TV Show Draft – Round 4 – Columbo

Welcome to my fourth round pick in the Hanspostcard TV Draft. Last round I chose Perry Mason, which was the ultimate court room “whodunit!” You never knew who committed the crime until the end of the episode. I thought it appropriate to choose Columbo for this round, because it is almost the exact opposite of Perry Mason, in that you know who the killer is right from the get go. It was called a murder mystery where the murder was no mystery.

The show pioneered the “inverted mystery” technique/format. Almost every show begins with a crime and the audience knows who the culprit is. Then enter the LAPD’s Lieutenant Columbo who spends the remainder of the show looking for clues, pestering the criminal, and eventually solving the case. The show was not a “whodunit” like Perry Mason, but rather it has been described as a “how’s he gonna catch him?”

The first season of Columbo began in September of 1971. I know that most of the shows being picked by others in the draft ran on a weekly basis. Columbo did not. Most episodes were featured as part of the NBC Mystery Movie rotation. It ran for 35 years with a total of 69 episodes.

The show was created by schoolmates Richard Levinson and William Link. The character first appeared in 1960 on The Chevy Mystery Show in an episode called “Enough Rope.” That episode was then adapted for a stage play entitled Prescription: Murder, which was then adapted for television in 1968. Columbo was played by Bert Freed in Enough Rope and by Thomas Mitchell in the stage version in 1962.

The writers of the show had originally wanted Lee J. Cobb to play Columbo, but he was unavailable. They next approached Bing Crosby, who turned down the role because it would take away from his time on the golf course. Peter Falk came across the script for Prescription: Murder and contacted Levinson and Link and said, “I’d kill to play that cop!”

Peter Falk and Gene Berry

They weren’t really sure about Peter Falk, who was only 39 at the time. They envisioned the character as being older. He won the role, and he plays him as a much straighter, cleaner, and firmer Columbo in the first episode. It was a huge hit! The Columbo quirks and mannerisms that fans came to know and love would develop as he continued to play the role.

Peter Falk really threw himself into the role. He wore his own clothes. The suit was one that he had dyed brown, because he felt that looked better. He wore his own shoes. The world famous raincoat was one that he purchased in New York City while caught in a rainstorm. It cost him a mere $15. One difference between Peter and Columbo – Columbo preferred cigars, while Falk enjoyed cigarettes.

I am currently reading a fantastic book on the show written by David Koenig.

Columbo is like no other cop. Koenig says, “There was nobody or nothing like Columbo at all before him. All the detectives were these hardboiled, emotionless, tough guys. And he was the opposite of that in every way. He hated guns and violence.” He describes the show this way, “Columbo wasn’t really a cop show. It was a drawing-room mystery done backwards with a cop as the lead. It was an anti-cop show.”

During the first few seasons of Columbo, it really set the standard for what some refer to as “event television.” There were some fabulous guest stars who played the murderer. Those stars included Gene Berry, Jack Cassidy, William Shatner, Dick Van Dyke, Ruth Gordon, Robert Vaughn, Anne Baxter, Janet Leigh, Robert Culp, Donald Pleasence, Eddie Albert, Leonard Nimoy, Johnny Cash, and Patrick McGoohan – just to name a few!!

After the murder, when Columbo finally shows up, his genius is hidden by his often confused look. It is also hidden by the way he is dressed and by his friendly demeanor. He is looked upon as a stupid fool. The killer has no idea what a brilliant man Columbo is and they are lured into a false sense of security. The killer becomes even more arrogant and dismisses Columbo as a dope, only to be caught in the end.

One of the things that certainly added to the character was his little idiosyncrasies like fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence, asking to borrow a pencil, or being distracted by something in the room in the middle of a conversation. Falk adlibbed those moments on camera while film was rolling as a way to keep the other actors off-balance. He felt that it really helped to make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo more genuine. It really truly worked.

On the show, the murderer is often some famous person, or someone who is cultured or from high society. Either that, or some sort of successful professional (surgeon, psychologist, etc…). Paired up against Columbo, it is gold! The interactions between the two become such a marvelous part of the show and brings out Columbo’s character and cunning genius!

In those conversations Columbo is often confused. He doesn’t know anything about classical music, chess, fine wines, photography or pieces of art. One article on the show stated that his “ignorance” will often “allow him to draw in the murderer with a cunning humility that belies his understanding of human behavior and the criminal mind.”

The last episode of Columbo aired in 2003 and was entitled “Columbo Likes the Nightlife.” Falk had planned for one final episode. It was to be called “Columbo’s Last Case” which was to begin at his retirement party. There was a lack of network interest and with his age and failing health, the episode was never to be.

Columbo remains as popular as ever. It was one of the most watched shows on streaming platforms during the pandemic. Author David Koenig says about the show, “It has stood the test of time for 50-plus years now. That character is still vibrant and alive, appealing to people. People love that central character, that basic format, the fact that it’s not political, it’s not violent, it’s not all the things television shows are today, it’s something different. And that is charm. That’s what people love about it.”

