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:

TV Show Draft – Pick #2 – Mission: Impossible

This was not my original choice for my next pick in the TV show draft. Yes, it was on my list of shows, but I had planned on writing about it later in the draft. I decided to move it up the list because after binge watching some episodes as I recovered from my surgery, I realized I could tie it in with my first draft pick.

You may recall that my first pick was Police Squad – a show that was cancelled after 4 episodes (of 6) aired. The reason given for its cancellation was that people had to watch it to get the jokes. The top brass said that it required too much of the viewer. I guess they thought that no one would actually watch and pay attention to what was happening on the screen.

As I sat and watched episodes of Mission: Impossible, I realized that it truly was a show that viewers HAD to watch. There are LONG periods of action scenes where there is no dialogue and the characters are executing the episode’s plan. Maybe that required wiring up a camera, or cutting a false bottom in a safe, or creating a fake set to fool someone. These scenes were silent, with the exception of suspenseful music playing underneath. The bottom line is that half the fun of this show is watching how the team gets the plan to work. People were obviously watching, too, because the show lasted for 7 seasons.

The Show

Bruce Geller created the series, which focuses on a small team of government agents known as the Impossible Missions Force. In early seasons, the team was used for secret missions against third world dictators, evil organizations, and Iron Curtain governments. Later seasons they were used for battling organized crime, con men, and corrupt industrialists. Occasionally, the mission would be a private one on behalf of members of the team itself. The show never really says who is the organization that oversees the IM Force, but it seems to be some sort of independent agency of the US government.

The episodes almost always began with the team leader going to some place (phone booth, roof top, police box, etc…) and finding a tape machine and envelope. The voice on the tape would then offer the team leader the scenario and instructions. The team leader ultimately has the choice whether or not to accept the mission, as the voice would say, “Your mission, should you chose to accept it …” The voice would then warn, “If you or any member of your IM Force should be caught or killed, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Finally, the tape would “self destruct.”

In the first season, Steven Hill is the head of the team. He plays Dan Briggs.

There are many stories surrounding the fact that he only appears in the first season. Some say he was a very difficult person to work with. Other stories say that his religious responsibilities interfered with the shooting schedule. Still others say that he just wasn’t able to do all that was required physically to play the role. At any rate, as the first season winds down, it seems he gets less and less screen time.

He was replaced in the second season by Peter Graves, who plays Jim Phelps.

After receiving listening to the mission and the self destruction of the tape, the team leader would retreat to his apartment where he was to assemble his team. He would pull out a briefcase with photos of various team members. He would pull out photos one by one. Each member had some special skill and if that skill fit the mission, the leader would pull that photo and place it in a pile.

He almost always picked the same people, but occasionally, there would be a guest star and the photo would allow the show to introduce them. In later seasons, they would skip this scene all together, assuming that the viewer understood that the leader had chosen the team.

The regular line up of agents included:

  • Cinnamon Carter (Barbara Bain) – a fashion model and actress
  • Rollin Hand (Martin Landau) – an actor, make up artist, magician, and “man of a million faces”
  • Barney Collier (Greg Morris) – a mechanical and electronics genius
  • Willy Armitage (Peter Lupus) – world record-holding weigh lifter

As cast members left the show, the ones that replaced them often had the same kind of skills. Other actors included Leonard Nimoy, Lesley Ann Warren, Lee Meriwether, and Sam Elliot. Only Greg Morris and Peter Lupus appear in every season of the series.

Once the team was chosen, they would assemble in the team leader’s apartment to discuss the plan of how they were going to accomplish the mission. It is during this scene that we often are introduced to one or more of the specialty gadgets that they would use.

Once the plan was in place, the remainder of the show focused on putting the plan in action. This is where the viewer really had to pay attention. So much action happens without any dialogue at all.

There are times that you are on the edge of your seat as you are watching the action. The team members are always seconds away from being caught or discovered. It is always fun to watch how this intricate plan comes together piece by piece. In most cases, the action of the show lasts right up until the final seconds. At that time, the mission would conclude with the IMF team making their escape.

One of my favorite things about the show is the fact that they were always able to create some sort of rubber mask to impersonate someone. Usually this would involve Rollin Hand (Martin Landau), the master of disguise. He always seemed to be able to mimic the voice of whoever he was playing (with the help of overdubbing, of course).

