1 9 7 1 – 1 9 8 8 (USA)
45 x 90 minute episodes
Few characters have clicked with television audiences as well as Lieutenant Columbo who first appeared as one of the rotating stars on The NBC Mystery Movie.
Bing Crosby had been first choice to play Lt. Columbo but he turned it down (as it would have eaten into his golf time!). The role then went to the excellent Peter Falk who first played the character he modelled on Petrovitch, the detective in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, in the television movie Prescription: Murder in 1968.
Falk made television history by earning the record fee of $320,000 for each of four 90-minute episodes.
Columbo was one of the shrewdest officers on the Los Angeles police force, despite the appearance of his rumpled trench coat and his beat up 1960 Peugeot 403.
Slowly and methodically he pieced together the most minute clues leading to the identity of the killer. And Columbo (almost) always got his man.
At the beginning of each Columbo episode, the audience witnessed a clever murder and saw the ingenious measures the murderer took to prevent detection by the police.
Then into the case came Lt. Columbo who was excessively polite to everyone, went out of his way not to offend any of the suspects, and seemed like a hopeless choice to solve any crime. But all that was superficial, designed to lull the murderer into a false sense of security.
You could always tell when the scruffy cigar-chewing homicide detective was about to move in for the kill with the villain. Walking away, he would stop and turn, raise his palm to his forehead and mutter “just one more thing” . . . Wham! The villain was busted!
Peter Falk quietly called almost all the shots, from the choice of directors to the approval of locations. His lunch hours were spent watching rough footage from the previous day’s shooting and his nights were spent rewriting the scripts.
His only concerns with the technical aspects of the show were the camera and lighting angles, because of his glass eye.
Some interesting facts about Lieutenant Columbo:
- He never carries a gun (and only fires one in one single episode)
- He goes bowling when he’s depressed
- He has a Bassett Hound called “Dog”
- Although he’s with the LAPD he was born and grew up in New York City
- His first name is never stated (but has been reported to be either Philip or Frank)
In Britain, the series was aired on ITV during the 70s and 80s. In 1988 the BBC repeated the series in a peak Saturday-night slot.