in the slide show), with the distinctive promontory cliff, where Rockford often walked during the series, usually with a female guest character, or occasionally alone, when Rockford was being introspective.
Rockford's friends had a number of nicknames for him. His father called him "Sonny," Sgt/Lt Dennis Becker called him "Jimbo," Beth Davenport called him "Jim," Angel Martin and Rita Capkovic called him "Jimmy," and Gandolph Finch's nickname for Jim was "Rockfish." He was comfortable with all of the nicknames, except for "Rockfish," also a remnant from his prison days, which he hated, and told Gandy so several times.
Rockford drove a Pontiac Firebird Esprit, not a Trans-Am as often thought. Although the color of the car was referred to during the series as brown, light brown, or even brown on brown, the actual "official" Pontiac color of the car was "copper mist". The car used was a new 1974 model for the first season, a new 1975 model for the second season, a new 1976 model for the third season, a new 1977 model for the four season, and a new 1978 model for the fifth season, which for the first time, was carried over to the sixth season and not replaced with a new model, because James Garner was not a fan of the new front end styling for the 1979 and 1980 models of the Pontiac Firebird Esprit.
The show was a co-production between three companies, the production companies owned by Roy Huggins and James Garner and Universal Television (Studios). Garner sued Universal claiming he was not being paid his share of the syndication profits. After several years of litigation, Universal settled out of court with Garner. Exact terms are not known, and it was agreed between the parties that the settlement would remain confidential. Cherokee Productions was the name of Garner's production company, which was known to own 37.5% of the series, leaving 62.5% to be split between Huggins company and Universal, but it was not known how much of the show was owned by each after Cherokee's share.
Jim was a Korean War veteran, which was referred to various times throughout the series. There was a late season one episode which dealt with Rockford's service in more detail, and included a clip from a supposed "home movie" taken while Jim was in service, along with his squad mate, portrayed by Hector Elizondo, but unfortunately, it is very clear that for the creation of the "look back" footage, that the makeup artists were unable to make Garner look like he would have in 1952.
In an early episode from the first season when Jim calls the police station and asks for Dennis he calls him "Lt. Becker." The character became Sgt. Becker for the first four seasons until Dennis was promoted to Lt. during season five.
Before becoming a semi-regular, or recurring character, as Lt. Doug Chapman in the fall of 1976, at the beginning of the third season, James Luisi made a guest appearance during the latter half of season two, as a criminal antagonist of Rockford's named Burt Stryker.
Three cast members from the series Magnum, P.I. (1980) - Tom Selleck, Roger E. Mosley and Larry Manetti - all did guest spots on "Rockford Files." An unconnected episode of "Magnum" features a discussion of a "Rockford Files" episode sometime after the last original broadcast of "The Rockford Files" had taken place.
Besides detectives Richie Brockleman (2 episodes, 1 was a two-parter) and Lance White (2 episodes), other significant recurring characters on the show were bail bondsman Solly Marshall (3 episodes plus 5 other episodes as different characters, all portrayed by Joe E. Tata); Becker's wife Peggy (6 episodes, portrayed by Pat Finley); reformed prostitute Rita Capkovic (3 episodes, portrayed by Rita Moreno); client turned girlfriend Dr. Megan Dougherty (2 episodes, 1 was a two-parter, portrayed by Kathryn Harrold); private investigator Vern St. Cloud (3 episodes, portrayed by Simon Oakland); mechanic turned bumbling private investigator Freddy Beamer (2 episodes, portrayed by James Whitmore Jr.); disbarred lawyer John "Coop" Cooper (4 episodes, portrayed by Bo Hopkins); Jim's ex-cellmate Gandolph "Gandy" Fitch (3 episodes, portrayed by Isaac Hayes); and parole officer turned private investigator Marcus Aurelius "Gabby" Hayes (2 episodes, portrayed by Louis Gossett Jr.). There was one other notable repeating character, Sara Butler, who made more than one appearance, but technically, the first appearance was not part of the series per se, since that first appearance was in the pilot, now often referred to as episode -0- (two parts in syndication) of the first season. Sara showed up again late in season one, and was portrayed by Lindsay Wagner each time.
