Skip to comments.A mystery Columbo can't seem to crack
Posted on 05/08/2007 4:35:02 AM PDT by Caleb1411
I used to say that Lt. Columbo was an ageless character. Well, age may have just caught up with one of television's most durable, delightful and beloved detectives.
Universal Television, which has been in the "Columbo" business since 1968, has a script in hand titled "Columbo's Last Case." First announced as "Hear No Evil," the story would mark the 70th and final time Peter Falk plays the role that has brought him four Emmy Awards and an international following.
Falk likes the script and is eager to don Columbo's wrinkled raincoat one more time. If the cameras started rolling fairly soon, this 70th "Columbo" mystery could air in February. That would be the 40th anniversary of the TV movie that introduced the wily sleuth to America, "Prescription: Murder."
Seems like perfect timing, right? What could possibly be wrong with this scenario?
The problem is that none of the broadcast networks wants to air "Columbo's Last Case." Universal took the project to ABC, which has aired 24 "Columbo" movies since 1989 (the original 45 mysteries were aired over a 10-year span, 1968-78, by NBC). The assumption was that ABC would be happy to air Falk's swan song as the rumpled Los Angeles police lieutenant.
ABC passed on the project.
"It took a long time and a lot of hard work to come up with a script that Peter would approve," said Charles Engel, executive vice president of current programming at NBC Universal. "It's a darn good script with a really clever twist ending, but ABC opted not to go forward. We can't find a network to do it. We're anxious to proceed, but Peter is going to be 80 and nobody seems to want a leading man who is 80." Yes, but "Columbo" never was about street realism. Masterfully portrayed by Falk, who turns 80 on Sept. 16, he always was a character in the tradition of literature's super sleuths.
"That's certainly our feeling," Engel said. "But the networks say, 'He's 80 and we want to appeal to young viewers.' Look, we understand it's a demographic business and that the young demographics rule the world. The fallacy is thinking that 'Columbo' doesn't appeal to young people. He appeals to all ages."
Universal took the 70th "Columbo" to the character's original TV home, NBC. Why not? It's the same corporate family. Both NBC and Universal are owned by General Electric.
NBC isn't in the TV movie business these days, so Universal took the project to USA Network. It airs "Monk," the quirky detective series that was influenced by "Columbo." And the cable channel is owned by, uh, NBC Universal.
It didn't matter. USA Network passed, as well.
Is this any way to treat one of television's iconic characters? Before we address that question, I should, as a matter of full disclosure, confess that I wrote "The Columbo Phile," a 1989 history of the good lieutenant.
OK, where was I? Oh, yes: Is this any way to treat one of television's iconic characters? Has Hollywood's youth-obsession reached such an extreme state that there's no room for Columbo's ancient raincoat, pet basset hound and wheezy silver Peugot?
"Maybe so," said William Link, who created the character with his writing partner, the late Richard Levinson. "Ageism is rampant in Hollywood, at all levels, but this might be more than ageism. The detective shows on the broadcast networks are all police procedurals dominated by endless discussions of forensic evidence. 'Columbo' was a classy, clever, witty show that challenged you to use your mind."
Still, there is a glimmer of hope, and Engel has adopted a never-say-die attitude. That glimmer is provided by dozens of countries where ageism isn't an issue for television viewers. Lt. Columbo has a strong foreign following, and he remains an iconic figure in Japan, Germany, England, France, Italy, Romania, Holland, Brazil, Ecuador and even Iran.
An American cable channel doesn't have the bucks to underwrite a "Columbo" movie, but Engel and Universal are pursuing foreign partnerships. If they can find significant funding overseas, they will go back to the American broadcast networks and again make the case for Columbo's last case.
"We owe it to the 'Columbo' fans, to Peter and to this great character to keep trying," Engel said. "We're attempting to put together the right blend of domestic and foreign partnerships. There's an ongoing effort to get this done."
Columbo's most famous catchphrase was, of course, "just one more thing." He pestered one supremely confident killer after another with that line. But there may not be "just one more thing" for Columbo and Peter Falk.
No killer, no matter how ingenious, ever defeated Lt. Columbo. The insidious combination of ageism and demographics might manage this trick. And that would be a crime.
I've always wondered why they couldn't make one episode that Columbo couldn't solve.
One that we the viewer could figure out, but he couldn't fit all the pieces together. If only just to be different.
I can’t figure out why advertisers and networks want so urgently to appeal to younger viewers and consumers, when it’s us boomers who have far more money to spend.
They wonder why their ratings suck. They want to cater to the young crowd, fine. Reality TV seems to be the only thing watched these days.
I will admit, I watch ‘Gene Simmons Family Jewels’ ;D!
Yes, I know Hollywood makes plenty of money as it is, but I never could understand why they all ignore our age block (except for the E.D. commercials and pharmaceuticals). One of the reasons I don’t watch much TV anymore - it’s stupid!
I hope before the boomers pass away - we do a good thing and change the demographics curves to where older people are thought of as a desirable commodity too. We’re the ones that will have more free time & more money to spend.
Why are there no people in media that think this way?
According to conventional wisdom, boomers
a) don't have as long left to live (and spend)
b) are set in their ways (will not convert to new brands)
I think conventional wisdom is wrong on this. We need to rewrite the book on conventional wisdom - it is SO outdated, don’t you think?
I think one of the reasons our society is declining is our worship of youth.
That would certainly appeal to ABC's demographics...
Columbo was CSI before CSI was cool.
I can’t believe no one will take this project.
Well, I hope they find a company to do it, cuz I’ll definitiely watch.
I hate that guy; can’t stand him.
I loved it when he got bounced fron “Celebrity Millionaire” at the $16,000 level.
I think the question was: Which of the 4 is not a pachyderm?
