Classic Television Thursday #007 – Columbo: Murder Under Glass

col1Last week I mentioned that I had run across The Chevy Mystery Show while looking for an episode of Columbo to feature in this space. (The first television portrayal of the famous detective took place on that show.) This week, we get to the rumpled detective himself, as portrayed most famously by Peter Falk.

I’m really not going to spend a lot of time here describing the series or telling you how great Mr. Falk’s portrayal was. For the first part, it was the cat-and-mouse structure of each episode, where we as an audience knew from the beginning who the murderer was, and the Lieutenant was never very far behind us, only needing to put together enough evidence to prove what he already knew that was a large part of the appeal of the show.

As far as the late Mr. Falk goes, well, the simple fact that he was immediately embraced in the role, and that the two names truly seem inseparable -really, can you think of one without thinking of the other? – pretty much speaks for the quality of his portrayal in a way that really makes any further words on my part unnecessary.

No, what I want to focus on today is the fact that, perhaps surprisingly to those who have only seen the episodes in re-runs,  Columbo was not an actual weekly series. Instead, on NBC, where it aired (after a couple of stand alone made-for-TV movies, the first of which was shown in 1968) from 1971-1978, it was part of a rotating series of shows under the umbrella title The NBC Mystery Movie.

chev3The idea of the “umbrella (or, at times “wheel”) series” – which was what the networks called The NBC Mystery Movie and other similar series – was that rather than attempt to produce a new, hour-long episode of one series each week, they would rotate three (or later four) different shows, giving them each an hour and a half or two hour time-slot, thus allowing them to actually be, in essence, feature-length films. The two other shows which accompanied Columbo during the first season were McCloud, which starred Dennis Weaver as a lawman in New Mexico, and McMillan and Wife which featured Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James as the titular crime solvers. (And yes, you can rest assured that I will eventually also give both of these shows a little love, because although they may not be as well known as Columbo, they were certainly well done and deserve to be better remembered.)

After its run on NBC, Columbo was brought back in 1989 on ABC as part of its own ABC Mystery Movie line-up, but that run only lasted for about a year and a half. After that, ABC further aired a series of fourteen Columbo TV movies between 1990 and 2003.

One other advantage that the umbrella format gave to these shows was that due to their very nature they were often able to attract talent, both on-screen and behind the scenes that they otherwise might not have been able to. I was surprised to note, for instance, as the end-credits came up on an episode that I was watching recently that it had been directed by Steven Spielberg. And the episode that I’ve chosen to feature today, which comes from the sreies’ 7th season, was directed by Johnathan Demme, the director of, among many other movies, The Silence of the Lambs.

So, without further ado, here’s today’s featured episode, “Murder Under Glass” (Oh, and just fair warning, yes, there are a number of commercial embedded along with the show, but I guess that’s just the price we pay.)







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