Even though Jim didn't have a permit to carry a gun, he did have one that he kept either in the cookie jar or in the coffee canister in his kitchen. "The coffee keeps it from rusting," which is actually true, the coffee grounds absorb moisture.
Has appeared on many top 50 or top 100 lists of the best series of all time, and has occasionally appeared on top 10 lists. The reasons often cited were the quality of the writing and acting, but also because the show broke with so many conventions, such as Rockford not being a "glamorous" P.I.; not always being very successful financially; not always being on friendly terms with the police; getting arrested fairly often; not always winning fist fights, including getting hurt or plain old beaten up; and even hurting his own hand when punching someone.
There were plans to spin the characters of Gandolph "Gandy" Fitch and Marcus Aurelius "Gabby" Hayes off onto their own series, to be titled "Gabby & Gandy," but that plan never came to fruition. What was supposed to be the backdoor pilot ended up being slightly re-edited and was broadcast as a regular episode in season three.
There have been at least two attempts to make a feature film or to remake the series. The best known being the 2010 attempt at a new series, with proposed casting of Dermot Mulroney as Jim Rockford, Alan Tudyk as Dennis Becker, and Beau Bridges as Rocky. The most recent feature film attempt was proposed to star Vince Vaughn, but has been "in development" with Universal Studios since 2012. As of July 2014, those attempts have been unsuccessful, in large part because of the difficulty in casting the particularly personalized roles of Jim, Rocky, and Becker.
Besides Rockford's signature Pontiac Firebird Esprit, some major characters had signature cars as well. Joe "Rocky" Rockford (Noah Beery, Jr.), Jim's father, drove a two-tone gray-and-maroon 1975 GMC K-15 Sierra Classic pickup truck. Elizabeth "Beth" Davenport (Gretchen Corbett), Jim's lawyer and sometime girlfriend, drove a yellow 1975 Porsche 911 Carrera Targa during the first season and a red 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450 SL (R107) for the second through fourth seasons. Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin), Jim's shifty best friend, drove a white 1965 Cadillac DeVille convertible he nicknamed "Lucille".
There are two interesting commonalities between "The Rockford Files" and Hill Street Blues (1981), the first, which is fairly well known, is the composer of the themes for both series is Mike Post and the themes from both shows were Billboard music chart hits. The second, lesser known commonality is that both shows featured a strong female attorney named Ms. Davenport, Beth Davenport in the case of Rockford, and Joyce Davenport in the case of Hill Street. Additionally, Hill Street premiered (January 15, 1981) almost exactly one year after the final original broadcast of Rockford on January 10, 1980; both were (and still are) considered groundbreaking in terms of style and emerging dramatic structures and elements; and both series were broadcast on NBC during their original runs.
The character of Richie Brockelman (portrayed by Dennis Dugan) is usually said to have first appeared on this series. But, that is not entirely true. The first appearance of the Brockelman character was actually in a ninety minute movie, intended to be a pilot, entitled Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24 Hours (1976). The movie pilot was not entirely successful, but NBC was still interested in the character and possibilities for a show based on him, so the character of Brockelman was re-introduced in 1978 on this program. The Rockford appearance led to the short lived summer series Richie Brockelman, Private Eye (1978), which ran for six episodes, but was not renewed. Other than Dugan himself, the only actor to make an appearance on both "The Rockford Files" and "Richie Brockelman, Private Eye" was Robert Hogan, who portrayed Sgt. Ted Coopersmith, who appeared once on "The Rockford Files," and in all six episodes of the summer Brockelman series. One other character appeared in both the Rockford and Brockelman series, Mr. Brockelman, Richie's father, but was portrayed by a different actor in each series.
The English football league club Tranmere Rovers, based in Birkenhead, Merseyside, have ran out onto the pitch at the start of a game with The Rockford Files theme tune as their entrance music since about 1984.
Despite being a very observant and astute investigator, Rockford often fails to correctly remember a suspect's license plate; even moments after seeing it. This is something of a running gag throughout the series.