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Title card from first episode of Season 1
Created by Richard Levinson
William Link
Starring Peter Falk
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 10
No. of episodes 69 (list of episodes)
Executive producer(s) Philip Saltzman[1]
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 73–98 minutes
Production company(s) Universal Television (1971–78, 1989–98, 2002–2003)
Studios USA (1998–2002)
Distributor Universal Television (original)
NBCUniversal Television Distribution (current)
Original network NBC (1968–78)
ABC (1989–2003)
Picture format Film
Audio format Monaural
Stereophonic sound
Original release February 20, 1968 (1968-02-20) – January 30, 2003 (2003-01-30)
External links
[{{#property:P856}} Website]

Columbo is an American television series starring Peter Falk as Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department.[2][3] The character and show, created by Richard Levinson and William Link, popularized the inverted detective story format, which begins by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator; the series therefore has no "whodunit" element. The plot revolves around how a perpetrator whose identity is already known to the audience will finally be caught and exposed (which the show's writers called a "howcatchem," rather than a "whodunit").

Columbo is an unassuming police detective of Italian descent whose clothes are disheveled and whose trademarks include wearing a rumpled, beige raincoat over his suit, and smoking a cigar. He is consistently underestimated by his suspects who, while initially reassured and distracted by his circumstantial speech, become increasingly annoyed by his pestering behavior. Despite his unassuming appearance and apparent absentmindedness, he is extremely intelligent and shrewdly solves all of his cases and secures all evidence needed for a conviction. His formidable eye for detail and relentlessly dedicated approach, often become clear to the killer (and even the viewer) only late in the story line.

The episodes are all movie-length, between 73 and 98 minutes long, and have been broadcast in forty-four countries. In 1997, "Murder by the Book", directed by Steven Spielberg, was ranked No. 16 on TV Guides 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time[4] and in 1999, the magazine ranked Lt. Columbo No. 7 on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list.[5][6] In 2012, the program was chosen as the third-best cop or legal show on Best in TV: The Greatest TV Shows of Our Time.[7] In 2013, TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time[8] and ranked it at #33 on its list of the 60 Best Series.[9] Also in 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it No. 57 in the list of 101 Best Written TV Series.[10]


Richard Kiley and Peter Falk in Season 3 Episode 8 titled "A Friend in Deed" that aired on May 5, 1974

The following is an episode list for the crime fiction television series Columbo. After two pilot episodes, the show originally aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978 as one of the rotating programs of the NBC Mystery Movie. Columbo then aired less frequently on ABC beginning in 1989. The last installment was broadcast in 2003.

Because the Columbo episodes from 1989 to 2003 aired infrequently, different DVD sets have been released around the world. In Region 2 and 4, all episodes have now been released as ten seasons, with the tenth season covering the last 14 shows from "Columbo Goes to College" (1990) to the most recent "Columbo Likes the Nightlife" (2003).[11][12] However, in France, and The Netherlands (also Region 2) the DVDs were released as twelve seasons.[13] And in Region 1, all episodes from season 8 are grouped differently; all the episodes that are originally aired on ABC were released as the COLUMBO: The Mystery Movie Collections.[14] For the sake of clarity, all episodes in this article are arranged as they appear in the UK release.

Series overview

Season Episodes Originally aired
First aired Last aired
Pilots 2 February 20, 1968 March 1, 1971
1 7 September 15, 1971 February 9, 1972
2 8 September 17, 1972 March 25, 1973
3 8 September 23, 1973 May 5, 1974
4 6 September 15, 1974 April 27, 1975
5 6 September 14, 1975 May 2, 1976
6 3 October 10, 1976 May 22, 1977
7 5 November 21, 1977 May 13, 1978
8 4 February 6, 1989 May 1, 1989
9 6 November 25, 1989 May 14, 1990
10 and
[DVD 1]
December 9, 1990 January 30, 2003
  1. The Season 10 DVDs released in Regions 2 and 4 cover the last 14 episodes.


Before Peter Falk

Before Peter Falk was cast as the character of Columbo, Bert Freed played the role in "Enough Rope," a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show, a TV anthology series. In 1962, that episode was adapted as a stage play titled "Prescription: Murder" (starring Thomas Mitchell as Columbo), which then became a made-for-TV movie in 1968, with Peter Falk debuting in the role. In this pilot episode, Columbo appears more smartly dressed, with Falk appearing in suits, shorter hair and wearing more stage makeup, rather than the shabby appearance that would later become the character's trademark. He also appears somewhat more aggressive when confronting suspects.

The NBC years (1968–1978)

Pilot episodes

No. in
Title Directed by Written by Length Original air date
1 "Prescription: Murder" Richard Irving Richard Levinson, William Link
based on their play
98 minutes February 20, 1968 (1968-02-20)
Dr. Ray Fleming (Gene Barry), a psychiatrist, murders his wife (Nina Foch) and persuades his mistress Joan Hudson (Katherine Justice), who is an actress and one of his patients, to support his alibi by impersonating her.
2 "Ransom for a Dead Man" Richard Irving Teleplay: Dean Hargrove
Story: Richard Levinson, William Link
92 minutes March 1, 1971 (1971-03-01)
Leslie Williams (Lee Grant), a brilliant lawyer and pilot, murders her husband Paul (Harlan Warde) to get his money, arranging the act to look as if he had been kidnapped and killed by his captors. Columbo and Leslie's step-daughter (Patricia Mattick), who hates her, successfully work together to get Leslie to implicate herself by revealing where she is keeping the money.

Season 1

No. in
No. in
Title Directed by Written by Runtime Original air date
3 1 "Murder by the Book" Steven Spielberg Steven Bochco 73 minutes September 15, 1971 (1971-09-15)

Ken Franklin (Jack Cassidy) is one half of a mystery writing team, but partner Jim Ferris (Martin Milner) wants to go solo. That would expose the fact that Ferris did all the actual writing, and would leave the high-living Franklin without his cash cow. Franklin makes it look like Ferris was investigating gangsters, then takes Ferris to his cabin two hours away. Lily La Sanka (Barbara Colby), a general store owner, happens to see Ferris in the car while Franklin makes a call to Ferris's wife (Rosemary Forsyth) to establish that he is far away. At the cabin, he convinces Ferris to call home and say he's working late at the office. During the call, Franklin shoots Ferris, then takes his body back north and dumps it on his lawn. La Sanka tries to blackmail Franklin into a relationship, so he bludgeons her to death and capsizes her rowboat, making it look like an accident. After his arrest, Franklin makes a startling admission to Columbo. Jack Cassidy played the villain in a total of three Columbo episodes (this one, episode 22 (Season 3), and episode 36 (Season 5)).

Note: In 1997 TV Guide ranked this episode number 16 on its '100 Greatest Episodes of All Time' list.[15]
4 2 "Death Lends a Hand" Bernard L. Kowalski Richard Levinson, William Link 73 minutes October 6, 1971 (1971-10-06)
Carl Brimmer (Robert Culp), the head of a private detective agency, is hired by Arthur Kennicut (Ray Milland), a powerful publishing magnate who suspects his wife, Lenore (Pat Crowley), of infidelity. Although Brimmer indeed finds evidence of her being unfaithful, instead of reporting this to his client, he attempts to blackmail Lenore into revealing secrets about her husband. She refuses and threatens to expose his plot to Kennicut, at which point Brimmer accidentally kills her in a fit of anger. He then dumps the body at a scrapyard. To catch the killer, Columbo employs the use of a trick he learned as a boy. This episode won an Emmy for writing.
5 3 "Dead Weight" Jack Smight John T. Dugan 73 minutes October 27, 1971 (1971-10-27)
Major General Martin Hollister (Eddie Albert), a retired Marine Corps war hero, learns that he is being investigated for embezzling military funds, then shoots his accomplice (John Kerr) when he decides to flee the country. The act is witnessed from a boat by Helen Stewart (Suzanne Pleshette), who is wooed by the General into doubting her own story.
6 4 "Suitable for Framing" Hy Averback Jackson Gillis 73 minutes November 17, 1971 (1971-11-17)
Art critic Dale Kingston (Ross Martin) murders his uncle and frames his aunt, Edna Mathews (Kim Hunter), to obtain what is considered to be one of the most valuable art collections in the world. Don Ameche portrays family lawyer Frank Simpson.
7 5 "Lady in Waiting" Norman Lloyd Teleplay: Steven Bochco
Story: Barney Slater
73 minutes December 15, 1971 (1971-12-15)
Beth Chadwick (Susan Clark) murders her domineering older brother, Bryce (Richard Anderson), in order to gain control of her own life and the family business. She arranges for it to look like an accident but is tripped up by the sharp memory of her fiancé, Peter (Leslie Nielsen). Beth's mother is played by actress Jessie Royce Landis, veteran of two Hitchcock films, in her final performance.
8 6 "Short Fuse" Edward M. Abrams Teleplay: Jackson Gillis
Story: Lester Pine, Tina Pine, Jackson Gillis
73 minutes January 19, 1972 (1972-01-19)
Roger Stanford (Roddy McDowall) is a chemist and photography buff whose uncle, David (James Gregory), has taken over a business that his parents built and his aunt (Ida Lupino) controls. David proposes selling the business to a conglomerate in return for a seat on the board of directors, then tries to blackmail Roger into resigning. Roger decides to murder his uncle with a box of exploding cigars. William Windom guest stars as the next-in-line Vice President whom Roger must remove before he can take over the company. Anne Francis plays David's secretary, who is involved with Roger. Columbo tricks him into incriminating himself, bringing a box of cigars, that he claims came from the death scene, with him on their ride in a cable car. Stanford figures these must be the exploding cigars he had planted and gradually becomes hysterical, begging Columbo to throw the box out the window, only for Columbo to reveal that the cigars are, in fact, just cigars.
9 7 "Blueprint for Murder" Peter Falk Teleplay: Steven Bochco
Story: William Kelley
73 minutes February 9, 1972 (1972-02-09)
Elliot Markham (Patrick O'Neal) is an architect with a vision for a city of the future, and a penchant for classical music. His latest project is being bankrolled by the young wife of Beau Williamson (Forrest Tucker), a wealthy industrialist who has been away on a lengthy overseas business trip. When Williamson returns and finds out how his money is being spent, he is furious, and intends to cut off the funds. Markham decides that the only way he can continue his work is to eliminate Williamson. Simply killing him, however, poses a problem, because his money reverts to a trust fund when he dies. Markham comes up with a clever plan to conceal the body and make it appear as if Beau has gone on another long foreign trip. With Pamela Austin and Janis Paige. This is the only episode Peter Falk directed.

