The most popular television private eyes of the Seventies and the Eighties clash in a battle for investigative supremacy. In this corner, we have James Rockford (portrayed by the sublime James Garner) – Korean War vet, ex-con (he was innocent), con man, and loving son, while in this corner, we've got mustachioed Thomas Sullivan Magnum (the charismatic Tom Selleck), a Vietnam vet, former Naval Intelligence officer, and fashion disaster.
Now, Rockford's – arguably – more mature, and his prison experiences give him an "in" with the criminal element, as well as a number of contacts and informers that he can turn to while investigating his cases. Magnum, on the other hand, has a circle of war buddies and a wealthy –if unseen – patron, in the form of mysterious pulp novelist Robin Masters, whose resources he can exploit in pursuing his investigations. Rockford drives a gold Firebird, while Magnum drives a red Ferarri (although, it should be pointed out that at least Rockford owns his own car).
Both P.I.s struggle with their finances and take on far too many non-paying cases. Both also have maintained semi-romantic relationships with cute female lawyers. Rockford owns his own home – a beat-up mobile home in a restaurant parking lot in Malibu – while Magnum lives in the guest house of Masters' vast, Hawaiian estate, ostensibly in return for being the on-site security. This tends to mean that Rockford's domicile is much more frequently invaded by angry, sap-and-revolver-wielding thugs and desperate lowlife clients. I'm guessing that Magnum sleeps much more soundly.
Professionally, they both seem to be more-than-competent detectives, although (especially in early episodes) Rockford will sometimes quit a job when it looks to be getting too dangerous. On the other hand, one can't help wonder just what Magnum's success rate would be if he didn't have Rick and T.C. to lean on. Magnum is definitely more willing to use deadly force if it seems necessary, carrying his service .45 as a matter of course. Jim's gun is usually home in his cookie jar when he most needs it.
So, if you needed a private eye – excuse me, Magnum – private investigator, which would you turn to? Wry, solid – but sometimes less than tenacious Jim Rockford? Or the occasionally goofball, Hawaiian shirt-and-shorts-wearing Thomas Magnum?