That’s a pretty good Martin Landau mask ….

While much of the content of the show is very dated, it still holds up today. I don’t ever tire of watching it.

Greg Morris, Peter Lupus, Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Peter Graves.

Theme Song

You simply cannot talk about Mission: Impossible without mentioning the theme song! It is perhaps one of the most recognizable theme songs in all of television. It was composed by an Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin. What is unique about the theme is that it is written in 5/4 time. It is an unusual time signature. The Mission Impossible Theme and Dave Brubeck’s Take Five are the two best known songs written in that time signature.

Schifrin wrote a book entitled Music Composition for Film and Television. In it, he stated that he sometimes would use Morse Code as inspiration for songs. In Morse code, the letter M is two dashes and the letter I is two dots (M I = Mission Impossible). As you listen to the theme song – you can here those letters in Morse code (Dash Dash Dot Dot – Dash Dash Dot Dot).

Schifrin won two Grammy Awards for music from the show.

Mission: Impossible remains one of the great shows of classic television. I’m off now to think about my third draft pick.

This blog will self destruct in 5 or 10 seconds …..

TV Show Draft – Pick #1 – Police Squad!

This blog is part of the TV Show Draft that is being hosted by Hans from Slice The Life. He is the same guy who hosted the Song Draft I took part in last year. This is the same idea. All the participants will pick their “draft picks” like one would pick a player in a fantasy football draft. Once a show is picked, it is out of the running for others to pick.

That in itself makes this draft more difficult for me. I mean, there is no shortage of shows to write about. However, I have a feeling that many of the picks on my list are also picks on some of the other bloggers. Because of this, I have an extra long list in case I have to make a last minute switch of my pick.

For my first pick, I went with a show that despite only being on the air for 6 episodes, makes me laugh every time I watch it – Police Squad!

In 1980, Airplane! was a major hit at the movies. One of the reasons I think it was such a hit was the fact that you had actors and actresses known for playing dramatic roles in this comedy film, playing it completely straight! Watching Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack, and Peter Graves saying completely ridiculous lines as serious as possible only added to the humor of the film. How they kept a straight face with everything else that was going on in the background always amazed me.

To me, Leslie Nielsen was perfect for this movie. His role as Dr. Rumack is fantastic. His booming baritone voice saying those lines in all seriousness is just hilarious. No wonder he was the one who David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker approached him to play the lead, Detective Frank Drebin, in this TV series.

The series was basically a TV version of Airplane! There would be straight dialogue, silly jokes, word play, and all kinds of sight gags to watch for in the back ground. It was going to spoof cop shows. As a matter of fact, much like Airplane! which was almost a line by line copy of the movie Zero Hour, Police Squad lifted a plot and even dialogue from the TV show M Squad. It also drew from the show Felony Squad. The opening credits are very similar to M Squad (which starred Lee Marvin).

The opening narration was done by Hank Simms, who had done announcing on many other great shows. His narration is done is a matter of factly stern voice. He announces Leslie Neilsen and Alan North. Both enter scenes in which they pull out their guns and begin firing. Then, he announces “… and Rex Hamilton as Abraham Lincoln!”

The scene is Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. When his hat is shot off, he gets up and returns fire with his own gun! This is one of two running gags in the credits.

The other gag is just priceless. The gag introduces each weeks guest star.

In the credits, the guest stars are killed off and never appear in the rest of the show!

Guest stars included Lorne Greene, William Conrad, Florence Henderson, Robert Goulet, and Florence Henderson. Word is that they shot a scene of John Belushi, but when he died of a drug overdose, they reshot with another guest star.

The final gag of the opening credits was a simple (and stupid) one. The title of episode would appear on screen, but the announcer would call the episode something completely different. For example, the first episode shows on the screen as “A Substantial Gift,” but the announcer reads “A Broken Promise.”

The Naked Gun movies were direct spin offs of the TV show. Alan North played Ed on the show, while George Kennedy played him in the movies. Peter Lupus (who is brilliantly funny on the show) plays Norberg on the show, while OJ Simpson plays Nordberg (yes, spelled differently) in the movies. Many of the scenes from the movies were adapted from scenes from the show.