Season 2

No. in
No. in
Title Directed by Written by Runtime Original air date
10 1 "Étude in Black" Nicholas Colasanto Teleplay: Steven Bochco
Story: Richard Levinson & William Link
98 minutes September 17, 1972 (1972-09-17)
Alex Benedict (John Cassavetes), the married conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, murders his mistress, Jennifer Welles (Anjanette Comer), after she insists on going public with their affair, and tries to make it look like a suicide. Columbo searches for clues to place Benedict at the murder scene. Blythe Danner and Myrna Loy guest star as Benedict's wealthy wife and mother-in-law, respectively. Pat Morita cameos in one scene as Benedict's butler. (During filming Danner was pregnant with her daughter Gwyneth Paltrow, who was born ten days after this episode aired.). This episode was directed by Nicholas Colasanto, who later became known for his role as Coach in Cheers.
11 2 "The Greenhouse Jungle" Boris Sagal Jonathan Latimer 73 minutes October 15, 1972 (1972-10-15)
Jarvis Goodland (Ray Milland) and his nephew, Tony (Bradford Dillman), stage Tony's kidnapping in order to break his trust fund, but Jarvis shoots and kills Tony once the ransom is paid, and a careful swapping of guns with Tony's philandering wife casts suspicion in her direction. Gloria, the mistress of murder victim Tony Goodland is played by Arlene Martel, famous for playing Spock's wife in the Star Trek Episode "Amok Time". This episode marks the first appearance of Bob Dishy as Columbo's newly assigned and totally unwanted neophyte partner, full of the latest techniques from Berkeley. He appears again in Now You See Him... (Season 5, Episode 5) It is also the first episode in which the main crime is committed after Columbo's initial appearance.
12 3 "The Most Crucial Game" Jeremy Kagan John T. Dugan 73 minutes November 5, 1972 (1972-11-05)
Paul Hanlon (Robert Culp), the general manager of the Los Angeles Rockets football team, wants to create a sports empire, but Eric Wagner (Dean Stockwell), who inherited the team, lacks ambition. Hanlon sneaks out of the stadium during the national anthem by disguising himself as a Ding-A-Ling ice cream truck driver. He drives to a pay phone near Eric's house, knowing Eric's phones have been bugged, during which Hanlon makes it seem like he's in his private box at the stadium by holding a radio to the receiver. He then drives to Eric's house, kills him with a block of ice in his swimming pool, then makes it look like a diving accident. Valerie Harper plays Eve Babcock, an operative placed in Eric's home as a secretary by a private detective (Val Avery). Dean Jagger plays Eric's attorney, Walter Cannell, who hired the private detective.
13 4 "Dagger of the Mind" Richard Quine Teleplay: Jackson Gillis
Story: Richard Levinson & William Link
93 minutes November 26, 1972 (1972-11-26)
When Sir Roger Haversham (John Williams) realizes that actors Nicholas Framer (Richard Basehart) and his wife, Lillian Stanhope (Honor Blackman), have manipulated him into backing their theater production, he confronts the couple, and is accidentally killed during the ensuing scuffle. The pair cover up the murder by stuffing the body into a trunk, taking it home to his estate, and staging an apparent fall down the stairs. Columbo is visiting London to study British police techniques as the guest of Scotland Yard Detective Chief Superintendent William Durk (Bernard Fox), who stops by the estate to investigate the incident. Wilfrid Hyde-White is type-cast as the butler. Sharon Johansen played Miss Dudley, an attractive young understudy. The first to feature locations outside the US, this episode was filmed in both London and Hollywood.
14 5 "Requiem for a Falling Star" Richard Quine Jackson Gillis 73 minutes January 21, 1973 (1973-01-21)
Jean Davis (Pippa Scott), personal assistant to aging movie star Nora Chandler (Anne Baxter), is marrying gossip reporter Jerry Parks (Mel Ferrer), who has secret information about Chandler. One night Nora empties the tire of Jean's car, so they have to switch vehicles, Chandler starts a gasoline fire just as Parks's car pulls into his garage being driven by Davis. So it would look like the assassin was after Jerry Parks when in reality the intention was to kill Jean. Columbo solves the case after connecting it to the mysterious disappearance of Chandler's husband a decade earlier. Kevin McCarthy appears as a physician and friend of Chandler, with Oscar-winning costume designer Edith Head having a cameo as herself.
15 6 "A Stitch in Crime" Hy Averback Shirl Hendryx 73 minutes February 11, 1973 (1973-02-11)
Cardiac surgeon Dr. Barry Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. Edmund Hidemann (Will Geer) have pioneered a major medical breakthrough that Mayfield wants to publish immediately, but Hidemann wants to continue testing. When Dr. Hidemann's heart condition worsens, requiring the insertion of a heart valve, Mayfield performs the surgery and plans to kill his partner by placing dissolving sutures in his heart. After their nurse, Sharon Martin (Anne Francis), discovers the plot, Mayfield kills her, and stages a mugging to pin the crime on her drug addict ex-boyfriend. This episode contains a rare scene of Columbo losing his temper, as well as Nimoy, well-known for playing the always-in-control Mr. Spock.
16 7 "The Most Dangerous Match" Edward M. Abroms Teleplay: Jackson Gillis
Story: Jackson Gillis and Richard Levinson & William Link
73 minutes March 4, 1973 (1973-03-04)
When chess Grandmaster Emmett Clayton (Laurence Harvey) loses an impromptu game to Eastern European champion Tomlin Dudek (Jack Kruschen) the night before their championship match, Clayton decides to kill Dudek. The hearing impaired Clayton shoves him into a garbage grinder in the basement, but because of a malfunctioning hearing aid, he doesn't realize that the grinder automatically shuts itself off when anything big falls into it. Dudek survives and now Clayton schemes to poison his rival in the hospital before he can regain consciousness. Heidi Brühl plays Linda Robinson, who follows in her mother's footsteps in looking after Dudek. Lloyd Bochner plays Dudek's accompanying coach, Mazoor Berozski. Columbo regular Mathias Reitz plays Dudek's valet, Anton.
17 8 "Double Shock" Robert Butler Teleplay: Steven Bochco
Story: Jackson Gillis and Richard Levinson & William Link
73 minutes March 25, 1973 (1973-03-25)
Flamboyant television chef Dexter Paris and his twin brother, conservative banker Norman (both played by Martin Landau), are supposedly not talking to one another. But both disapprove that their uncle Clifford Paris (Paul Stewart) has become engaged to Lisa Chambers (Julie Newmar), who is young enough to be his granddaughter. They kill him by dropping an electric mixer into the bathtub while Clifford is bathing, electrocuting him. They move the body and make it look like he had a heart attack while using an exercise bike. Clifford's lawyer, Michael Hathaway (Tim O'Connor) reveals that a new will exists, one he's willing to "lose" for a price. However, Chambers also has a copy, requiring her to be eliminated. Unlike most Columbo episodes, this has a whodunit element in that it is not made clear which brother was the murderer until the end of the episode. Indeed, each brother "helpfully" explains to Columbo the motives that the other one has to kill their uncle. Dabney Coleman plays Columbo's colleague, Detective Murray. Jeanette Nolan plays Mrs. Peck, a fastidious housekeeper who makes Columbo's life a living hell, complaining very loudly about the "terrible mess" he is making in her house.

