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.
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