Columbo Facts:

  • Steven Spielberg directed the first episode of Season 1 – Murder by the Book.
  • Peter Falk won 4 Emmy Awards for his portrayal of Columbo (1972, 1975, 1976, and 1990)
  • He also won a Golden Globe Award for the role.
  • Patrick McGoohan played a murderer more times than any other actor – 4 times. Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp each had 3 times, William Shatner and George Hamilton each played a killer twice.
  • Columbo’s name is never revealed – although a close up of his badge in the first season says it is ‘Frank.’ The creators of the show have stated that his first name was never known, so take that however you want to.
  • Columbo drives a 1960 Peugeot 403 convertible.
  • Columbo’s favorite food is chili and black coffee is his drink of choice.
  • In the 1972 episode entitled, “Etude in Black,” Columbo rescued a basset hound from the dog pound. The dog could be seen in many other episodes, and was as close to a sidekick/partner as Columbo ever got.
  • In 1997, the episode Murder by the Book was ranked #16 in TV Guide’s “100 Greatest Episodes of All Time” list.
  • In 1999, Lieutenant Columbo was ranked #7 on TV Guide’s “50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time.”
  • There is a bronze statue of Columbo (and his dog) in Budapest, Hungary. It was unveiled in 2017. Peter Falk is rumored to be a distant relative of the well-known Hungarian politician Miksa Falk (1828-1908).
Columbo Statue in Budapest, Hungary

I thought I would close with little treat for you. In one of the Dean Celebrity Roasts, Frank Sinatra was the Man of the Hour. Now, these roasts were often edited down to make sure all the best stuff was shown on TV. In Lee Hale’s book, he stated that there was only one performance that was shown in its entirety – Peter Falk’s appearance during the Sinatra roast.

Falk appears from the audience – as Lt. Columbo. The entire 11 minute bit is just priceless. It is a must see. Enjoy:

My Top Three Surprised Me

I get an email each week from Word Press that tells me my weekly “stats” for this blog. I’ve never really been one to really check that out. I write to write. I hope that my followers find what I blog about interesting and entertaining, but in the end, my blog is for me. I write to document memories, share stories for (and about) my kids, occasionally vent, and then there are the blogathons/drafts that I enjoy taking part in.

Recently, one of the blogs I follow posted about her top blogs of the year. I guess I knew that you could see stats for the day, week, and months, but never really thought about the year (or all time, for that matter). So for the heck of it, I decided I would check out the stats to see what my top blogs of the year were. I found them surprising.

Number One

Back in 2020, I received an e-mail through my site that said I spelled something wrong in a blog. I thought this was weird, so I investigated. Basically, I found that I was not the only person to receive an e-mail like this. As a matter of fact, some people told me they got the same e-mail almost word for word. It was your basic scam, so I shared a quick blog about it. Believe it or not, it is my most viewed blog of the past year! This is probably because when you Google search the site, my blog link comes up as a result.

Not exactly what I was hoping to see as my “most popular” blog, but if it helps people NOT get scammed, great!

Number Two

In 2018, one of my first blogs I wrote was a salute to Red Buttons on his birthday. The blog itself is a very short bio and a bunch of his famous “Never Got a Dinner” jokes. I loved when he would show up on the Dean Martin Roasts and I remember how fun it was to go and find these very funny lines. When you look at your stats, it will show you the searches that were performed to get to your site. “Never Got a Dinner” or “Red Buttons Jokes” always shows up there.

If anything, it’s very cool to see that a guy like Red Buttons is still being searched online … and still making people laugh! He deserved a dinner!

Number Three

I was tickled and ecstatic to see that my blog about my all time favorite holiday special came in as my third most popular blog of the year (and of all time)!

Back in 2019, I took part in the Happy Holidays Blogathon and it was the perfect excuse for me to write about The Year Without a Santa Claus. It was the ONE special I waited for every year. I loved the Miser Brothers. As I got older, I was surprised at how many others loved them, too! It is normal to see people view my holiday themed blogs around Christmas time, but this blog gets hits ALL year long!

https://nostalgicitalian.com/2019/12/07/the-year-without-a-santa-claus-1974/

Thank you!

Thanks for your visits, your comments and for making this blog so fun for me to write!

National Humor Month Suggestion

April is National Humor Month and I only recently discovered that Sirius XM had added a comedy channel that I really have enjoyed. The Comedy Classics channel can be found for a limited time on Channel 104. Here is what Radio Insight quoted from the press release:

This is not a prank: SiriusXM announced today a new channel, Comedy Classics, that will honor timeless stand-up from the 1950s-1970s. The line-up includes iconic moments from legends who shaped the landscape and defined comedy for generations. The limited run channel is available now on SiriusXM channel 104.