Season 3

No. in
No. in Season Title Directed by Written by Runtime Original air date
18 1 "Lovely But Lethal" Jeannot Szwarc Teleplay: Jackson Gillis
Story: Myrna Bercovici
73 minutes September 23, 1973 (1973-09-23)
Cosmetics queen Viveca Scott (Vera Miles) has developed a seemingly magic wrinkle remover, but the formula has been stolen by her former lover, Karl Lessing (Martin Sheen), a chemist for her company, who refuses to sell it back to her at any price. Taunted by Lessing, Scott bludgeons him in a fit of rage before he can sell it to her ruthless competitor, David Lang (Vincent Price). When Lang's secretary (Sian Barbara Allen) becomes a potential blackmailer Scott kills her as well.
19 2 "Any Old Port in a Storm" Leo Penn Teleplay: Stanley Ralph Ross
Story: Larry Cohen
98 minutes October 7, 1973 (1973-10-07)
Wine connoisseur Adrian Carsini (Donald Pleasence) runs a small winery specializing in unprofitable but prized wines. He is so highly regarded that he is about to be named the industry's Man-of-the-Year. His half-brother, Rick (Gary Conway), only wants to spend money on various hobbies and interests like sports and fast cars and has also been married several times. When Rick gets tired of Adrian's indulgences, he announces his decision to sell the land to mass producers of cheap, profitable wines. Adrian knocks him out and leaves him to die in an airtight wine cellar. Adrian travels to New York to accept an award and attend wine auctions, establishing his alibi. Upon his return, Adrian concocts a scuba diving accident to cover the crime. Columbo befriends Carsini while slyly searching for clues to link him to the murder. Julie Harris plays Adrian Carsini's formidable secretary.
20 3 "Candidate for Crime" Boris Sagal Teleplay: Irving Pearlberg & Alvin R. Friedman and Roland Kibbee & Dean Hargrove
Story: Larry Cohen
98 minutes November 4, 1973 (1973-11-04)
Harry Stone (Ken Swofford), a campaign manager for Nelson Hayward, is coercing the womanizing senatorial candidate (Jackie Cooper) to end his affair with a personal secretary (Tisha Sterling), which Stone regards as too risky during a campaign. Stone, however, does approve of a publicity stunt Hayward plans to pull, which involves fabricating death threats against himself, to promote his tough stance against crime. Hayward then uses this to his advantage: he lures Stone to Hayward's beach house (while driving Hayward's car and wearing Hayward's coat), where the candidate shoots and kills Stone, making it look like a case of mistaken identity as a result of the imaginary assassins. Joanne Linville plays Hayward's wife, and a young Katey Sagal has a small role as a secretary. Katey Sagal's father, Boris Sagal, directed the episode.
21 4 "Double Exposure" Richard Quine Stephen J. Cannell 73 minutes December 16, 1973 (1973-12-16)
Dr. Bart Keppel (Robert Culp) is a "motivation research specialist" who has made a name for himself on the subject of subliminal advertising (which involves inserting frames of an advertised product into the reels of a film, so subconsciously a viewer's mind will crave what is pictured). Keppel's more lucrative sideline is blackmail: he takes pictures of married clients with a girl hired to tempt them. When his latest victim, Vic Norris, refuses to be blackmailed and threatens to expose him, Keppel plots to kill him. First Keppel plants a dish of salty caviar at a reception he is hosting for his clients. A subliminal cut of a refreshing drink is used to lure Norris out of a screening room where he is watching a promotional film Keppel is supposedly narrating (in fact they are listening to a prerecorded narration). Keppel sneaks out and shoots Norris in the building lobby, then arranges things to appear the crime was committed by Norris's wife. When Keppel's projectionist Roger White (Chuck McCann) discovers the cuts and pieces together the plot, Keppel shoots him as well. Columbo incriminates Keppel using his own science by showing him a film laced with subliminal frames of images taken of where the murder weapon was supposedly hidden. This episode received the Emmy Award in the category for Outstanding Limited Series.
22 5 "Publish or Perish" Robert Butler Peter S. Fischer 73 minutes January 18, 1974 (1974-01-18)
Publisher Riley Greenleaf (Jack Cassidy) decides to kill his prolific author Alan Mallory (Mickey Spillane) to keep him from defecting to another publisher. He hires ex-con and avid homemade bomb enthusiast Eddie Kane (John Chandler) to do the job. While Greenleaf is getting drunk at a nearby bar, Kane walks into Mallory's office and shoots him. To cover his tracks, Greenleaf kills Kane with one of his own bombs, making it look like an accident. Columbo must discover the link between the two crimes. This episode has a split screen of Greenleaf's alibi and Mallory's murder. Spillane was the real-life author of Mike Hammer detective mysteries. Jack Cassidy played the villain in a total of three Columbo episodes--this one, "Murder by the Book," and "Now You See Him...." Mariette Hartley plays a publisher's assistant.
23 6 "Mind Over Mayhem" Alf Kjellin Teleplay: Steven Bochco and Dean Hargrove & Roland Kibbee
Story: Robert Specht
73 minutes February 10, 1974 (1974-02-10)
When Dr. Howard Nicholson (Lew Ayres) threatens to expose Neil Cahill (Robert Walker, Jr.) for plagiarizing a paper from a recently deceased scientist, Dr. Marshall Cahill (José Ferrer), director of a high-tech Pentagon think tank, kills Nicholson to protect his son. He installs a cybernetic robot codenamed MM-7 (Robby the Robot) to take his place overseeing a war exercise. Dr. Cahill steals a car from the motor pool and drives to Dr. Nicholson's house. In the driveway, Dr. Cahill runs him over, then carries his body into the house, ransacking it to make it look like a burglary gone wrong. To cover up damage the car received from the impact, Dr. Cahill backs his own car into the death car. Also starring Jessica Walter as Mrs. Nicholson and Lee Montgomery as the child genius Steven Spelberg.
24 7 "Swan Song" Nicholas Colasanto Teleplay: David Rayfiel
Story: Stanley Ralph Ross
94 minutes March 3, 1974 (1974-03-03)
Gospel-singing superstar Tommy Brown (Johnny Cash) is hugely successful. But he's unable to enjoy the usual benefits of his fame and wealth. His zealous wife Edna (Ida Lupino) can prove he had committed statutory rape with one of his backup singers, Tina. With this proof, she blackmails him from enjoying the company of other women and even from spending the proceeds from his own concerts. She wants every penny to go towards building a tabernacle for the Lord. One day, Tommy decides he's had enough and decides to kill Edna and the backup singer. He drugs both women to sleep on their small, private plane flight to Los Angeles, and then parachutes from the plane, making it seem like he was thrown clear in a tragic crash caused by flying through bad weather. Edna's brother Luke (Bill McKinney) insists the police handle the case as a homicide, while the FAA is ready to write it off to an accident.
25 8 "A Friend in Deed" Ben Gazzara Peter S. Fischer 94 minutes May 5, 1974 (1974-05-05)
When Hugh Caldwell (Michael McGuire) accidentally kills his wife in the heat of a fight, he seeks help from his friend and neighbor, deputy police commissioner Mark Halperin (Richard Kiley). Halperin sees an opportunity to kill his own wife (played by Rosemary Murphy), a wealthy heiress who freely shares her wealth with the needy, so he helps Caldwell cover up the first crime and forces him to assist the following night, arranging it so that a cat burglar (Val Avery), who has recently been active in their neighborhood, is seen as the culprit in both murders. When Columbo realizes what happened, he enlists the burglar's help in catching the real perpetrators.

Season 4

No. in
No. in
Title Directed by Written by Runtime Original air date
26 1 "An Exercise in Fatality" Bernard L. Kowalski Teleplay: Peter S. Fischer
Story: Larry Cohen
94 minutes September 15, 1974 (1974-09-15)
Renowned exercise guru Milo Janus (Robert Conrad) runs a chain of successful gyms that operate under his name. But even his charm isn't enough to calm the anger of business partner and franchise owner Gene Stafford (Philip Bruns), who's found out how Janus overcharges his own corporation for equipment and supplies, depositing the profits in offshore bank accounts. When Stafford threatens to go public with what he's found, leaving Janus open to fraud and extortion investigations, Janus kills him, and makes it look like Stafford was trying to lift a weight too heavy for him. Collin Wilcox plays Ruth Stafford, Gretchen Corbett a secretary and Pat Harrington, Jr. a business associate of Milo's.
27 2 "Negative Reaction" Alf Kjellin Peter S. Fischer 92 minutes October 6, 1974 (1974-10-06)
After years of tolerating his domineering and bitter wife Frances (Antoinette Bower), professional photographer Paul Galesko (Dick Van Dyke) decides to kill her. He hires ex-con Alvin Deschler (Don Gordon) to rent an isolated ranch house. Galesko takes Frances there, ties her to a chair, takes photographs, then shoots her. He sets things up so that it will look like he is elsewhere when the pictures were taken. Galesko then meets Deschler at a junkyard for a staged ransom drop. After shooting Deschler with a revolver, Galesko shoots himself in the leg with the pistol used in the first murder, then plants that gun on Deschler so that it will appear he killed the "kidnapper" in self-defense. JoAnna Cameron plays Galesko's assistant, with whom he is planning a romantic getaway. Michael Strong, Larry Storch, Vito Scotti, and John Ashton also guest star.
28 3 "By Dawn's Early Light" Harvey Hart Howard Berk 94 minutes October 27, 1974 (1974-10-27)
Colonel Lyle C. Rumford (Patrick McGoohan), head of the Haynes Military Academy, an all-boys school, is told by Board of Trustees president William Haynes (Tom Simcox) that it must convert to a coed school as a solution to declining enrollment. Haynes, grandson of the academy's founder and once a cadet under the colonel, has furthermore decided to fire his hated former commandant. Rumford would rather not go that way. So he rigs a school cannon by blocking its discharge with a cleaning rag, then modifies the shell with a more powerful explosive so that the cannon will explode when Haynes fires it on Founder's Day. Rumford pins the "accident" on emotionally troubled cadet Roy Springer (Mark Wheeler), who had gun-cleaning duty. Rumford is trapped by Columbo due to his own fanatic sense of duty. With this episode McGoohan won the first of his two Emmy Awards for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. His second was for Agenda for Murder. Father and son Bruce Kirby and Bruno Kirby co-star, as a sergeant and a cadet, respectively. Bruce Kirby appears in a number of Columbo episodes. Location filming took place at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.
29 4 "Troubled Waters" Ben Gazzara Teleplay: William Driskill
Story: Jackson Gillis and William Driskill
94 minutes February 9, 1975 (1975-02-09)
While aboard a Mexican cruise he takes frequently, auto executive Hayden Danziger (Robert Vaughn) has been having an affair with the ship's lounge singer Rosanna Wells (Poupée Bocar). When Wells threatens to expose their affair to Danziger's wife, Sylvia (Jane Greer), Danziger decides to get rid of her. To set up his alibi, he inhales some amyl nitrite to feign a heart attack in the swimming pool, so that he will be checked into the ship's infirmary. During a lapse in security, Danziger dons a crewman's uniform, sneaks out of his infirmary bed, and waits in Wells's cabin for her performance break. When she comes back, Danziger shoots her, plants evidence to implicate a band musician (Dean Stockwell), ditches the pistol and returns to the infirmary before the doctors can find him missing. Columbo, who happens to be enjoying the same cruise with his wife, is pressed into service by the ship's captain (Patrick Macnee). Bernard Fox and Robert Douglas also guest star.
30 5 "Playback" Bernard L. Kowalski David P. Lewis & Booker T. Bradshaw 73 minutes March 2, 1975 (1975-03-02)
Harold Van Wick (Oskar Werner), the gadget-obsessed president of Midas Electronics, has wired his estate-home with closed-circuit television cameras and video recorders. His costly fascination with gadgetry raises the ire of his frugal mother-in-law Margaret Midas (Martha Scott), who owns the company. She orders him to resign his post, threatening to otherwise expose Van Wick's philandering ways, but Van Wick has already set in motion a scheme to murder her. Van Wick rigs his high-tech home security system and shoots Margaret when she is in the viewing field of one camera, feeding a recording of an empty study to the guard monitoring the estate's rooms. Having already forced open a window and planted footprints outside it to make the murder look like the deed of a burglar, he then uses a timer to play back the tape of the shooting to the gatehouse guard's monitor to make it look like Margaret was shot by an intruder after Van Wick had left the house for a party. Gena Rowlands portrays Van Wick's wheelchair-bound wife Elizabeth, who proves instrumental in convicting her husband. Robert Brown played Arthur Midas, Margaret's son. Trisha Noble was also a guest star.
31 6 "A Deadly State of Mind" Harvey Hart Peter S. Fischer 73 minutes April 27, 1975 (1975-04-27)
Psychiatrist Dr. Mark Collier (George Hamilton) kills Carl Donner (Stephen Elliott) with a fireplace poker after a confrontation over Collier's affair with Donner's wife, Nadia (Lesley Ann Warren), who is one of Collier's patients. Collier concocts a cover story involving a home robbery gone astray. But when Columbo catches on, Collier tries to clear himself of any suspicion by hypnotizing Nadia into taking a deadly dive into a swimming pool from her fifth-story balcony. Although Columbo (unusually) admits he cannot prove Collier killed Nadia, a witness to his first murder, a blind man walking past the house as Collier was leaving, proves to be his undoing.

