Whatever happened to libertarian minded TV?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

The Rockfor Files One of my favorites of television is “The Rockford Files”. It has a rather libertarian view of the state and should be on some sort of list of car guy TV shows.  For those that are unfamiliar with the show, Jim Rockford (played by James Garner)  is a private investigator who served time for a crime he may or may not have committed and was pardoned. The show is never 100% clear about what got him put away, but it is implied that it was either something he didn’t do or was what amounted to something the state calls a crime but nobody else does.

In a typical episode Jim gets a new client without resources to pay him and then finds himself the target of corrupt government employees and/or office holders  (if not private sector criminals).  Somewhere along the way we get to see James Garner show off his driving skills in a car chase or two. He often did his own stunt driving as I understand it. Rockford racking up frequent flyer miles at the body shop with his Pontiac was a running gag.

Episodes showcased corruption from speed-trap town cops all the way up to federal agents looking for a career bump regardless if it ruined someone’s life. Not only did Rockford come against corrupt people in government, but in corporations and just criminals in general.  He found a few friends within the system as well. Viewers  got what I think is a fair view of government, that it consists of people who are as or more corruptible as any other and usually proportional to the power they had.

I’ll admit that I don’t watch the big three or four networks on any regular, but when I hear of or see anything they’ve produced in the last 20 years or so there is nothing even remotely close to “The Rockford Files” with themes of corrupt government. The idea that there are people in government who are not benevolent or very misguided in their outlook has seemingly fallen into the realm of science fiction. Science fiction, where untouchable themes have gone through most of television’s history.

“The Twilight Zone”, “Star Trek”, and others introduced ideas to the medium that were prohibited by the censors under normal circumstances.  In recent years shows such as the multiple “Stargate” programs have been where rouge government groups and government corruption/criminality is part of the plot.

I have heard “The Rockford Files” is going to be relaunched as a new series. I don’t think it will do well once stripped of plot twists too complicated for modern viewers and topics we aren’t supposed to discuss. But I can hope to be wrong. I just don’t think we’ll be seeing an episode with a side plot or opening where Rockford is in some minor trouble for not having purchased health insurance.



  1. Rockford had some iconic episodes that dealt directly with abuses of government. One of the most chilling and prescient ones was called the House on Willis Avenue. Filmed in 1978, it dealt with a murder of a fellow PI that was on to a case which would reveal that a company was gathering credit information and creating credit dossiers on individuals. Sound familiar. At the end of the episode, there was a quote from the US Privacy Commission. The episode “So Help Me God” dealt with the abuses in the Grand Jury system that were legal at the time. It showed a DA sending Rockford in and out of jail for contempt of court because he had waived his rights by answering questions. I may speak for myself here, but Rockford is a timeless TV show and the only program I can watch today. I watched very few programs in the 1970s and only really watched Dallas in the 1980s, as all of the rest of TV was junk by then. Dallas looks pretty dated, but Rockford has maintained freshness in today’s world. The show was timeless.

  2. Dear Eric,

    “Somewhere along the way we get to see James Garner show off his driving skills in a car chase or two. He often did his own stunt driving as I understand it. ”

    Indeed he did!

    I recently took a trip down memory lane and watched John Frankenheimer’s classic F1 racing film, “Grand Prix” on video at home. I originally saw the film first run in 1966 in Houston, Texas, in college, at a theater with a 70mm Cinerama screen.

    To get some more background on the film, I did some Googling.

    The actual level of driving ability possessed by the movie’s actors varied wildly. [Brian] Bedford couldn’t drive at all and was only ever in the car for close-up type shots, with the production’s driving instructor calling the actor’s situation “hopeless”. [Yves] Montand and [Antonio] Sabàto faced significant challenges, both of them struggling with even basic skills.

    [James] Garner, on the other hand, proved competent enough that he trained exclusively with iconic Shelby Cobra driver Bob Bondurant, with the actor’s interest in cars growing greatly as a direct result of his involvement in the film.

    Garner’s talents on the road became strong enough that some of the professional drivers, including the aforementioned Bondurant, remarked that the actor could have been a successful Grand Prix driver if he had not gone into making films; director Frankenheimer himself agreed.

    Garner’s devotion to the part caused him to do his own stunt in the scene in which a fuel leak in his vehicle sets it on fire.[7] Garner’s car was fitted with a higher rollbar and had no seat, since he was too tall to fit in a contemporary F1 car.

  3. Rockford was good, but for libertarian tv I think Have Gun Will Travel takes the prize. I have re-watched many of the old episodes, and while some of the acting is poor, and the fights poorly staged, the plot lines of Palidin’s judgement and doing what is right, with or without the law is truly impressive.

  4. A great show – and very anti-Clover, too. Because Jim dealt in common sense, disliked arbitrary ukase and was cynical toward authority.

  5. There is no room for programs like this anymore. With the Jersey Shore, Dancing with the Stars, American Idol, and Two and a Half Men how could there be? We must hurry the Idiocracy.

    • Dear Dom,
      Then there is “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”.

      “The series debuted on October 14, 2007 and has subsequently become one of the longest-running reality television series in the country; the twelfth season of the show premiered on May 1, 2016.”

      The film “EDtv” was only two hours long. That was enough for me. It boggles my mind to think that millions can watch a bunch of narcissists carry on for 12 long years, and still not have enough.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here