Building on SiriusXM’s enormous classic stand-up library, the channel will add material from legendary comedians like Bob Hope, Jonathan Winters, and the infamous Friars Club Roasts that paved the way for the comedy that we love today. SiriusXM’s Comedy Classics now pays tribute to these icons showcasing their immense talent and funniest moments. In addition to the aforementioned legends, each week the channel will spotlight both never-before-heard and rare stand-up highlights that haven’t been heard in decades, featuring comedy from Jackie Gleason, Buddy Hackett, The Smothers Brothers, Flip Wilson, and more.

Also not to be missed are Bob Hope’s Thanks for The Memories special, stand-up from The Garry Moore Show, and the Colgate Comedy Special featuring Nipsey Russel, Rowan & Martin, Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, and more.

“Whether you’re feeling nostalgic, looking to discover the roots of modern-day comedy, or just hankering for a great laugh, Comedy Classics will appeal to a wide range of listeners,” said Jack Vaughn, SiriusXM’s Senior Vice President of Comedy Programming. “The era provided such a wealth of amazing talent, material, and inspiration that we had to properly honor it with its very own channel.”

Comedy Classics is available now on channel 104, and will subsequently be available exclusively on the SiriusXM app and desktop player.

What I have really enjoyed is hearing some of the early stand up stuff from guys like Jon Byner, Buddy Hackett, Johnny Carson, Richard Pryor and more. Some of these cuts are taken from the Ed Sullivan Show and other TV appearances. Others are cuts from classic comedy albums. What I enjoyed listening to the most are the cuts from the Friar’s Roasts and the Dean Martin Roasts.

Some of the material is dated and some of it might be considered “politically incorrect” today, but I found myself enjoying much of it!

Want a laugh? Check it out!

“Never Got a Dinner”!

RedButtonsKaplanRoast-5The amazing Red Buttons was born today in 1919. He was the comedian and actor who hosted “The Red Buttons Show” on TV from 1952-1955. He later appeared in many movies, including “The Longest Day”, “The Poseidon Adventure”, and “Hatari!” He won an Academy Award for his role in the movie Sayonara. He also won a Golden Globe Award during his career. He starred on both The Garry Shandling Show and The Larry Sanders Show and had a recurring role on ER. He was a favorite on the Dean Martin Roasts doing his famous bits “never got a dinner” and “I was there”!

After Red passed away, I believe it was Norm Crosby who said that what made Red so amazing was he continued to write and rewrite material using the themes “Never Got a Dinner” and “I was there”!  The bit ALWAYS got laughs.  He even did the bit on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

While some of these lines are a bit dated – They still make me laugh.  When Red would take the dais at a Friar’s Club Roast or on the Dean Martin Roast, he would always ask the question “Why are we giving (guest of honor) a dinner?!  Some of the most famous people in history never got a dinner!”  Here are some of my favorite Red Buttons Lines:

Abraham Lincoln, who said, “A house divided … is a condominium.” Never got a dinner!

George Washington, who said to his father, “Dad, if I never tell I lie, how am I ever gonna become President?” Never got a dinner!

Cain, whose wife divorced him because he wasn’t Able. Never got a dinner!

Goliath’s mother, who said to Goliath, “Stop running around with David! You’re always coming home stoned!” Never got a dinner!

Dr. Spock, who said, “Never raise your hands to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected.” Never got a dinner!

Jack the Ripper’s mother, who said to Jack, “How come I never see you with the same girl twice? ” Never got a dinner!

Noah’s wife, who said to Noah, “Don’t let the elephants watch the rabbits.” Never got a dinner!

John Travolta, who said, “My Saturday night fever was nothing compared to my Sunday morning rash.” Never got a dinner!

Nostradamus, who PREDICTED he would never get a dinner! Never got a dinner!

Adam, who said to Eve, “What do you mean you have nothing to wear?” Never got a dinner!

Eve, who asked Adam, “Does this fig leaf make me look fat?” Never got a dinner! (Got an apple, but never got a dinner.)

Maid Marion, who said to Robin Hood, “I will not live in a house with a Little John.” Never got a dinner!

Adam, who said to God in the Garden of Eden, “I’ve got more ribs, do you got more broads?” Never got a dinner!

Moses, who said to the Children of Israel, “Wear your galoshes, I never did this trick before… and stop calling me Charlton!” Never got a dinner!

Flash Gordon, who said, “No, that’s not how I got my name”  Never got a dinner!

Amelia Earhart, who said, “Stop looking for me, see if you can find my luggage”  Never got a dinner!

President Jimmy Carter, who said to Pope John Paul II, “Next time bring the missus” Never got a dinner!

King Henry VIII, who said to his lawyer, “Forget the alimony, I’ve got a better idea” Never got a dinner!

King Soloman, who said to his thousand wives, “Who hasn’t got a headache?” Never got a dinner!

Queen Elizabeth who said, “Not now I’m on the throne!”  Never got a dinner!

Aladdin, who said to his wife, “I know it’s not a lamp, keep rubbing!” Never got a dinner!

___

I always loved when Red appeared on the Dean Martin Roasts.  He was certainly one of the best !