Season 5

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32 1 "Forgotten Lady" Harvey Hart Bill Driskill 92 minutes September 14, 1975 (1975-09-14)
When elderly physician Henry Willis (Sam Jaffe) refuses to finance a return to the spotlight for his wife, aging former movie star Grace Wheeler (Janet Leigh), she kills him in his sleep, passing it off as a suicide. Her butler (Maurice Evans) believes that Grace was in a private screening room the entire time, watching one of her classic films. This is the only episode where the murderer is not arrested, as Ned Diamond (John Payne), her longtime song and dance partner, falsely confesses to save Grace, after Columbo points out to him that she is dying of a brain disease {ironically the reason her husband refused to finance her return} and doesn't even remember the murder. Columbo has no choice but to arrest Diamond, both of them realizing that by the time he is cleared, Grace will have died after spending her last days living happily in the past. The episode features excerpts from the 1953 musical comedy Walking My Baby Back Home, which starred Leigh. (This movie ran while she was committing the crime.)
33 2 "A Case of Immunity" Ted Post Teleplay: Lou Shaw
Story: James Menzies
73 minutes October 12, 1975 (1975-10-12)
Hassan Salah (Héctor Elizondo), chief diplomat of the Legation of Swahari, an Arab nation with a new young king, has a scheme for shifting power within his government. He enlists Rachman Habib (Sal Mineo), a naïve idealist in the Legation, to help him stage the murder of a security officer, then plants evidence to make it look like the work of radicals. Salah pins the murder on the now-absent Habib, who, as part of the plan, has gone into hiding. Columbo quickly unravels the truth, but finds himself stymied by the fact that Salah has diplomatic immunity and cannot be arrested. Columbo then meets the new king, who is on a diplomatic visit to the United States, and impresses the young monarch with his down-to-earth personality. Columbo gets Salah to confess the murder with his monarch in the next room listening. To stay in the U.S. rather than face Middle Eastern justice, he waives his immunity from prosecution. Jeff Goldblum, in his first TV role, non-speaking, is a protestor outside the embassy.
34 3 "Identity Crisis" Patrick McGoohan Bill Driskill 94 minutes November 2, 1975 (1975-11-02)
A CIA operative codenamed "Geronimo" (Leslie Nielsen) recognizes the man he was sent to cut a deal with as speech-writing consultant Nelson Brenner (Patrick McGoohan, who also directed), a CIA double agent from the past. This forces Brenner to kill Geronimo before Brenner's true identity is exposed. Columbo finds himself blocked at every turn by a man accustomed to keeping secrets, and even by a visit from the Director of the Agency (David White). The episode features another French car, the Citroën SM. An in joke is that the Director's name is Philip Corrigan (aka Secret Agent X-9). In a nod to McGoohan's role on The Prisoner, his character repeatedly uses the phrase "Be seeing you" in the episode.[16]
35 4 "A Matter of Honor" Ted Post Brad Radnitz 73 minutes February 1, 1976 (1976-02-01)
Retired and renowned matador Luis Montoya (Ricardo Montalban) is a Mexican national hero. His trusted bookkeeper, Hector Rangel, has a son Curro, who is also a bullfighter. But when Curro (A Martinez) is gored in the bullring and hospitalized, Montoya unintentionally freezes up in fear, rather than show the bravery he's known for. To spare his reputation, Montoya decides to kill Hector. He lures Hector to the ring, and tranquilizes him, then unleashes the bull on him, since Hector is now vulnerable. The result is that it looks like Hector tried to avenge the bull that gored Curro. Columbo, who happens to be in Tijuana for the weekend, is recognized by the local chief of police (Pedro Armendáriz, Jr.), who enlists Columbo's help.
36 5 "Now You See Him..." Harvey Hart Michael Sloan 85 minutes February 29, 1976 (1976-02-29)
Jesse Jerome (Nehemiah Persoff) is the owner of the Cabaret of Magic, and headlines the Great Santini (Jack Cassidy), a magician extraordinaire. On the side, though, he's blackmailing Santini because he knows that Santini is really Sgt. Stefan Mueller, a former Nazi SS prison guard. To avoid being exposed, Mueller kills Jerome in the middle of his famed water tank escape act, thereby giving himself what he believes to be an airtight alibi. To do so, he sneaks out of a room where he hides during the act, makes his way through the cabaret's kitchen dressed as a waiter up to Jerome's office, shoots him, then returns to his act without anyone missing him. Robert Loggia portrays Harry Blandford, the club's maître d’ and Jerome's partner. The killer is unmasked by the used carbon ribbon on an IBM Selectric typewriter. This was Jack Cassidy's last Columbo episode.
37 6 "Last Salute to the Commodore" Patrick McGoohan Jackson Gillis 98 minutes May 2, 1976 (1976-05-02)

Commodore Otis Swanson (John Dehner) is a retired naval officer who owns a shipbuilding company, and is not happy with the shady dealings of his son-in-law Charles Clay (Robert Vaughn), who has turned the modest and upstanding business into a name-brand production line for status-seekers. Nor is he pleased with any of the people closest to him -- his alcoholic daughter Joanna Clay (Diane Baker), his middle-aged playboy nephew Swanny Swanson (Fred Draper), his lawyer Jonathan Kittering (Wilfrid Hyde-White), and his ship yard foreman Wayne Taylor (Joshua Bryant). He announces at his birthday party his intention to sell the company. That night, someone murders the Commodore. Although we don't see the murder on-screen, Clay is seen covering up the death by taking the Commodore's body out on his yacht at night and throwing it overboard. Columbo investigates with the help of a veteran sergeant and a 29-year-old novice. The detective's conviction that Clay committed the crime proves premature; when Clay himself turns up dead, Columbo realizes that someone else is responsible for both murders.

This episode departs from the usual Columbo format in several ways. First, the man implied to be the killer is not, and thus the episode becomes a true whodunit, with the actual murderer revealed at the end. Second, neither murder is shown. Third, Columbo's personality is atypically agitated, impatient and less amiable than in other episodes. Fourth, regular cliches such as "Just one more thing" and "Something's been botherin' me" are absent from this episode. Fifth, rather than working alone, Columbo works closely alongside two other police officers, who at times interrogate suspects. Finally, the episode departs from the usual style in presenting a far greater emphasis on comedy, including some minor slapstick elements, and features a far more light-hearted and less dramatic tone.

Season 6

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38 1 "Fade in to Murder" Bernard L. Kowalski Teleplay: Lou Shaw and Peter S. Feibleman
Story: Henry Garson
73 minutes October 10, 1976 (1976-10-10)
Egocentric actor Ward Fowler (William Shatner), who portrays Detective Lucerne on a weekly TV show, is being blackmailed by his producer and ex-paramour, Claire Daley (Lola Albright), over the fact that he was a deserter in the Korean War. Fowler decides to kill Claire. He drugs a friend staying at his house watching a baseball game, puts it on tape delay, then dons a ski mask and robs a delicatessen where Claire is shopping. After Fowler knocks the proprietor unconscious and takes Claire's money, he shoots her, then ditches the gun and mask. He begins stepping in and out of character to assist Columbo with the investigation. Claire Daley's secretary is played by Shera Danese, who would eventually marry star Peter Falk.[17] Walter Koenig guest stars as a police sergeant.
39 2 "Old Fashioned Murder" Robert Douglas Teleplay: Peter S. Feibleman
Story: Lawrence Vail
73 minutes November 28, 1976 (1976-11-28)
Ruth Lytton (Joyce Van Patten) kills her older brother Edward (Tim O'Connor) after he decides to sell the family business, the Lytton Museum, to which Ruth has devoted her entire life. She is assisted by Milton Schaffer, an ex-con who worked at the museum, whom she double-crosses and shoots when he comes to investigate the sound of a gunshot. Her plan is to make it look like the two men killed each other in the middle of an attempted robbery. Celeste Holm plays Ruth's older widowed sister, Mrs. Brandt, who faints whenever homicide is mentioned, and Jeannie Berlin plays Ruth's niece Janie Brandt. When she realizes Columbo doesn't fall for the staged robbery, Ruth, out of desperation, tries to frame Janie. Columbo figures out that Ruth also murdered Janie's father, Mr. Brandt, years ago, and he "forgets" this in exchange for Ruth confessing to the current murders. Jeannie Berlin is Elaine May's daughter.
40 3 "The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case" Sam Wanamaker Robert Malcolm Young 73 minutes May 22, 1977 (1977-05-22)
Bertie Hastings (Sorrell Booke) discovers that his friend, Oliver Brandt (Theodore Bikel), a senior partner in an accounting firm, has been embezzling money to support the lifestyle of his wife, Vivian (Samantha Eggar). Brandt plots an elaborate murder of Hastings at the Sigma Society, the headquarters of a Mensa-type club for geniuses, making it look like a burglary gone bad. Columbo uses Brandt's own Mensa-level intelligence and vanity to trap him. In her TV debut, Jamie Lee Curtis has a small role as a surly coffee-shop waitress. This was the last episode to air under the NBC Mystery Movie brand before it was cancelled.

Season 7

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41 1 "Try and Catch Me" James Frawley Teleplay: Gene Thompson & Paul Tuckahoe
Story: Gene Thompson
70 minutes November 21, 1977 (1977-11-21)
Mystery author Abigail Mitchell (Ruth Gordon) is convinced that her nephew-in-law, Edmund Galvin (Charles Frank), murdered his wife (Mitchell's niece) in a boating "accident" and got away with it. Mitchell asks him to retrieve something from her airtight walk-in safe, then locks him in it before flying off to New York. Columbo eventually solves the case by piecing together clues left by Galvin as he suffocated in the safe. The most incriminating is the title page of Mitchell's new manuscript, altered to read "I was murdered by Abigail Mitchell". After being arrested, Mitchell observes that if Columbo had been the one to investigate her niece's "disappearance" she would not have had to kill Edmund. Mariette Hartley plays Mitchell's trusted assistant, Veronica, who becomes embroiled in the crime.
42 2 "Murder Under Glass" Jonathan Demme Robert van Scoyk 73 minutes January 30, 1978 (1978-01-30)
Paul Gerard (Louis Jourdan) is a renowned restaurant critic. But he runs a lucrative side business where he extorts restaurant owners in return for good reviews. When one of them, Vittorio Rossi (Michael V. Gazzo), refuses to pay, Gerard kills him with a bottle of wine poisoned with fugu. Richard Dysart and France Nuyen also star. Antony Alda played the victim's nephew, Mario, who spoke only Italian. Falk's wife Shera Danese returns as Gerard's secretary/treasurer. Writer van Scoyk received an Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his teleplay. After Columbo gets the goods on him, he asks Gerard what he thinks of a meal he has just prepared, and the charming murderer says, "I wish you had been a chef.". This episode was the first television directorial work from Jonathan Demme, better known for his later film work on movies such as The Silence Of The Lambs and Philadelphia.
43 3 "Make Me a Perfect Murder" James Frawley Robert Blees 94 minutes February 25, 1978 (1978-02-25)
West Coast television production boss Mark McAndrews (Laurence Luckinbill) is promoted to a high-level position in New York. He fails to name his lover and logical successor, TV programmer Kay Freestone (Trish Van Devere), as his replacement, since he believes as a professional that she's not ready for the responsibilities. Her consolation prize is a new Mercedes. She's more interested in a gun he holds while jokingly inviting her to shoot him. Freestone takes him up on it during an important preview for a new made-for-TV movie called "The Professional" that she helped produce. She tricks the projectionist (James McEachin) by fiddling with the projector's timer and then sends him on an errand. Freestone sneaks up to McAndrews's office and shoots him, then returns to make the reel change successfully before the projectionist gets back. Patrick O'Neal plays Frank Flanagan, her boss. Van Devere's husband George C. Scott has an uncredited cameo as a technician.
44 4 "How to Dial a Murder" James Frawley Teleplay: Tom Lazarus
Story: Anthony Lawrence
70 minutes April 15, 1978 (1978-04-15)
Mind control (or, as the doctor corrects the detective, "life control") seminar guru Dr. Eric Mason (Nicol Williamson) uses two trained Doberman Pinschers, Laurel and Hardy, to kill "best friend" Dr. George Hunter (Joel Fabiani), who had been having an affair with Dr. Mason's now deceased wife. Kim Cattrall plays the resident of Mason's guest house who discovers the body. Ed Begley, Jr. has a minor role as an animal control officer and Tricia O'Neil plays a dog trainer.
45 5 "The Conspirators" Leo Penn Howard Berk
Based on an Idea by: Pat Robison
98 minutes May 13, 1978 (1978-05-13)

