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Vulture Exclusive: Details on What Went Wrong With NBC’s Rockford Files Reboot

Do not defile this man's legacy.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

Photo: Will Hart/NBC