Q & A: Richie Brockelman, Private Eye

I get a lot of e-mails from people asking me about television shows, made-for-TV movies or miniseries they remember from years or decades past. I try to answer each question as best I can. Every now and then I like to dig through my inbox and pull out a few choice e-mails to answer here at Television Obscurities for everyone to read. Keep reading for today’s questions and answers.

I wonder if you might know the name of a show that ran for one summer only, in 1967, I think, or maybe a year earlier or later. It featured a young, fast-talking blond guy who drove around in a convertible and tried to be a detective but who solved got results mostly by conning people. His favorite phrase was, “the thing of it is….” Any idea what this show might be?

The young, fast-talking blond guy Gene refers to in his question is Richie Brockelman, a character played by Dennis Dugan in a made-for-TV movie called broadcast on Wednesday, October 27th, 1976 from 8:30-10PM. Television listings at the time referred to the telefilm as Richie Brockelman, Private Eye but when it was rebroadcast in May 1977 it bore the title Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24 Hours.

Richie Brockelman was a very young, very inexperienced private investigator who was hired by an amnesiac, played by Suzanne Pleshette, who thought she was somehow involved with a murder. The character reappeared in February 1978 in a two-hour episode of The Rockford Files. Stephen J. Cannell, co-creator of The Rockford Files, co-wrote Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24 Hours with Steven Bochco.

A limited run series titled Richie Brockelman, Private Eye premiered on Friday, March 17th, 1978. It co-starred Barbara Bosson and Robert Hogan, who had also appeared in Richie Brockelman: The Missing 24 Hours. The series ran for just five episodes and was not renewed for the 1978-1979 season. The theme song, “School’s Out,” was written by Stephen Geyes and Herb Pederson. Richie Brockelman would make one last television appearance in March of 1979, once again in a two-hour episode of The Rockford Files. It seems Stephen J. Cannell simply could not get enough of Richie Brockelman.

To bring this back to Gene’s question, Richie Brockelman used the phrase “the thing of it is, is…” when explaining himself, although I can’t say whether it was used in the original made-for-TV movie or just the limited series or both. At least one telefilm was later created by editing episodes of Richie Brockelman, Private Eye together. Neither the original made-for-TV movie nor the limited series are available on DVD but Brockelman’s appearances on The Rockford Files can be found on the Season Four and Season Five sets, respectively. They are also available for streaming through Netflix but not, at the moment, on Hulu.com.

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13 Replies to “Q & A: Richie Brockelman, Private Eye”

  1. Wasn’t this series considered a failed Rockford spinoff?

    Didn’t the Brockelman series air after the Rockford repeats on Friday night?

    I think the Brockelman series appeared right after NBC sued James Garner and canceled the Rockford Files but NBC contined to show Rockford repeats until mid-summer.

  2. The Rockford Files ran for a season and a half after Richie Brockelman, Private Eye came and went, ending midway through the 1979-1980 season. It actually replaced repeats of The Rockford Files. The two-hour Season Four finale aired on February 24th. Repeats aired on March 3rd and March 10th, then Richie Brockelman, Private Eye premiered on March 17th. Its last episode aired five weeks later on April 14th. Repeats of The Rockford Files returned on April 21st.

    Because of its connection to The Rockford Files I am sure there are those who would call it a spin-off but given that the first appearance of the character was in an unrelated made-for-TV movie, it really can’t be considered one.

  3. The backdoor pilot RICHIE BROCKELMAN: THE MISSING 24 HOURS debuted on NBC on October 27, 1976 where it got an absolutely dreadful 10.6HH/16%, airing at 8:30 pm out of Mr. Danny Thomas’s failed return sitcom ‘The Practice’. At that point, I think the pilot was considered to be kaput, and no series was in the offing. Perhaps trying to please their most-favoured-producer Mr. Stephen J. Cannell, NBC encored the backdoor pilot again on May 29, 1977, and it garnered a much more respectable 14.0HH/32%.