Joe Devlin (Clive Revill) is a renowned Irish poet, author, raconteur....and secret terrorist. He, along with his own family and the heads of O'Connell Industries, is secretly a fund-raiser and gun-runner for the Provisional Irish Republican Army. He raises money in Los Angeles for his radical cause through a charity ostensibly meant to help victims of terrorism. Despite his hypocrisy, Devlin has a strong belief in honor. Thus, when Vincent Pauley (Albert Paulsen), an arms dealer selling guns to Devlin, tries to skim off $50,000 for himself, Devlin shoots and kills Pauley for being a traitor. Now with Columbo hot on his trail, Devlin must find more guns and arrange their shipment out of the country. This was the last episode of the Columbo series broadcast on the NBC television network.

Columbo's last line is "This far, and no farther."

The ABC years (1989–2003)

Season 8

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46 1 "Columbo Goes to the Guillotine" Leo Penn William Read Woodfield 89 minutes February 6, 1989 (1989-02-06)

Elliott Blake (Anthony Andrews) is a "psychic" who is trying to convince the government to give him a lucrative contract based on his ESP abilities. He conspires with an old colleague, Max Dyson (Anthony Zerbe), a magician, to verify his prowess, but settles an old score with Dyson by tricking him into being decapitated by his own guillotine. Columbo has to solve the crime before the government whisks Blake beyond his reach, changing his identity. Karen Austin plays Dr. Paula Hall, Elliott Blake's research partner and lover. This is one of two Columbo episodes that feature magicians, the other being Now You See Him..., in which the magician was the murderer. It is also unusual in that Columbo himself discovers the murder victim, rather than appearing later after other officers have started working on the crime scene.

This was the first episode broadcast on the ABC network and was shown under the umbrella of The ABC Mystery Movie.[18]
47 2 "Murder, Smoke and Shadows" James Frawley Richard Alan Simmons 91 minutes February 27, 1989 (1989-02-27)
Boy genius Hollywood director Alex Brady (Fisher Stevens), prior to becoming a success, made a 16mm movie in which a young woman, Jenny Fisher, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Brady and his cameraman conspired to pretend that the woman never made it to the filming, leading the official investigation to conclude that it was an accidental death. Jenny's brother Leonard Fisher (Jeff Perry) shows up in Brady's office with a copy of a film that was left to him by Brady's recently deceased cameraman. Leonard vows to use the film to destroy Brady, who kills him, using one of his studio movie sets. Molly Hagan co-stars as Alex Brady's girlfriend, Ruth Jernigan.
48 3 "Sex and the Married Detective" James Frawley Jerry Ludwig 90 minutes April 3, 1989 (1989-04-03)
Sex therapist Dr. Joan Allenby (Lindsay Crouse) hosts a popular call-in radio show and has authored a best-selling self-help manual, The Courtesan Complex. She is also involved both professionally and personally with her business partner David Kincaid (Stephen Macht). That is, until late one night when Dr. Allenby makes an unexpected after-hours trip to her office and catches David in flagrante delicto with her assistant Cindy Galt (Julia Montgomery) in the therapy room. Dr. Allenby is incensed, and decides to kill David. To do so, she takes a page right out of her own book. She first disguises herself as a sexually aggressive, high-class prostitute named "Lisa," wearing a black wig and sexy black clothing, that she stashes in the women's bathroom of a fundraiser she's attending. During the fundraiser, she sneaks to the bathroom to change into her disguise. She then sneaks out in the disguise and goes over to a nearby bar where she's arranged for David to meet with her. Making sure to be seen, she tricks David into taking them both back to her clinic. Once there, she shoots him, then makes it look like the mystery "lady in black" committed the crime.
49 4 "Grand Deceptions" Sam Wanamaker Sy Salkowitz 89 minutes May 1, 1989 (1989-05-01)
Colonel Frank Brailie (Robert Foxworth) is running a paramilitary mercenary school owned by General Jack Padget (Stephen Elliott). Brailie is also having an affair with Padget's wife Jenny (Janet Eilber). Brailie is siphoning money from Padget's foundation into what he calls "The Special Projects Fund", which is secretly used to finance illegal dealings. The suspicious General asks an employee, Sgt. Major Lester Keegan (Andy Romano) to look into the matter. Keegan finds the evidence but decides to blackmail Brailie instead of reporting his findings. During a training exercise, also the night of the General's birthday party, Brailie sneaks into the merecenary camp, wearing a ski mask, and stabs Keegan, then puts the body on a landmine that is detonated. He sneaks back to the General's estate and makes it look like he was assembling a diorama of the Battle of Gettysburg at the time.

Season 9

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50 1 "Murder: A Self Portrait" James Frawley Robert Sherman 88 minutes November 25, 1989 (1989-11-25)
Temperamental artist Max Barsini (Patrick Bauchau) effectively lives with three women: his ex-wife, Louise (Fionnula Flanagan), his young live-in model Julie (Isabel García Lorca), and his current wife Vanessa (Shera Danese). Barsini takes delight in the way they fight for his attention. But when Louise begins seeing a therapist, Dr. Hammer (George Coe), who is also her new fiancé, Barsini fears she will reveal that he killed his first agent, who was robbing him. He kills Louise, then makes it look like she drowned at the beach while he was in his studio, painting. Columbo poses for Barsini while investigating him.
51 2 "Columbo Cries Wolf" Daryl Duke William Read Woodfield, Richard Levinson & William Link (uncredited) 90 minutes January 20, 1990 (1990-01-20)
When Diane Hunter (Deidre Hall), the partner of men's magazine publisher Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan), goes missing after expressing a desire to sell her 51% interest to a rival, suspicion falls on Brantley and his girlfriend Tina (Rebecca Staab). Columbo sets out to find the body, eventually digging up much of Brantley's estate. But once the event turns into a full-blown media event, Diane resurfaces, explaining she needed some time to herself. Sales and the magazine's value are increased by the controversy, but to Brantley's shock, she still intends to sell. He proceeds to then kill Hunter for real and hides the body, believing that Columbo won't fall for the same trick twice.
52 3 "Agenda for Murder" Patrick McGoohan Jeffrey Bloom 88 minutes February 10, 1990 (1990-02-10)
Oscar Finch (Patrick McGoohan) is a lawyer who uses underhanded methods to get his clients off, like coercing Paul Mackey (Denis Arndt), who worked for the D.A.'s office, into destroying evidence against racketeer Frank Staplin (Louis Zorich) in 1969. Twenty-one years later, Mackey is chosen by a presidential candidate, Governor Montgomery (Arthur Hill), to be his Vice Presidential running mate. Finch himself hopes that he might be appointed as the next Attorney General. Staplin, facing another indictment, threatens to expose the long-ago favor and ruin Finch's and Mackey's political futures if he doesn't arrange the destruction of another document. Finch decides to murder him. He scatters cigar ashes to make it seem he was in a late-night meeting with a contributor when the murder occurred. Finch walks to Staplin's house, shoots him and makes his death look like a suicide. McGoohan won a second Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, following his part in "By Dawn's Early Light". Columbo puts the bite on him, so to speak.
53 4 "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo" Vincent McEveety Peter S. Fischer 88 minutes March 31, 1990 (1990-03-31)

Vivian Dimitri (Helen Shaver) is a real-estate executive whose recently deceased husband had been sent to prison by Columbo. She seeks revenge by plotting to kill Columbo and his wife. But first she murders her boss, Charlie Chambers (Edward Winter), her husband's partner who avoided prison by informing on him. Vivian shoots Chambers in his office, using her affair with married Leland St. John (Ian McShane) to establish an alibi. Then she plants evidence to make it look like Chambers was killed by disgruntled residents of a new housing development. Her plan is then to kill the Columbos with a jar of poison marmalade. Roscoe Lee Browne plays her psychiatrist, Dr. Steadman.

Aired under the ABC Saturday Mystery.[19]
54 5 "Uneasy Lies the Crown" Alan J. Levi Steven Bochco 90 minutes April 28, 1990 (1990-04-28)
Dentist to the stars Dr. Wesley Corman (James Read) decides to get rid of his unfaithful wife Lydia (Jo Anderson) and use her money to support his gambling habit. So when Adam Evans (Marshall R. Teague), a Hollywood heartthrob having an affair with Corman's wife, comes under the dentist's care, Corman puts a time-release poison made from digitalis under a dental crown, one that takes effect just as Evans is making love to Corman's wife that evening, thereby framing her for the murder. Paul Burke co-stars as Horace Sherwin, Lydia's father, also a dentist.
55 6 "Murder in Malibu" Walter Grauman Jackson Gillis 92 minutes May 14, 1990 (1990-05-14)
Jess McCurdy (Brenda Vaccaro) fails to convince her sister, best-selling romance novelist Theresa Goren (Janet Margolin), to cancel her wedding to Wayne Jennings (Andrew Stevens), a playboy/tennis bum half her age and a golddigger. McCurdy impersonates her sister on the phone with Jennings and dumps him. Jennings reacts by killing Goren. Further complications ensue, leaving Columbo to untangle a plot that involves his surprisingly detailed familiarity with women's panties.