The show consisted of dialogue that at times reminded me of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” Here is an example from the first episode:

[Frank and Ed are interviewing a witness to a shooting]

Sally: Well, I first heard the shot, and as I turned, Jim fell.

Frank: Jim Fell’s the teller?

Sally: No, Jim Johnson.

Frank: Who’s Jim Fell?

Ed: He’s the auditor, Frank.

Sally: He had the flu, so Jim… filled in.

Frank: Phil who?

Ed: Phil Din. He’s the night watchman.

Sally: Oh, if only Phil had been here…

The deadpan delivery of Leslie Nielsen on this show (and in the Naked Gun movies) made him comedy gold! In a scene where he and Ed are interviewing the widow of a man shot in a robbery, Drebin simply says:

“We’re sorry to bother you at such a time like this, Mrs. Twice. We would have come earlier, but your husband wasn’t dead then.”

The show aired on ABC in 1982. After 4 episodes aired, the show was cancelled. The last two episode aired later that summer. So why was such a funny show cancelled? That question was posed to Leslie Nielsen in an interview for the DVD release. He stated that ABC said “Police Squad! was canceled because viewers had to pay close attention to the show in order to get much of the humor.” In other words, people had to WATCH the show to get it. TV Guide stated that was “the most stupid reason a network ever gave for ending a series.”

Nielsen also stated that “the premise was more effective in the successful Naked Gun films because the much larger screen size in a cinema meant viewers saw more of the visual gags.”

There certainly is some truth to that, as the movies were very successful. It is interesting that the creator of The Simpsons, Matt Groening said, “If Police Squad had been made twenty years later, it would have been a smash. It was before its time. In 1982 your average viewer was unable to cope with its pace, its quick-fire jokes. But these days they’d have no problems keeping up, I think we’ve proved that.”

One of my favorite lines in the series comes from the third episode of the series. After a small group of mobsters blackmail various store-owners, Frank and Norberg go undercover and set up a key-making and locksmith store. The mobsters offer Frank “protection” in exchange for money, but Frank declines. While they attack the store with guns, Frank and Norberg’s Locksmith store remains, enraging the mobsters’ boss (played by the great Al Ruscio). Frank goes to see the boss and walks in unannounced:

Dutch Gunderson: Who are you and how did you get in here?

Frank: I’m a locksmith. And, I’m a locksmith.

Brilliant!!!

I need to interject here and say that Peter Lupus, who of course is known for his role as Willy on Mission: Impossible, is just hilarious! He was a body builder turned actor and was fantastic in Mission: Impossible. He really shows his comedy chops in Police Squad. I wish he had been in more episodes. He is almost over the top in everything he does.

In one episode, the crew is searching for a kidnapped girl. When the kidnapper calls, he is told to get a tap on the phone. As the call is going on you see him in the background banging and destroying the phone. It is a classic payoff when they ask if they got a tap on the phone ….

Later in the episode, mime comes through a window and acts out the “ransom note.” In a very funny scene, Frank, Ed, and Norberg (Lupus) are playing Charades to guess the answers. Peter Lupus steals the scene. He is so hysterically funny!

In the final running gag, the end of every episode featured Drebin and Hocken talking about the week’s criminal going to “Stateville Prison”, and mentioning the names of the criminals from all previous episodes. The scene ended with an imitation “Freeze Frame” with the actors trying to stand still while various things happened to or around them (such as Hocken pouring coffee into Drebin’s cup until it overflows and starts burning him.)

Those were so fun to watch. I wonder just how hard it was to get them to not react while everything around them went crazy?

I am so glad to have the entire series on DVD. It is a “go to” when I need to really laugh out loud. What a shame that this show never caught on. At the same time, if it had, would they have ever ventured out and made the Naked Gun movies? Who knows?

Thanks for reading!!

Looking Ahead …

A radio friend discovered my blog on accident. He was doing a search on Honey Radio and my blog came up. He messaged me and asked “Is this yours?” After messaging back and forth, I told him to let me know if there was any specific topics he’d like to see on the blog.

It’s been some time since I have done a “Question and Answer” blog, so I may do that again. I also am considering hosting a guest blogger. If you are interested, let me know.

