One interesting thing about TV is how quickly it can change. Rarely is something a staple for so more than a few years to a decade. Soap operas, Johnny Carson, and new reporters are some of those things, but a character? Sure, The Doctor from Doctor Who is one of the most enduring TV original characters, but he hasn’t been played by the same actor for a bulk of his time on the boob tube. Imagine a character that was played by the same man from the late sixties to the early 2000s.
That character was the titular character in Columbo. His first appearance by Peter Falk was in a TV movie that eventually took off into a series of mostly monthly NBC Mystery Movies which then became the ABC Mystery Movie until Falk’s final performance as Lieutenant Columbo.
So, does this count as a traditional TV show?
The format of the show isn’t a regular whodunnit, but rather a howcatchem. Virtually every episode start outs with the murderer either finishing the job or the events leading up to it. So, the audience always knew who the killer was. The entertainment of the show came from seeing how Lt. Columbo would catch the killer.
In the first movie, Gene Barry (famous for War of the Worlds and Burke’s Law) was the killer. The set off a trend of the killer being a recognizable face, much like how the Special Guest Stars in Batman were the villains. Donald Pleasance, Janet Leigh, William Shatner, Patrick McGoohan, Vera Miles, Ricardo Montalbon, Richard Kiley, Roddy McDowell, Martin Landau, and Johnny Cash were just a few of the killers in the 30 plus years of Columbo’s reign as an undefeated investigator.
The tics that the Lieutenant had were very recognizable to those who watched the show, and even though it hasn’t been on for over a decade, he is still parodied in all forms of media. Rumpled rain coat, gruff voice, messed up hair, cigar, scatter brained, crappy car, and offset gaze (the latter due to Falk’s own glass eye) always caught the often arrogant killers off guard. They didn’t think he could discover their perfect crime and sometimes they even befriended him, but at the end of each episode. They were always caught. Usually, he would gather the evidence and present it to a dumbfounded killer. They always went quietly.
Unfortunately, Peter Falk’s severe case of Alzheimer’s and early onset Dementia prevented him from reprising the role of Columbo one last time before his death in 2011. His performance lives on as one of the most highly regarded in television history though.
Oh, just one more thing…these five shows are my favorites, but I could do blog posts on so many other series; The Prisoner, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Batman, Quantum Leap, The Jack Benny Show, Beverly Hills, 90210 and so many more have been a part of my life.