He got it wrong, and none of the other celebrities helped him out.
I don't think that's the case. I think if you survey just the TV watching crowd, the "Boomers" (40s to 50s) in that group may spend some money but across the board, we are more conservative in what we spend that money on. The kids take their parent's cash and spend on lots and lots of little stuff.
If that makes any sense...
Personally, I'd like to see Columbo, Quincy, Jessica Fletcher and Ben Matlock team up for a night of murder mystery solving. That could be interesting...... Okay, maybe not.
Columbo has always been one my favorite characters.
I think one of the reasons our society is declining is our worship of youth.
I was not endorsing those views, btw. :-)
Surprised that ABC wouldn’t want it.
Who’s the demographic that pays the cable bills, huh?
The Mystery of the Early Bird Special!
Heck, I was born in ‘73 and I love “Columbo.” Some of my fondest memories are curled up on the couch next to my Ganny, waiitng for her to figure out whodunit.
The writers missed a great opportunity... they should have had the elusive Mrs. Columbo materialize in one of the last episodes or movies. Not as some cheesy spin-off character (Kate Mulgrew), but as a special guest star, the bombshell Italian wife nobody would expect, played by Sophia Loren.
This is like the opposite of bringing down any argument by introducing Hitler into the mix - what show ISN’T improved with the addition of Sophia Loren???
you nailed it
Columbo invented the "rope-a-dope."
The criminals he pursued were always egomaniacs with a lot of skill and success in one area; they typically thought their narrow expertise made them invincible. Columbo fed their egos and generally acted like a harmless teddy bear until it was too late.
One of he beautiful things about the Columbo concept was that the villians could be actors of marginal ability... often Levinson and Link used greats who were a little past their prime. Their slightly rusty acting skills were perfect for a criminal that was having trouble hiding the truth, not quite sure how they would have reacted to Columbo if they hadn't done the crime. At least one Columbo (the one with the orchestra conductor who murdered someone in his home) was directed by Steven Spielberg.
My favorite is called "Any Port in the Storm," in which Donald Pleasance was a vintner who murdered his brother.
I guess the commercials they usually run with Bob the impotent on erectile dysfunction drugs, and ads for KY for the analists, and the herpes formula that doesnt stop you from passing herpes on but keeps down the sores dont go too good with the over 80 crowd.
I dont remember Columbo having queers and mixed blood couples on the show either ,and that is certainly a requirement these days. On todays shows at least one of the main characters has to be queer and another has to have mental problems. We all know all police shows have one detective with family or mental problems.
Maybe if they got a female butch type homosexual to play alongside Columbo they could sell the story. Columbo was also very non-racial. They didnt have many blacks playing the top cop. Maybe if they could make Columbo’s boss a black woman it would fly.
I can’t believe anyone cares. But, then, I ALWAYS hated that Columbo show. It was horrible TV in the first place. The writing was just not even to the level of a 5th grade plot!
If we never see this hackneyed show again it’ll be too soon.
Columbo is definitely different from today’s cop shows.
Look, I like CSI. I admit it. I have to watch every week...especially the Miami one.
But, today’s cop shows are so focused on how things get done with science and don’t involve the good-old fashioned detective work that the old shows had. The old shows’ focus on forensic science was.....fingerprints. That was it. Not even DNA was considered until the 90s gradually, and then boom, CSI hits and everything changes.
I am a young person just 24, but I enjoyed watching Columbo and Matlock when I was growing up as a real little boy in the 80s and early 90s.
Too bad we don’t have many of those pure reasoning detective shows left.
“According to conventional wisdom” wisdom is age relative.
I forgot Jessica Fletcher. I also loved Murder She Wrote.
When I was little, my grandparents were all dead already, so my “grandmother” was my elderly babysitter.
Sitting around and watching Murder She Wrote and the other shows is a big memory of mine. It was so pleasant.
Hmmm since all of the episodes except one were open mysteries with the killer revealed at the beginning, I'd say that Ganny didn't have long to wait!
He could play a retired detective living in an assisted living center who is called on to help solve the mysterious death of an alzheimers patient who dies from a tainted drug overdose that was obtained thru the medicare prescription drug plan......
Yes. They’re missing a whole market that really is yet to be fully invented. I know I am more frugal in some areas than I used to be, but there are other areas that I spend more money than I used to. I’m dissappointed that more entreprenurial baby boomers haven’t jumped on this whole underexploited market.
“Maybe Columbo could take a gay, twenty-something young lover.
That would certainly appeal to ABC’s demographics...”
Don’t give them ideas, that’s an idea they would actually run with...
The mystery of Columbo’s crack?
Our entire culture doesn't have any "Pure Reasoning" abilities left.
Columbo was the only detective show I ever bothered to watch. I hope this gets made. Networks are beyond stupid.
Well he just had a small part in ‘NEXT’ with Nicolas Cage. Seemed still able to handle the part.
80?? He’ll be 80? How does a guy who hung around with Cassavetes live to be 80?
Isn’t that just so WRONG?
He smokes cigars, drinks, he’s sexist (he always talks about “The boys back in the lab” ) he drives a car that causes global warming.
just one more thing...
that’s not a police dog, that’s a policeMANS dog.
the name is Lt. Columbo
what’s the first name ?
“If we never see this hackneyed show again itll be too soon.”
So make the movie a full feature film and see if it will sell on the Big Screen. Do it in the new 3d process as well. I’ll bet it will sell!
I’ll go see it! I loved the Columbo series and movies....(”oh just one more question....)
Never watched it.
The one with Leonard Nimoy as a surgeon who deliberately used the wrong stitches, and kiiled the lady that discovered it was the only episode when Columbo actually displays a bit of righteous temper!