Through the 1970s, academic considerations of TV typically defined the medium negatively, theorizing it according to what it was not. Specifically, theories of TV that emerged from art, architecture, film, theater, and literary studies in this period conceptualized TV as not art, not public, not “masculine” or spectatorial, not interactive, not literate, and not market-transcendent. The Rockford Files (NBC, 1974-1980, Universal TV/Cherokee Productions) is one of several series airing contemporaneously with such writing that explicitly challenged these understandings of TV’s “essential” properties. It suggested a broader televisual field of place-specific, city-set series that actively engaged and reimagined the urban landscape of 1970s America.
How might the contemporary era encourage viewers to "time travel" through the streets of America’s urban centers, given past series’ new life on DVD? What new ways of theorizing television (with an emphasis on the "mobile" in "mobile privatization") might open up if we consider how even the most popular of national network television is not necessarily synonymous with "placelessness," "non-space," or the "death" of public life in postwar America?
The opening titles sequence of Rockford—designed by Jack Cole with musical scoring by Pete Carpenter and Mike Post—features Jim Rockford navigating Los Angeles’s freeways (explicitly identifying the 10 freeway, the 101 Hollywood/North, and the 134 to Pasadena), and the city’s surface streets in his Pontiac Firebird (featuring Jim traveling eastbound on Hollywood Boulevard at night, and in Chinatown). Interspersed are shots of Rockford in action as a private investigator and in quieter, everyday, domestic routines.
I submit the opening titles of The Rockford Files to ask: What of the “better view” of mobility and the city offered on television—a view that, as Ernest Pascucci once suggested, might encourage or enable subjective relations otherwise unavailable to the viewer?