Thursday, May 13, 2010

Forgotten Books The American Vein; Rockford

Christopher Wicking and Tise Vahimga set out to do for American television what Andrews Sarris did for American films. Sarris had the problem of tracking down films long lost in vaults somewhere in sunny L.A. But Wicking and Vahimga had an even more difficult task. Remember when NBC decided to tape over all those years of Johnny Carson Tonight Shows so they wouldn't have to pay for new tape. Brilliant! Some shows are just about impossible to find, even among collectors.

But somehow they persevered and got hold of enough shows to give tv scholars a fascinating assessment of the directors who worked in tv from 1949 through 1975. They laid out their book much like Sarris did. The Pantheon comes first, those men (and a few women) who made ground breaking contributions to the medium. And they work down from there.

As you read their these biographical assessments of the directors you quickly get a sense of how much good, solid and occasionally brilliant tv came and went over the years. They quickly prove their case that a good director can take a trite show and make it at least a fresh piece of work if not a masterpiece. They also track themes and obsessions that certain directors (usually the better ones) share. They even cite certain shows you wish you could find. They outline a Christopher Knopf script for a Movie of The Week. If the film is even close to the outline this had to be a stunning piece of suspense.

There's also a nostalgia factor. Just looking at the name of all the series that have come into our homes over the The titles bring back memories the way old songs do.

If you have any interest at all in the history of television, this is your number one book. Wicking wrote a number of cult film scripts including Scream and Scream Again. Vahimga wrote numerous articles for horror magazines. They had the talent and temperment to turn a massive piece of work into a enjoyable, informative and occasional wistful read.

------------------THE NEW ROCKFORD FILES

Ed here: None of the following surprises me. James Garner is James Rockford. Period and forever. Leave it alone.

From New York Magazine's Vulture section:

Vulture Exclusive: Details on What Went Wrong With NBC’s Rockford Files Reboot
5/12/10 at 11:50 PM 16Comments

Do not defile this man's legacy.
Photo: Will Hart/NBC
NBC's planned reboot of the seventies private-eye classic series The Rockford Files, with mildly beloved rom-com prince Dermot Mulroney taking James Garner's iconic role, was one of the most hyped pilots of the fall. Many said it was a gimme to make the lineup: It's based on the iconic James Garner series, and was produced by Steve Carell and House executive producer David Shore. What could go wrong? Oh, wait, this could: A pilot so bad that it seemed like a crime. In fact, if it weren't for Carell and Shore's involvement, NBC would have written off the project days ago. Now, as the execs consider what to do, and with their upfront just four days away, this much is clear: If the show does make the fall schedule, it will be in a vastly different form from what was just shot.

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."

While much of the criticism of the Rockford pilot seems to center around the direction, there have been complaints about Mulroney's take on Rockford. Some people who've seen the pilot praise his work — "Dermot's adorable," said one viewer — while others suggest he simply didn't pop. One wag suggests (only half-jokingly) that NBC should start over from scratch and replace Mulroney with Lost star Josh Holloway. After all, he did acquit himself well as a cop in the "Sawyer and Miles: On the Case!" flash-sideways episodes this season.

Dawn Parouse, the Prison Break producer who was hired to take control of the day-to-day on the pilot just days before shooting began, apparently did her best to turn things around after seeing the disastrous first version. She personally supervised a marathon recutting session, working for nearly a week to get the pilot in better shape, one source said. But while the new cut played much better with NBC brass, it wasn't enough to convince them to give Rockford an early pickup. (They'd already given four other new dramas go-aheads.)

If NBC chooses to rework Rockford, it'll almost certainly be because of entertainment president Angela Bromstad. She made the reboot one of her top priorities shortly after she returned to the network last year, ordering a pilot script last July, far ahead of most orders. She's also good pals with Shore (while House airs on Fox, the show is produced by NBC's studio arm, overseen by Bromstad), and if she wants to keep Carell on The Office longer than season seven, when he's itching to leave, perhaps dumping his show isn't the best incentive. The combined weight of both of these men's involvement could be enough to convince NBC to give producers more time to investigate ways to make Rockford work.

By: Josef Adalian


pattinase (abbott) said...

Can't tell you how much I loathe Mulroney. The personality of an oyster. If I had to name the actor least likely to play Rockford well, he's top the list.

Randy Johnson said...

You would think NBC would learn after the debacles that were the reboots of Knightrider and The Bionic Woman. Two mediocre series to begin with and they fell on their faces. To attempt remaking a series that was already perfect....(sigh)

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

Mulroney is such an awful choice, he has as much charisma as a rotten piece of fruit. Josh Holloway on the other hand is perfect! I support the choice so much that I started a facebook group in support of it:

The Rockford Files was and is perfect the way it is, but if NBC insists on remaking it, at least give the character and Garner the respect that they deserve.

David Cranmer said...

I have no interest in anyone playing that part except James Garner.

Max Allan Collins said...

The only way it works is if Garner is "Rocky" and the new Rockford is jr.

Ed Gorman said...

Al/Max--great idea!!!!

George said...

Hollywood and the TV executives will do ANYTHING to get people to watch their dying networks. Of course, bringing ROCKFORD back is a lame idea. But that just shows their desperation.

Evan Lewis said...

A double-shot of TV, a subject dear to my heart. Thanks, Ed!

Todd Mason said...

In Other TV news, THE POKER CLUB makes what I take to be its NBC-Universal station premiere, at least, on the cable channel Sleuth (the criminous little sibling of SyFy [koff] and comparable sibling to Chiller [I barely know her]) on July 3rd at 4pm.

Todd Mason said...

4pm ET, anyway.