1 9 8 4 – 1 9 9 6 (USA)
264 x 60 minute episodes
Murder, She Wrote, starred Angela Lansbury as amateur sleuth and mystery writer Jessica Fletcher. The series was the only significant dramatic series on American television to feature an older woman in the sole leading role.
Set in the fictional seaside village of Cabot Cove, Maine, the programme quickly became one of CBS’s most successful offerings and among the most expensive for it to produce.
Widowed Jessica Fletcher, a retired high school English teacher, became a best-selling mystery author after her nephew, Grady, sent a manuscript to a publisher.
She quickly became world-famous and affluent, but she maintains the rambling, old house that she and her long-time husband, Frank, shared in Cabot Cove.
Jessica remains close to old friends in the village, including Dr. Seth Hazlett. A few cast changes have occurred; most significantly, Tom Bosley, who portrayed bumbling Sheriff Amos Tupper, left after four seasons to pursue his own mystery series.
Familiar former television stars and unknown character actors often appear as guests on the programme.
In the earlier seasons, a matronly Jessica frequently bicycled across town, boiled lobsters, planned fishing trips on a friend’s trawler, or dropped in at the beauty parlour. She wore conservative pantsuits and spoke with an occasional New England influence.
Her signature was her ancient manual typewriter, and the opening credits showed her tapping merrily away on one of her mystery novels.
Gradually, her character evolved – The manual typewriter eventually shared time in the opening sequence with Jessica’s personal computer (which has, itself, been involved in two mysteries) and she added a second residence, a Manhattan apartment.
Jessica’s character gradually became more glamorous in appearance, coinciding with Lansbury’s own personal makeover in 1988-89.
The formula behind Murder, She Wrote never changed: Jessica encounters several people displaying animosity toward a mean person. An innocent person (often a friend or relative of Jessica’s) publicly threatens or criticises the villain. The audience sees the villain murdered, but the killer’s identity is hidden.
The authorities accuse Jessica’s ally, based on circumstantial evidence. Jessica notices details that seem inconsequential but later prove central to the solution.
She investigates, uncovering various means, motives, and opportunities and eliminating suspects. A few minutes before the programme ends, she suddenly realises the last piece of the puzzle and announces that she knows who the killer is.
She confronts the killer who almost always confesses, and Jessica presents the person to the police. A final scene usually shows Jessica sharing a good-natured exchange with the wrongly accused friend.
Coincidences abound. Nephew Grady has been arrested for murder on several occasions, and Jessica always proves him innocent. In fact, it is dangerous to know Jessica – Each of the many times Jessica’s family members or old, “dear friends” have been introduced, they have become involved in a murder.
Other rules of Murder, She Wrote are:
- Rarely is a suspect put in touch with a lawyer
- Jessica always happens to be on the scene when a murder has just taken place
- She is always able to make time in her schedule to solve the crime
- She usually happens upon the body herself (is all this suspicious or what?)
- The police never get it right
- Her friend is always innocent
- Jessica is always present when crucial evidence comes to light
In the 1989-90 season, CBS persuaded Angela Lansbury to stay with the show after she announced plans to leave. The network reduced demands on her time, and she made only brief appearances in many episodes.
She addressed the viewer directly to introduce the evening’s mystery, involving her sleuthing friends, Harry McGraw or Dennis Stanton, often returning at the end of the hour, explaining how the mystery was solved.
In the following 1992 season, Lansbury was back in force assuming the role of executive producer. Her sons and brother were also involved in the production.
After 12 seasons – and 286 murders – the show finally came to an end in May 1996.
Considering it was a small coastal town, there were a suspicious amount of murders in the fictional New England setting of Cabot Cove. In fact, crime experts have said that it would actually top the FBI’s national crime stats in several categories if it was a real place. The local homicide rate also exceeded most violent parts of the globe, including Honduras in Central America.
Jessica Fletcher encountered a total of 274 killings in the small town in Maine, despite it having a population of just 3,500. This gives it an annual murder rate of 1,490 per million – more than 50% higher than Honduras, where it is 910 per million.
Jessica Beatrice Fletcher
Sheriff Amos Tupper
Dr Seth Hazlett
Mayor Sam Booth
Sheriff Mort Metzger
Lt. Perry Catalano
Dr Raymond Auerbach