There are a couple things on the way that I am excited for. First of all, next month I will be taking part in the Ultimate Decades Blogathon. It’s a cool idea where you can write on movies released in years that end in “2.” 1932, 1942, 1952, etc… You can imagine my excitement when I remembered that The Godfather was released in 1972.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the film. While I have eluded to it in many other blogs, I am excited to dedicate an entire blog to the movie. I plan on finishing a book that recently came out about the movie …

Watch for this blog in February. #UltimateDecadesBlogathon

I am also looking forward to the TV Show draft, which is currently on hold for a bit, but should be starting up soon. My first pick is a show that only lasted 6 shows and spawned a successful movie series. More on that soon.

Holy 500!

I was notified by Word Press that this blog hit a milestone!! Had I been paying attention, I would have made Blog #500 something a bit more special. Instead, my last blog (#500) was about how tired I am!

Reflecting

As I sat down to write Blog #501, I thought on how far this blog has come. I never started this blog to gain hundreds of followers, however, I have. Originally, I started the blog as a way to write down my feelings and thoughts as I went through some troubling times. Then I thought it would be a good place to write some memories down so my kids could look back and read them. It has evolved into a place where I can write about personal things, and not so personal things.

I am glad that the details of how my wife and I came to be together are here. I am also glad that I have detailed blogs about the the birth of my son and daughter. There are also many memories of my mom, so that my kids who never had the chance to meet her, will be able to read about her. I hope that they will be able to come here to read about the special people in my life – my wife, my kids, my parents, my grandparents, my teachers, my co-workers and mentors, and my friends.

It’s also fun to look back at the special “events” I took part in. Recently, I took part in a song draft, which allowed me to feature 10 great songs. There was a bit more pressure than just picking a song and writing about it. It was hard to pick just 10! Blogging about TV shows and movies as part of blogathons has been fun, as well. I’m looking forward to a TV show draft, similar to the song draft, coming soon.

What Have I Learned?

So, just what have I learned after 500 blogs?

1. It’s not easy!

I read somewhere that most people who start a blog quit writing after a month. I am glad that I have continued to write, although finding stuff to write about is not always easy. There are many days where I sit and have nothing to write about. In those moments, I turn to Daily Writing Prompts. Sometimes they will be helpful, but many of them are worthless.

Some days are easier than others. Many times a song will bring about a memory I can share. Other times a conversation will spawn something worth writing about. My kids are a constant source of writing material and funny stories and for that I am grateful. I love bragging about them.

The key for me is to just keep writing. I plan to do just that.

2. I’ve met some really cool friends

When I created my blog, I started to search for blogs about music and movies. I started following some of them and by doing so, found there many people who share similar likes with me. I began to comment on their posts and they commented on mine. By doing so, I have really gained some neat friendships with people I have never seen face to face. I’m thankful for each of them

3. I often wonder if I make a difference

I guess I hope that someone who goes through my blog will find an occasional “nugget” that they can use in their daily life. It’s not easy to put your life out on the internet for everyone to see, but if someone can learn something from the challenges I faced and the issues I worked through, I will be happy with that.

More recently, I have blogged a little bit more about my faith. I was always told to not discuss religion and politics. I follow a few blogs who share my beliefs and I appreciate them. I know that not everyone is going to share my beliefs and that is ok. That being said, I am also not going to be afraid to post more about it and am always happy to discuss it with others.

4. I really enjoy blogging

I’m not sure I could ever be a reporter or a writer where there were deadlines for articles. I enjoy sitting and writing about my passions, my experiences, my family, and my life. I love being able to write down things that I can go back and reread and relive those moments.

I have put quite a bit of time into this blog, and don’t make a dime off it (Although, I hear that there are many bloggers who DO make money off theirs)! It has never been about making money. It has never been about having a blog republished. It has never been about having millions of followers. This blog is my little spot on the internet to save my thoughts and share them.

How about your feedback?

What do you like best about this blog? What would you like to see more of? Would you ever consider being a guest blogger on my site? Tell me your thoughts. I appreciate you being here and reading my blog and hope to keep posting things you find interesting.

So what is next? 500+ plus blogs I hope and I am excited to continue sharing “me” with you!