Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Apple #187: Rockford Files and David Chase

Here's something else I saw while I was in Florida. I was by myself in the house for a while, lunchtime I think it was, and I was flipping through the channels on TV and I came across an old Rockford Files episode. I hadn't seen one of those in a while, so I thought I'd watch that.

From the intro sequence
(Photo from SuperSonic Soul)

It was still very early in the episode, and they were showing the credits. I saw "Written by David Chase." I thought, could that be the same David Chase who is the head writer and brains behind The Sopranos?

Tony, telling them how it is
(Photo from Australia's The Age)

Before I answer, a little background.

In case you're not familiar, The Rockford Files was a detective show that first aired in 1974, starring Jim Garner as Jim Rockford, a no-fuss private detective who wasn't afraid to pretend he was somebody smarmy to get an address, and who would do his best in a fistfight if he couldn't avoid one. He lived in a trailer next to the ocean and drove a gold-toned Firebird. I used to watch this show a lot with my dad.

The Sopranos, on the other hand, is a super-intense mafia drama on HBO. The lead character is Tony Soprano, de facto head of a New Jersey mob family. You see Tony exacting his mafia brand of violence on all sorts of people, and members of his mob family doing the same. The impetus for the show is that Tony is having panic attacks and goes to see a therapist. So you also see him in therapy sessions, trying to figure out his life. In addition, you also see a group of federal agents working to collect enough information to arrest Tony.

Now, here's what happened in The Rockford Files episode I saw:

  • Jim and his troublemaker friend Angel Martin are in court for some detectiving misdeeds and the judge sentences them to group therapy.
  • During one group therapy session, a fellow member reveals some troubling information about people breaking into her apartment. Jim talks to the woman some more, and he learns that she was in a mental hospital for a while. There, she met someone who said he was a federal agent of an organization that might as well have been the CIA.
  • Jim tries to find out more about this supposed CIA guy. In doing so, he unwittingly alerts actual federal agents about his investigation and they start to follow Jim.
  • Jim talks to the CIA guy in the mental hospital and then talks to his friend Angel Martin, who tells Jim that the supposed CIA guy is actually an ex-mafia dude who ratted out his family. They can't kill him because of some family connections, so they've had him put in the mental hospital to punish him.
  • In the climactic scene, Jim is talking to the son of the mob family (the father is unavailable) and his flunkies, and then the federal agents bust in and it turns into a big 1970's chase scene.
Do you see the connections? Therapy sessions, federal agents trailing people, the mob.

So it should come as no surprise that, yes, David Chase of the now-Sopranos fame did write that episode. It's called "The Dog and Pony Show," in case you're interested.

And in fact, David Chase wrote several episodes of The Rockford Files. He even won an Edgar Allen Poe award for one of them, called "The Oracle Wore a Cashmere Suit." That one doesn't have a whole lot to do with mobsters, but another episode of Chase's does -- "Just a Coupla Guys" is about New Jersey mobsters -- as does "Punishment and Crime," which includes Russian mobsters and a torture scene.

Oh, yeah, and David Chase was also one of the producers of The Rockford Files, from 1976 to 1980.

The point of all this is that maybe one of the reasons that The Sopranos is so good is that Chase had the chance to work on his plot a few times before he turned it into a full-blown, multi-season TV show.

Internet Movie Database, The Rockford Files and Dog and Pony Show
The Museum of Broadcast Communications, Rockford Files
Wikipedia, The Rockford Files
C Mulroony's blog about shows directed by Reza Badiyi
Internet Movie Database, The Sopranos
The Sopranos.com, David Chase

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