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:

Pondering an idea: Be My Guest

TRACE-Guest-star USE

I’ve always enjoyed when TV shows bring in guest stars for appearances on my favorite shows.  For example, That 70’s Show brought in many stars from the 70’s as guests or for cameos.  This is not a new concept, Jack Benny’s Show in the 50’s often featured stars like Jimmy Stewart, Humphrey Bogart, Marilyn Monroe, and more.  In the 60’s Batman had guest stars featured in the villain roles.  The Big Bang Theory had some great guest stars! Today, I believe there are even Emmy Awards for Guest Actors in Dramatic and Comedy Roles.  I suppose I could write a blog about my favorite Guest Stars, but that’s not what this blog is about….it’s actually about YOU.

This blog is over a year old now, and much of my writing is personal.  Some of it is about movies and music.  Some of my writing comes from my observations or is brought about by a writing prompt.  While I have a notebook with “future blog ideas” written in it, I have not yet gotten to the point where I feel I am ready to write about them.  There is, however, one “writing prompt” that has come up occasionally that I have thought about using: a guest blogger.

I realize that my blog doesn’t necessarily fit into a “category”.  If I wrote about nothing but movies, I know three or four “movie” people that I would go to and ask if they would consider writing something for this blog.  If it were exclusively about music, there are even more people I know who could write something musically oriented for me.  With this blog being a bit of everything, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t really sure how to handle a “guest appearance”.

Again, this is still up in the air, but here are some preliminary thoughts.  First, someone would actually need to WANT to write something for me.  Once someone expressed interest, I’d want a general idea of what the topic might be.  Topics could be:  favorite memory of us, favorite movie we both like, why you liked working with me, song that reminds you of me, why you read this blog, things that only you and I laugh about, or something like that.

I guess what made me decide to even post about it was listening to an old Jack Benny radio show this week.  In the 1945-1946 season of his radio show, they ran an “I Can’t Stand Jack Benny Because….” contest.  The idea was that listeners wrote, in 50 words or less, why they couldn’t stand Jack Benny and the winner won $10,000.  Let me be clear, if someone wants to write a guest blog for me, it will be for free.  I’m lucky if I have $10 in my pocket.  Maybe I can buy you a beer or send you a nice card or something, but money is a bit hard to come by.  I digress.  I think it would be fun to read your thoughts about what we have in common or your favorite “us” story.

By even opening the door to the possibility of having a guest blogger, I am hoping for a few things.  First, I hope to be reminded of a funny or special moment that I may have forgotten about.  Second, I hope to hear a familiar story, from YOUR point of view.  Third, I’m hoping to learn a bit more about me.  How have I made an impact in the lives of others?  How am I perceived by my friends? Am I a good or bad friend? (and why?)  Do I make a difference?  You know, things like that.

This could actually be something very cool and fun.  It can also be something that I regret.  We’ll see.  Maybe I tossed this idea out and no one will respond – that’s ok.  If you are interested, let me know.  It can be something short or it can be long.  Maybe you don’t want do it at all.  Maybe you just want to suggest something you want me to write about.  I’m ok with that, too.  If you read this through a Facebook link, you can comment there.  If you are reading this on Word Press, you can make a comment here.

I’m interested to see what happens…..

Thanks for reading, and for humoring this idea with me.

writing