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Friday, May 14, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: What did series creator Stephen J. Cannell think of David Shore's pilot script for NBC's now-dead "Rockford Files" reboot?

Those pilot-panicking news breakers over at the fantastic are now reporting that NBC's Rockford Files reboot is kaput ... though "a redevelopment of the concept is still a possibility," states TV editor Nellie Andreeva.

Apparently, the finished cut lacked, um, re-imagination. Which is surprising, given the creative forces behind the show (House creator David Shore and The Office's Steve Carell). Even Rockford co-creator Stephen J. Cannell told me a few weeks ago for a Los Angeles Times story that he thought Shore's pilot script had the "panache" of the original. "A lot of people who'll be tuning in ... are not going to have bulletproof memories of what Rockford was all those years ago," Cannell told me in unpublished portions of his interview. "They'll be able to look at it and evaluate it as its own entity."

Apparently, audiences won't get that chance--unless NBC decides to retool the pilot for midseason or later.

According to New York magazine's Vulture column, "two people familiar with the situation said Rockford turned out to be more rehash than reinvention." The article quotes anonymous sources pointing the finger at pilot director and seasoned TV pro Michael Watkins. The column, indirectly quoting insider sources, reports that Watkins "severely weakened a solid script with lackluster, even listless direction." The story quotes one unnamed source as saying, "The pilot looks like it was shot in the seventies."

Ironically, Cannell told me in March that Shore's script was "funny," "fresh" and an "interesting play" on the original. While acknowledging the reboot's writer as a Rockford fan, Cannell added—and stressed this as a plus for the re-imagined pilot—"David Shore didn't have the experience of making (the show) in the seventies."

In his interview with me, Cannell also said he knew Shore and company, however inventive, inspired and spot-on with their script and casting, had their work cut out for them. "It's very difficult when you start off and are trying to make a classic over," Cannell told me in an unpublished portion of his interview. "Not that Rockford is I Love Lucy, but how would you like to try to make that one over again? You're really climbing a high mountain. Then you have the problem of having it on the video shelf right next to the original."

From my L.A. Times piece: "They couldn't have better people doing this," said a well-wishing Cannell. "But it's gonna be so hard to take out what basically is 50% of the equation -- which is Jim (Garner)."
He continued in his interview with me: "And that's casting no aspersions on the actor they've hired." Mulroney and Shore "are exquisite," he added. "But I guess if you're looking for it to be what it was, it's gonna be pretty hard to do. But if you're looking for it to be a really fun, interesting, funny show that can fill a dead hour on NBC, then that's another thing altogether. I think it can easily hit that goal."

Well, maybe not till 2011.

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