Season 10 and specials

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56 1 "Columbo Goes to College" E.W. Swackhamer Teleplay: Jeffrey Bloom
Story: Jeffrey Bloom and Frederick King Keller
December 9, 1990 (1990-12-09)
Criminology professor D.E. Rusk threatens to expel spoiled fraternity brothers Justin Rowe (Stephen Caffrey) and Cooper Redman (Gary Hershberger) [20] for cheating by stealing the final exam. The two students decide to kill Rusk instead. They use a note to lure him away from class and shoot him in the parking garage via a remote control gun installed in their pickup truck's engine while they are sitting in class listening to Columbo deliver a guest lecture, giving them an airtight alibi. The boys then plant evidence to make it look like the professor was killed because of a Mafia exposé on which he was working. Robert Culp returns to the series, playing Justin's powerful lawyer father. (This is the only time, in his four appearances, that Culp is not the killer. See Repeat Offenders.)
57 2 "Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health" Daryl Duke Sonia Wolf, Patricia Ford and April Raynell February 20, 1991 (1991-02-20)

Wade Anders (George Hamilton) is a former security expert and host of the popular America's Most Wanted-esque crime show CrimeAlert. One day, he gets an unexpected visit from his rival, chain-smoking newscaster Budd Clarke (Peter Haskell), whom he blocked from becoming the CrimeAlert host. Clarke has resented how he was snubbed in favor of Anders, but now, he's got some leverage that he hopes will get Anders out of the CrimeAlert chair: a porn video Anders starred in many years ago, and Clarke plans to go public with the tape unless Anders resigns from the show. Anders decides to kill him rather than be disgraced. He palms a pack of Clarke's cigarettes, which he doctors with a few drops of alkaloid poison nicotine sulfate. Anders then pays two visits to his production office -- once that night and again the next morning -- so a surveillance tape there will show him at the office all day. Anders then drives to Clarke's house, and switches a cigarette pack for the poisoned pack. Once Clarke takes one of the poisoned cigarettes and dies, Anders makes it look like Clarke had a heart attack at his desk.

Shown under the ABC Movie Special brand.[21]
58 3 "Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star" Alan J. Levi William Read Woodfield April 29, 1991 (1991-04-29)
Rock star Marcy Edwards (Cheryl Paris) has been having an affair for several years with high-priced murder lawyer Hugh Creighton (Dabney Coleman). One day, he learns that she's having an affair with someone else and throws her out of his house. However, Marcy blackmails Creighton into letting her stay, at least until he comes up with the $5 million she's demanding in exchange for not filing a palimony suit against him or exposing his unconventional methods. Creighton's response is to drug the champagne in her beach house and waits until she shows up there with her current lover. As Marcy does not drink, Creighton waits until her new lover is passed out, then he breaks her neck. Her lover awakens and flees the scene. Creighton enlists his associate, Trish Fairbanks (Shera Danese), to help him concoct an airtight alibi, but when she finds out what he's done, she blackmails him into a full partnership in the firm (even going the extra mile by creating a contingency plan that prevents Creighton from being able to kill her). Columbo cracks the case, despite the existence of a speeding ticket which appears to exonerate Creighton completely. Little Richard cameos as himself.
59 4 "Death Hits the Jackpot" Vincent McEveety Jeffrey Bloom December 15, 1991 (1991-12-15)
Down-on-his-luck photographer Freddy Brower (Gary Kroeger) wins a $30 million lottery. But he wants to keep the money a secret from his wife Nancy (Jamie Rose), who is divorcing him, so that she can't make a claim for the money. Freddy goes to his uncle, wealthy jeweler Leon Lamarr (Rip Torn), and convinces Lamarr to pretend that the lottery ticket is his until Freddy's divorce is finalized. Unfortunately, that's where Freddy's luck runs out: he doesn't know that his uncle has recently gone bankrupt, and is also having an affair with Nancy. Lamarr decides to kill Freddy in order to keep the lottery winnings for himself. He schedules a Halloween costume party at his house, during which he sneaks out to Freddy's apartment, knocks him out, undresses him, then drowns him in his bathtub. Betsy Palmer co-stars as Lamarr's wife.
60 5 "No Time to Die" Alan J. Levi Teleplay: Robert van Scoyk
Story: Ed McBain
March 15, 1992 (1992-03-15)

Columbo attends the wedding of his police officer nephew Andy Parma (Thomas Calabro). While Andy is showering, his new bride Melissa Alexandra Hayes (Joanna Going), a fashion model, is abducted from the bridal suite. Andy enlists Columbo's help in unraveling the case. She has been kidnapped by Rudy Strassa (Daniel McDonald), a psychopath who intends to kill her once he consummates "their" marriage. Based on a story by Ed McBain (actually the 87th Precinct novel So Long As You Both Shall Live, though not credited as such). An uncharacteristically dark story, with little of the humor normally present, this is the only episode where no murder takes place and Columbo doesn't meet the criminal.

Aired under ABC Sunday Night Movie.[22]
61 6 "A Bird in the Hand..." Vincent McEveety Jackson Gillis November 22, 1992 (1992-11-22)
Given a deadline to pay his debts, or else, chronic gambler Harold McCain (Greg Evigan) plants a bomb under the Rolls-Royce of his uncle, professional football team owner Big Fred (Steve Forrest). However, someone else gets to Big Fred before Harold's bomb does by stealing the gardener's pickup truck and running him over while he's jogging. Harold's main concern now becomes preventing the bomb exploding and possibly even killing someone, and sure enough, it does just that when the gardener tries to move the Rolls Royce out of the way of the TV camera crews. Fred's wife Dolores (Tyne Daly) is having a good time as Fred's team's owner, but after Harold tries to squeeze her for money, he is shot dead in his cabin, making it obvious who is responsible. Much like "Last Salute to the Commodore," the real killer is not revealed until near the end, and both murders occur off screen; both episodes were scripted by Columbo veteran Jackson Gillis (this was his final contribution to the series).
62 7 "It's All in the Game" Vincent McEveety Peter Falk October 31, 1993 (1993-10-31)

Wealthy socialite Lauren Staton (Faye Dunaway) and her daughter Lisa Martin (Claudia Christian) conspire to murder their abusive, two-timing lover Nick Franco (Armando Pucci). Lauren does the actual murder by going to Franco's apartment and shooting him. Lisa then stays in the apartment, keeping the body warm for several hours with an electric blanket until Lauren returns with the building manager (Bill Macy). While they're knocking on the door, Lisa fires a shot into the air, then flees through the patio. Lauren takes all the heat from Columbo in order to protect Lisa, even going so far as to romance him; after he (along with the viewer) finally learns that Lisa is Lauren's daughter, he buys Lauren's confession by advising Lisa to flee to Europe. Dunaway won an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for this. This is the only episode written by Falk.

Aired under ABC Sunday Night Movie.[23]
63 8 "Butterfly in Shades of Grey" Dennis Dugan Peter S. Fischer January 10, 1994 (1994-01-10)
Domineering radio host Fielding Chase (William Shatner) faces a crisis when his ward, 25-year-old Victoria Chase (Molly Hagan), decides to spread her wings and leave for New York. Chase is a national celebrity thanks to his call-in radio show and while Victoria works as his producer, his affection for her runs deep. An ex-employee, the homosexual Gerry Winters (Jack Laufer), has been encouraging Victoria and has even found a literary agent for her book. Chase decides to kill Winters. He first instructs Winters to call him at a certain time. Exactly at that appointed hour, Chase drives to Winters' house and sneaks inside. Winters makes the phone call, unaware that Chase is actually behind him in the same room. Once the phone goes to voicemail, Chase picks up an extension in another room of Winters' house and begins speaking with him. At that point, Chase enters the next room and shoots Winters, then makes it look like Winters was shot by a gay lover. A cell phone is a key to Columbo's solution of the crime. After three unconventional episodes, Butterfly in Shades of Grey marked a return to the standard Columbo style.
64 9 "Undercover" Vincent McEveety Teleplay: Gerry Day
Story: Ed McBain
May 2, 1994 (1994-05-02)
Irving Krutch (Ed Begley, Jr.), a crooked insurance investigator, enlists the help of Columbo to solve a series of murders that starts when two men, each of whom possesses a piece of a photograph, kill each other in a burglary gone wrong. Some years back a group of four men robbed a bank, but all of them were killed by the police in a shootout after they were caught in a car accident. But before they died, they hid their loot somewhere which can only be found through the assembled photograph. Columbo must go undercover to recover some of the pieces, solve some murders to get some others, and all the while trying to figure out what Krutch might be after. This installment departs from the usual format by not revealing the culprit until the end of the show. Based on a story by Ed McBain (actually the 87th Precinct novel Jigsaw, though not credited thus). Unlike the previous episode based on McBain source material, No Time To Die, this features a regular character from the 87th Precinct series, Arthur Brown (played here by Harrison Page).
65 10 "Strange Bedfellows" Vincent McEveety Lawrence Vail May 8, 1995 (1995-05-08)
Graham McVeigh (George Wendt) is a thoroughbred ranch owner, and he is tired of his brother Teddy being in constant debt to mob bookie and restaurateur Bruno Romano. He decides to kill Teddy and frame Romano for the crime. To do so, Graham makes Teddy take a big loss at the race track by drugging his own horse so that it loses, leaving Teddy in deeper debt to Romano. Graham then disguises himself and goes to Romano's restaurant, where he sets mice loose in a bathroom. While Romano is distracted setting traps for the mice, Graham calls Teddy from a restaurant phone so that the phone records will suggest Romano called to set up a meeting. Graham and Teddy then drive out to a secluded section of road. Under the pretense of getting fresh air, Graham gets out, walks around the car, steps up to Teddy's window and shoots him, then rides home on a folding bike he stashed in the trunk. The next day, Graham invites Romano to come out to the ranch, ostensibly to pay Teddy's debt. When Romano looks at a briefcase containing the money, Graham shoots him, switches Romano's revolver for the identical murder gun, and makes it look like self-defense. Romano's boss Vincenzo Fortelli (Rod Steiger) becomes involved, exerting pressure on McVeigh. To solve the crime before Fortelli takes matters into his own hands, Columbo must work with the gangster.
66 11 "A Trace of Murder" Vincent McEveety Charles Kipps May 15, 1997 (1997-05-15)

Cathleen Calvert (Shera Danese, in her sixth and final appearance) and her lover, crime scene investigator Patrick Kinsley (David Rasche), are weary of having to see each other on the sly, because she can't divorce her husband, rich businessman Clifford Calvert (Barry Corbin), due to their prenuptial agreement. So they scheme to get him out of the way by killing Howard Seltzer (Raye Birk), an investment broker who is suing him, then framing Clifford for the murder. To do so, Patrick drives to Seltzer's house and tricks Seltzer into letting him inside by claiming that his car phone has died and that he has to make an urgent phone call. Patrick then shoots Seltzer and plants evidence to suggest that Clifford was responsible. Columbo's work is cut out for him, because Patrick is on the team handling the investigation.