    I seem to remember that based on the improved pilot Nielsen rating together with a new series pitch, a decision was made by the Peacock to greenlight the try-out of a short-run “third season” series of ‘Richie Brockelman, Private Eye’, and to use the ‘Rockford Files’ series as a launching pad for the show.

    The Richie Brockelman character was integrated into the February 24, 1978 episode of ‘Rockford Files’, a two-hour episode titled “The House on Willis Avenue”, which got a strong 19.8HH/34% when it was broadcast.

    Subsequently, ‘Richie Brockelman, Private Eye’ did pretty good numbers for NBC in the “third season” of the 1977-78 season (March-April), garnering a 16.9HH average for its regular season episodes, and then again averaged an acceptable 11.6HH average for its summer season encores which were tried out on a different night. But in the end, the numbers probably were not strong enough for NBC to re-up the series, and I think NBC’s chief concern was that the series needed to be slotted behind a strong lead-in in order to succeed, and NBC did not have many strong lead-in programs back in those days.

    Some people consider ‘Richie Brockelman, Private Eye’ to be a ‘Rockford Files’ spin-off, but I’m not sure of this, as ‘Rockford Files’ was really utilized more to help launch the series via character crossover, much in the same way as ‘Happy Days’ helped launch ‘Out of the Blue’ and ‘Welcome Back Kotter’ helped to introduce ‘Mr. T. & Tina’.

  4. So if ‘The Rockford Files’ was cancelled midway through the 1979-1980 season, its last, was it brought back for summer reruns on the network in ’80, or was the January 10, 1980 episode the last hurrah for the series?

  5. They did bring ‘Rockford Files’ back for a short summer run where it averaged 8.0HH, about half of its final regular season average of 15.8HH.

  6. Dennis Dugan is now a very successful director, apparently Adam Sandler’s favorite, having directed Grown-Ups, You Don’t Mess With the Zohan, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Big Daddy, and Happy Gilmore. He also has cameos in all of those movies.

  7. I think the reason RICHIE BROCKELMAN is considered a ROCKFORD FILES spin-off is simply that more people saw the character in his ROCKFORD appearances than in the original pilot. As far as those people are concerned, he made his debut on ROCKFORD.

  8. You’re probably right, Lawrence. On the other hand, I’m sure there must have been at least a few viewers who saw the original pilot telefilm and then were a bit confused when the Brockelman character showed up on The Rockford Files.

  9. When “The Rockford Files” was in syndication, the five episodes of “Richie Brockelman” were included as part of the package.

  10. I had no idea that Richie Brockelman came from The Rockford Files when I watched it. I loved it; cheerful, witty and Brockelman was quite a compulsive character to watch. I’m watching them again on Youtube and they are just as joyful.

  11. I loved this show and have been looking for it via VHS, DVD, or streaming, forever.

    While my memory is flawed, here is what I recall from 45 years ago…

    I would 100% call it a spin-off because the character originated on Rockford Files, simple as that.

    At one point, Rockford Files went on hiatus and the short run of Richie Brockelman filled the gap. I feel like this was at the time of the beginning of the end of Rockford Files as Garner’s frustrations with the show were reasonably public. Even if the show came back for a season-and-a-half, the writing had been on the wall.

    Dugan’s Richie might not have been the equal of Tom Selleck’s Lance, but it was a unique, well-made show. I was pretty disappointed it was never given the change to find a bigger audience.

    1. The character didn’t originate on The Rockford Files, that’s why it really can’t be called a ‘spin off’ series. The first Richie Brockelman movie was made and aired before he appeared on The Rockford Files. Cannell wrote Brockelman into The Rockford Files double episode to help that series get made, which worked.

      Although not technically a spinoff series, it was created by the main writer of The Rockford Files, and is basically a copy of that show, except Richie doesn’t live in a trailer, heh.

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