In 1973 producer Roy Huggins and writer Stephen J. Cannell were hard at work on a cop series called TOMA, starring Tony Musante, when they hit a problem. For various complicated reasons it was going to be physically impossible to finish an upcoming episode before the scheduled airdate. Then Cannell had a brainwave. Why not transfer the existing plot - lock, stock and barrel - to a brand new character, who could be introduced as some old pal of Detective Toma's. This would release the leading actor and regular cast to begin shooting the next but one episode, whilst the current storyline was filmed simultaneously but with fresh actors and technicians. This way two episodes of TOMA could be turned out in over the seven days normally used to produce one, and 'hey presto' the series would be back on schedule. Tony Musante would appear briefly to explain that he was handing over the case to a private investigator of his acquaintance, and then conveniently disappear for the rest of that week's episode. As this was only going to be a one-off treatment, Stephen J. Cannell decided to have some fun.

Cannell's new character, James Rockford, would be the opposite in every respect of the traditional gumshoe. He would live in a dilapidated trailer on Malibu beach, remote from the city's mean streets, and would have a truck- driving father who was downright ashamed of his kith and kin, always nagging 'Sonny' to go in for a respectable occupation. Cannell warmed to his task and in five days had produced a script that ran to 90 minutes, such was his enthusiasm. The ABC network of course wanted it cut back to 60 minutes in order to fit the slot; Huggins and Cannell refused, ABC scheduled a repeat of an earlier TOMA episode to plug the gap, and the 'Rockford version' became the pilot for a completely new series, with Stephen I. Cannell writing and producing. James Garner was everyone's ideal Jim Rockford, and his participation was the finishing touch.