Billed as the "25th Anniversary Movie", it aired under ABC Thursday Night Movie.[24]
67 12 "Ashes to Ashes" Patrick McGoohan Jeffrey Hatcher October 8, 1998 (1998-10-08)
Patrick McGoohan stars in and directs his final appearance, his fourth time playing the murderer. As funeral director to the stars Eric Prince, he murders gossip columnist Verity Chandler (Rue McClanahan) when she attends his latest funeral, that of actor and war hero Chuck Houston. Chandler has informed Prince that her next exposé will be about how 20 years ago, he stole a valuable diamond from the body of a deceased silent film star. Prince bludgeons Chandler with a tool in his storage room, then hides the body in a compartment used for corpses. After the funeral, Prince takes the casket containing Houston's body to the preparation room, where he puts Chandler's body into the casket in its place. It next enters the cremation oven, and afterwards, the ashes are scattered by helicopter over the Hollywood hills. Prince then goes to Chandler's house and fakes evidence of her abduction. So no one will become suspicious, he cremates Houston's body by piggybacking him onto another corpse scheduled to be cremated. Sally Kellerman plays the dead man's widow, Liz Houston, and Catherine McGoohan, the real-life daughter of Patrick McGoohan, plays Rita, Prince's assistant.
68 13 "Murder With Too Many Notes" Patrick McGoohan Teleplay: Jeffrey Cava and Patrick McGoohan
Story: Jeffrey Cava
March 12, 2001 (2001-03-12)

Hollywood film composer and conductor Findlay Crawford (Billy Connolly) has been mentor to a talented young composer, Gabriel McEnery (Chad Willett), who has been ghostwriting most of Crawford's work for the last few years. Gabe even penned Crawford's last movie score, which won an Oscar. Crawford realizes he will be ruined and ridiculed if it ever becomes known. Aware that Gabe practices on the roof of a studio building, Crawford plots his murder. He promises Gabe will get to conduct the orchestra during a concert based on Crawford's "own" movie scores. While giving a toast, Crawford drugs Gabe, then takes his body up to his rooftop rehearsal place, which happens to be atop a trapdoor to a freight elevator. He makes it look like Gabe was there rehearsing, With the concert about to begin, Crawford starts the freight elevator, then makes it into the concert hall in time to begin conducting before the elevator reaches the top. When the elevator doors open, Gabe's unconscious body is pushed over the side and falls to his death, landing in front of a late-arriving couple.

Aired under Monday Night Movie.[25]
69 14 "Columbo Likes the Nightlife" Jeffrey Reiner Michael Alaimo January 30, 2003 (2003-01-30)

Los Angeles rave promoter Justin Price (Matthew Rhys) helps his girlfriend Vanessa (Jennifer Sky) get rid of the corpse of her ex-husband, mobster Tony Galper, who was backing Price's new club, after he drops dead in Vanessa's apartment. He disposes of the body for her but unknown to him, tabloid photographer Linwood Coben secretly photographs him getting rid of the body. He tells Price he can have the negatives and prints for $250,000 and Price agrees to pay him. They meet that evening but Price instead kills him and makes it look like a suicide.
The club scenes use two tracks from the album "Tweekend" by The Crystal Method.

This was the final episode of Columbo. It aired under ABC Thursday Night At The Movies.[26]

Repeat offenders

Here is a list of the actors who starred as murderers in more than one episode.

  • Patrick McGoohan starred in four episodes as the murderer: By Dawn's Early Light (Emmy Award) (1974), Identity Crisis (1975), Agenda for Murder (Emmy Award) (1990), and Ashes to Ashes (1998).
  • Jack Cassidy starred in three episodes as the murderer: Murder by the Book (1971), Publish or Perish (1974), and Now You See Him... (1976).
  • Robert Culp starred in three episodes as the murderer: Death Lends a Hand (1971), The Most Crucial Game (1972), and Double Exposure (1973). Also appeared in one episode as the father of the murderer: Columbo Goes to College (1990).
  • George Hamilton starred in two episodes as the murderer: A Deadly State of Mind (1975), and Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health (1991).
  • William Shatner starred in two episodes as the murderer: Fade in to Murder (1976) and Butterfly in Shades of Grey (1994).

Index of killers by episode

Pilot episodes

Season 1 (1971–1972)

Season 2 (1972–1973)

Season 3 (1973–1974)

Season 4 (1974–1975)

Season 5 (1975–1976)

Season 6 (1976–1977)

Season 7 (1977–1978)

Season 8 (1989)

Season 9 (1989–1990)

Season 10 and specials (1990–2003)


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  12. UK DVD Cover shows the complete collection
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  20. There is a Wikipedia article in Danish about him that can be translated automatically by Google Translate.
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  22. "ABC SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE: COLUMBO: NO TIME TO DIE (TV)". The Paley Center For Media. Retrieved September 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "ABC SUNDAY NIGHT MOVIE: COLUMBO: IT'S ALL IN THE GAME (TV)". The Paley Center For Media. Retrieved September 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "ABC THURSDAY NIGHT MOVIE: COLUMBO: TRACE OF MURDER (TV)". The Paley Center For Media. Retrieved September 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "MONDAY NIGHT MOVIE: COLUMBO: MURDER WITH TOO MANY NOTES {TAPE 1 OF 2} (TV)". The Paley Center For Media. Retrieved September 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. "ABC THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES: COLUMBO: COLUMBO LIKES THE NIGHTLIFE (TV)". The Paley Center For Media. Retrieved September 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Dawidziak, Mark (1989). The Columbo Phile : A Casebook. New York: Mysterious Press. ISBN 978-0-89296-984-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

After two pilot episodes, the show originally aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978 as one of the rotating programs of The NBC Mystery Movie. Columbo then aired less regularly on ABC beginning in 1989 under the umbrella of The ABC Mystery Movie.[1] The last film was broadcast in 2003 as part of ABC Thursday Night at the Movies.[2]

In almost every episode the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning and knows the identity of the culprit, typically an affluent member of society. Once Columbo enters the story, viewers watch him solve the case by sifting through the contradictions between the truth and the version presented to him by the killer. This style of mystery is sometimes referred to as a "howcatchem," in contrast to the traditional whodunit.

Episodes tend to be driven by their characters, the audience observing the criminal's reaction to Columbo's increasingly intrusive presence. In some cases, the killer's arrogance and dismissive attitude allow Columbo to manipulate his suspects into self-incrimination. While details of the murderer's actions are shown to the viewer, Columbo's true thoughts and intentions are almost never revealed until near the end of the episode. Columbo generally maintains a friendly relationship with the murderer until the end. The point at which the detective first begins to suspect the murderer is generally not revealed, leaving the true motivations for his actions for the viewer to decide. In some instances, such as Ruth Gordon's avenging mystery writer in "Try and Catch Me", Faye Dunaway's mother avenging her abused daughter in "It's All in the Game," Janet Leigh's terminally ill actress in "Forgotten Lady", or Donald Pleasence's vintner in "Any Old Port in a Storm", the killer is more sympathetic than the victim or victims.[3]

Each case is generally concluded in a similar style, with Columbo dropping any pretense of uncertainty and sharing details of his conclusion of the killer's guilt. Following the killer's reaction, the episode generally ends with the killer confessing or quietly submitting to arrest.

There are few attempts to deceive the viewer or provide a twist in the tale. One exception is "Last Salute to the Commodore", where Robert Vaughn is seen elaborately disposing of a body, but is proved later to be covering for his alcoholic wife, whom he mistakenly thought to be the murderer.[4]

Development and character profile

The Stahl House served as the filming location of the first Columbo pilot "Prescription: Murder"

The character of Columbo was created by William Link, who said that Columbo was partially inspired by the Crime and Punishment character Porfiry Petrovich as well as G. K. Chesterton's humble cleric-detective Father Brown. Other sources claim Columbo's character is also influenced by Inspector Fichet from the French suspense-thriller film Les Diaboliques (1955).[5]

The character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television-anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, titled "Enough Rope". This was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story "May I Come In", which had been published as "Dear Corpus Delicti" in an issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. The short story did not include Columbo as a character.[6] The first actor to portray Columbo, character actor Bert Freed, was a stocky character actor with a thatch of grey hair.

Freed's Columbo wore a rumpled suit and smoked a cigar, but he otherwise had few of the other now-familiar Columbo mannerisms. However, the character is still recognizably Columbo, and uses some of the same methods of misdirecting and distracting his suspects. During the course of the show, the increasingly frightened murderer brings pressure from the district attorney's office to have Columbo taken off the case, but the detective fights back with his own contacts.

Although Freed received third billing, he wound up with almost as much screen time as the killer and appeared immediately after the first commercial. This delayed entry of the character into the narrative of the screen play became a defining characteristic of the structure of the Columbo series. This teleplay is available for viewing in the archives of the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.

Levinson and Link then adapted the TV drama into the stage play Prescription: Murder. This was first performed at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco on January 2, 1962, with Oscar-winning character actor Thomas Mitchell in the role of Columbo. Mitchell was 70 years old at the time. The stage production starred Joseph Cotten as the murderer and Agnes Moorehead as the victim. Mitchell died of cancer while the play was touring in out-of-town tryouts; Columbo was his last role.

The NBC Mystery Movie program worked on a rotating basis – one per month from each of its shows. Top left: Dennis Weaver in McCloud. Top right: Richard Boone in Hec Ramsey. Bottom left: Peter Falk in Columbo. Bottom right: Rock Hudson in McMillan & Wife

In 1968, the same play was made into a two-hour television movie that aired on NBC. The writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role of Columbo, but Cobb was unavailable and Crosby turned it down because he felt it would take too much time away from the golf links. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Falk, who wanted the role, could pull it off even though he was much younger than the writers had in mind.[7]

Originally a one-off TV-Movie-of-the-Week, Prescription: Murder has Falk's Columbo pitted against a psychiatrist (Gene Barry). Due to the success of this film, NBC requested that a pilot for a potential series be made to see if the character could be sustained on a regular basis, leading to the 1971 hour and a half film, Ransom for a Dead Man, with Lee Grant playing the killer. The popularity of the second film prompted the creation of a regular series on NBC, that premiered in the fall of 1971 as part of The NBC Mystery Movie wheel series rotation: McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and other whodunits.

