January 5th, 2012
01:43 PM ET
Angela Lansbury is Turner Classic Movies' Star of the Month for January, and while she's appeared in a wide variety of projects, her name is practically synonymous with "Murder, She Wrote." (TCM, by the way, is owned by the same parent company as CNN.)
If you don't recall the series, "Murder, She Wrote" was an hour-long program about a mystery writer named Jessica Fletcher (Lansbury), who lived in Cabot Cove, Maine and regularly stumbled upon dead bodies.
The fact that she was rarely seen writing (outside of the opening), was hardly in Cabot Cove, and was almost never the one who found the body was never important.
A hit in the U.S., it also had a loyal following around the world with titles like "The Detective Writer" (Greece), "Murderous Lines" (Hungary) and "Aunt Jessica's Case Files" (Japan).
Perhaps most bizarrely, the show was titled "Murder Is Her Hobby" in Austria, which pretty much confirms the popular theory that Jessica Fletcher remains the world's greatest serial killer.
Thanks to my nerdom, I've amassed a knowledge about this show that's larger than anyone should have about any program.
(You know when you flip past the Hallmark Channel and think to yourself, "Who the heck watches a 'Murder, She Wrote' marathon?" That person would be me. And that passenger on the Jet Blue flight who was shouting obscenities because they landed before the episode of "Murder, She Wrote" was over? Also me.)
For example, the "1st White Tough" who roughs up Jessica Fletcher in the show's pilot? A young Andy Garcia.
And Harry Pierce, the real estate agent played by John Astin, was on multiple episodes before he actually ever killed anyone.
Looking back, it's incredible just how slow the show was - the murder didn't happen until more than halfway through the episode.
You learned about the characters (one of them was probably Jessica's screw-up nephew), you felt for them (Jessica's screw-up nephew could never hold a job or a girl), and then you found out one of them had been brutally murdered (don't worry, never Jessica's screw-up nephew).
It's the type of slow burn that would never happen on one of today's detective shows (although it should be noted that the murders happen much faster in the book series), but "Murder, She Wrote" did shape and inspire the TV shows and films that came after it.
Before he played detective-priest (or is it priest-detective?) Father Dowling, Tom Bosley was a sheriff in Cabot Cove. Jerry Orbach starred opposite Lansbury as private detective Harry McGraw before he was ever Lenny Briscoe (or teamed up with Lansbury again to play Lumière, for that matter). And Rick Castle isn't the first TV character to publish a book in the real world.
But even though every episode concluded with Jessica laughing, she didn't get the last laugh in the end.
In 1995, when CBS moved the show from Sundays to Thursdays (up against NBC's "Friends"), Lansbury's long-running series ended up getting the ax a year later.
So, what did the writers and producers do?
They wrote an episode about the murder of a TV producer working on a show about a group of 20-somethings called "Buds."
Unless your grandchildren printed this off for you, you’re probably reading this on a computer - in which case you might be too young to remember “Murder, She Wrote." But for those of you who do remember, what were your favorite episodes/storylines? And if you're a die-hard fan like myself, don't miss this iReport interview with "Murder, She Wrote" creator Peter S. Fischer.
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