According to TV Guide, the original plan was that a new Columbo episode would air every week, but as a motion picture star, Peter Falk refused to commit to such an arduous schedule, which would have meant shooting an episode every five days. The network arranged for the Columbo segments to air once a month on Wednesday nights. The high quality of Columbo, McMillan & Wife, and McCloud was due in large part to the extra time spent on each episode. The term wheel show was coined to describe this format, and additional such series were attempted by NBC, but the astounding success of The NBC Mystery Movie series was not repeated.

Columbo was an immediate hit in the Nielsen ratings and Falk won an Emmy Award for his role in the show's first season. In its second year the Mystery Movie series was moved to Sunday nights, where it then remained during its seven-season run. The show became the anchor of NBC's Sunday night line up. Columbo aired regularly from 1971–78 on NBC. After its cancellation by NBC in 1978 Columbo was revived on ABC between 1989 and 2003 in several new seasons and a few made-for-TV movie "specials".[8]

Columbo's wardrobe was personally provided by Peter Falk; they were his own clothes, including the high-topped shoes and the shabby raincoat, which made its first appearance in Prescription: Murder. Falk would often ad lib his character's idiosyncrasies (fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence and discovering a grocery list, asking to borrow a pencil, becoming distracted by something irrelevant in the room at a dramatic point in a conversation with a suspect, etc.), inserting these into his performance as a way to keep his fellow actors off-balance. He felt it helped to make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo's antics more genuine.[9]

A few years prior to his death, Falk had expressed interest in returning to the role. In 2007 he claimed he had chosen a script for one last Columbo episode, "Columbo: Hear No Evil". The script was renamed "Columbo's Last Case". ABC declined the project. In response, producers for the series announced that they were attempting to shop the project to foreign production companies.[10][11] However, Falk was diagnosed with dementia in late 2007.[12] During a 2009 court trial over Falk's care, Dr Stephen Read stated that the actor's condition had deteriorated so badly that Falk could no longer remember playing a character named Columbo, nor could he identify who Columbo was.[12] Falk died on June 23, 2011, aged 83.[13][14][15]


Directors and writers

The first season première "Murder by the Book" was written by Steven Bochco and directed by Steven Spielberg. Jonathan Demme directed the seventh season episode "Murder Under Glass". Jonathan Latimer was also a writer. Actor Ben Gazzara, a friend of Falk's, directed the episodes "A Friend in Deed" (1974) and "Troubled Waters" (1975).

Falk himself directed the last episode of the first season, "Blueprint for Murder". Actor Nicholas Colasanto, best known for playing Coach on Cheers, directed two episodes, "Swan Song" with Johnny Cash, and "Étude in Black".

Patrick McGoohan directed five episodes (including three of the four in which he played the murderer) and wrote and produced two (including one of these). Vincent McEveety was a frequent director, and homage was paid to him by a humorous mention of a character with his surname in the episode "Undercover" (which he directed).

Two episodes, "No Time to Die" and "Undercover", were based on the 87th Precinct novels by Ed McBain,[16] and thus do not strictly follow the standard Columbo/inverted detective story format.

Score composers

Columbo episodes contain a variety of music that contributes to the uniqueness of each. The score becomes of particular importance during turning points of the plots. "The Mystery Movie Theme" by Henry Mancini written for the NBC Mystery Movie was used extensively in the whole of 38 episodes, from 1971 to 1977. Unlike the other elements of the Mystery Movie wheel, Columbo never had an official theme as such, although some composers did write their own signature pieces (such as Dick DeBenedictis and Gil Mellé). Several composers created original music for the series, that was often used along with "The Mystery Movie Theme":

Series Music department included:

  • Henry Mancini — composer: "Mystery Movie" theme / "Sunday Mystery Movie" theme (38 episodes, 1971–77)
  • Hal Mooney — music supervisor (27 episodes, 1972–76)
  • Mike Post — composer: "Mystery Movie" theme (9 episodes, 1989–90)

Patrick Williams received two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series in 1978 (for "Try and Catch Me") and 1989 (for "Murder, Smoke and Shadows"). Billy Goldenberg was nominated in the same category in 1972 for "Lady in Waiting".

Columbo also featured an unofficial signature tune, the children's song "This Old Man". It was introduced in the episode "Any Old Port in a Storm" in 1973 and the detective can be heard humming or whistling it often in subsequent films. Peter Falk admitted that it was a melody he personally enjoyed and one day it became a part of his character.[17] The tune was also used in various score arrangements throughout the three decades of the series, including opening and closing credits. A version of it, titled "Columbo", was created by one of the show's composers, Patrick Williams.[18]

Awards and nominations

Columbo received numerous awards and nominations from 1971 to 2005, including 13 Emmys, two Golden Globes, two Edgar Awards and a TV Land Award nomination in 2005 for Peter Falk.[19]

Home media releases

DVD releases

As of January 10, 2012, Universal Studios Home Entertainment had released all 69 episodes of Columbo on DVD.[20] The episodes are released in the same chronological order as they were originally broadcast. On October 16, 2012, Universal released Columbo — The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.[21]

Because the Columbo episodes from 1989 to 2003 were aired very infrequently, different DVD sets have been released around the world. In many Region 2 and Region 4 countries, all episodes have now been released as ten seasons, with the tenth season covering the last 14 shows from "Columbo Goes to College" (1990) to the most recent "Columbo Likes the Nightlife" (2003). However, in France, and The Netherlands (also Region 2), the DVDs were grouped differently and released as twelve seasons.

In Region 1, all episodes from seasons 8 are grouped differently; all the episodes that were originally aired on ABC were released under the title COLUMBO: The Mystery Movie Collection.

Season Eps. Year DVD release
DVD name Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Pilots 2 1968–71 The Complete First Season September 7, 2004 September 13, 2004 December 3, 2004
1 7 1971–72
2 8 1972–73 The Complete Second Season March 8, 2005 July 18, 2005 July 13, 2005
3 8 1973–74 The Complete Third Season August 9, 2005 November 14, 2005 July 20, 2006
4 6 1974–75 The Complete Fourth Season March 14, 2006 September 18, 2006 September 19, 2006
5 6 1975–76 The Complete Fifth Season June 27, 2006 February 12, 2007 March 21, 2007
6 3 1976–77 The Complete Sixth & Seventh Seasons November 21, 2006 April 30, 2007 May 2, 2007
7 5 1977–78
8 4 1989 The Mystery Movie Collection 1989 (R1/R4)
The Complete Eighth Season (R2)
April 24, 2007 March 31, 2008 July 4, 2008
9 6 1989–90 The Mystery Movie Collection 1990 (R1)
The Complete Ninth Season (R2/R4)
February 3, 2009 March 30, 2009 May 6, 2009
10 +
14 1990–93 The Mystery Movie Collection 1991–93 (R1)
The Complete Tenth Season – Volume 1 (R2/R4)
February 8, 2011[22] June 15, 2009 July 28, 2009
1994–2003 The Mystery Movie Collection 1994–2003 (R1)
The Complete Tenth Season – Volume 2 (R2/R4)
January 10, 2012[23] July 27, 2009 November 28, 2009
Complete series 69 1968–2003 Columbo: The Complete Series October 16, 2012 October 19, 2009 December 7, 2016

Blu-ray release

To commemorate the death of Peter Falk,[citation needed] the complete series was released on Blu-ray in Japan as a ten-season set, taken from new HD masters and original 1.33:1 (4:3) aspect ratio (1989–2003 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 (16:9)[citation needed]).[24] The set contains 35 discs and is presented in a faux-wooden cigar box. It features a brochure with episode details, and a script for the Japanese version of Prescription: Murder. Special features include the original 96-minute version of Étude In Black and the original NBC Mystery Movie title sequence. In addition, many episodes include isolated music and sound-effects tracks.[25] Before the release of this set, only the episodes up to Murder, a Self-Portrait were released on DVD in Japan.


Seasons one through seven had been available for streaming from Netflix, but as of January 2017 Netflix offered only the DVD version.

Other appearances


The Columbo character first appeared on stage in 1962 in "Prescription: Murder" with Thomas Mitchell in the role of Columbo.

In 2010, Prescription: Murder, was revived for a tour of the United Kingdom with Dirk Benedict and later John Guerrasio as Columbo.[26]


Falk appeared as Columbo in a faux episode of Alias produced for a 2003 TV special celebrating the 50th anniversary of ABC.

Falk appeared in character as Columbo in 1977 at The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Frank Sinatra.


File:Detective Columbo in Case Closed.jpg
Columbo, as he appeared in volume 7 of Detective Conan

A Columbo series of books was published by MCA Publishing in 1972 by authors Alfred Lawrence, Henry Clements and Lee Hays, mostly adapted from the TV series.[27]

Columbo was also used as the protagonist for a series of novels published between 1994 and 1999 by Forge Books, an imprint of Tor Books. All of these books were written by William Harrington.

William Link, the co-creator of the series, has written a collection of Columbo short stories, entitled The Columbo Collection, which was published in May 2010 by Crippen & Landru, the specialty mystery publisher.[28]

The Columbo character is highlighted in volume 7 of the Detective Conan manga edition of Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library. Columbo was briefly mentioned in the anime adaptation in the episode "The Forgotten Cellphone Part 2" when Conan said one of Columbo's lines: "You know, my wife says...".

Columbo was briefly mentioned in a 1990 chapter of the long-running manga, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, where the main character Jotaro Kujo begins to suspect the actions of a suspicious old woman. He mentions to her that he couldn't sleep at night if he had doubts, because he frequently watched Columbo as a child.


Peter Falk statue as Columbo with his Dog in Budapest, Hungary

A statue of Lieutenant Columbo and his dog was unveiled in 2014 on Miksa Falk Street in Budapest, Hungary.[29] According to Antal Rogán, then-district mayor of the city, Peter Falk may have been related to Hungarian writer and politician Miksa Falk, although there is no evidence yet to prove it.[30]


A podcast about Columbo was launched in 2014, primarily considering episodes of the television series.[31]

Mrs. Columbo spin-off

Mrs. Columbo, a spin-off TV series starring Kate Mulgrew, aired in 1979 and was canceled after only thirteen episodes. Lt. Columbo was never seen on Mrs. Columbo; each episode featured the resourceful Mrs. Columbo solving a murder mystery she encountered in her work as a newspaper reporter. Connections with the original Columbo series were made obvious: the glaring presence of Columbo's car in the driveway, Dog, and Mrs. Columbo emptying ashtrays containing the famous green cigar butts—all featured in the show's opening sequence. References were also made to Kate's husband being a police lieutenant.

See also


  1. "ABC MYSTERY MOVIE, THE: COLUMBO: COLUMBO GOES TO THE GUILLOTINE (TV)". The Paley Center For Media. Retrieved September 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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External links