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.
The series was so popular, it moved beyond TV, spawning an amazing board game, an attraction at Universal Studios in Florida and even (kinda) a reggae song.
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.
I love it, they show it on ITV3 in the UK – I so wish they'd make some more. (Cabot Cove based not New York please!) My fav episode ever – "if it's Thursday it must be Beverly".
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I'm 28, I grew up on Murder She Wrote, still love it to this day. Jessica Fletcher rocks. Angela deserves an Academy Award one day. She's an amazing actress.
This show was and is a classic. I am 25 but I watched it all the time with my grandmother. Whenever I get a chance to watch the reruns I do. Its a fun show.
Bill – Perhaps you should not judge other's writing abilities until you master the craft yourself.
Yes I am 26 and YES I am a diehard fan! Angela Lansbury is the best. She played an inquisitive and independent woman with friends all over the world. Of course many of those friends wind of dead or found guilty... but still, MSW will always be one of my absolute favorites.
Thx for recognizing this classic!
I love this show – its on every night at 7pm and I hardly ever miss it!
To me it is very sad. That to be dredging up this show, which I found repitious in its reused storylines, borrowed from other Quine Martin productions or the fugitive or wherever they got them; makes you wonder what does the writer have to be thinking? The writing was old and tired and attracted the same geriatric viewers. No fresh ideas ever and I was glad to see that waist of time go to the wayside. As for the writer of this piece , why? Why would you even write this article, what was your intent to convey, I view reading with a point and I see none in this piece rather than to waist time and put something in to be published, crap in short. Contact me if you wish I would honestly like to hear your reasoning!
I think you mean "waste." Twice.
I must admit, I stay up after my bed time to watch at least one episode of MSW on Hallmark. She was just great; George Clooney has been on MSW. I can't name just one episode, they all are great!!!!
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Am an avid fan in my early 30's!! Still watch it on hallmark and TVland! Thank God for DVR. Too bad for my husband though!! So many now famous actors/actresses had various guest spots on this show. It's funny to see how they all started out on a show that many of this generation may not find so interesting. Regardless, this was a good wholesome tv show that one could watch with the entire family. :) sadly not many of those around any longer....
How about Courtney Cox playing Jessica's niece whose getting married just as murder interrupts? I can remember Megan Mullaley being a guest once, too. MSW is a show I will always stop and watch, along with Matlock. My husband mocks me that I must be a senior citizen. I love Lansbury, I flew to NYC to see her on Broadway two years ago. One of my fav old movies is Harveys Girls with Judy Garland. PS, I'm 30 years old.
Angela Lansbury is one of the greatest actresses of her time. It's a shame really that despite her 67 years career in show business that includes 50 films, 17 plays and musicals, 3 Oscar nominations, 18 Emmy nominations, 5 Tony Awards, and 6 Golden Globes awards most people out there only know her as Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote.
It's amazing how to this day at age 86 Ms. Lansbury still working and is about to return to a Broadway stage with a new play.
I guess I am one of the rare people who've seen Ms. Lansbury in many movies and her show, "Murder She Wrote". She has also done Movies for Disney. And Her son was the original Dano on the original Hawaii 5-0. She is an awesome Actress. and I am only 53.
I am more shocked to know that Jerry Orbach voiced Lumiere.
Lumiere was a closeted g@y, and Orbach is a Neocon. Surprising that.
I had the marathon on Sunday and watched a few episodes in parts. Imagine my surprise to see Jim Caviezel and Ben Browder! And on other episodes even Bill Maher. This seems like the show to start on in the '80s like "Twilight Zone" in the '60s (how many episodes was William Shatner in?") and the Law and Order franchise in the '90s. Fun to watch. Lots of guest spots by other known actors and lots of "there's someone who will go places someday".
I LOVE this show! I still catch the reruns on the Hallmark station. I don't know, there's something comfortable about it maybe. One of my games when watching, is spotting actors on MSW that also had a cameo on Golden Girls or Seinfeld (later episodes). I know, very nerdy! Or spotting actors that played more than one character on the long running series. One trivia question I'd like to know is, how many murders have happened in that tiny town of Cabot Cove!? Too funny. Good article!
My grandmother loved MSW!! I recently came across a cross-over episode MSW did with Magnum, P.I. Fun stuff!
I thought the old hag was dead by now. Probably a little dry in the thighs.
I grew up watching MSW with my parents, and the episode I remember most was where Amos (Tom Bosley) murdered somebody and Jessica said "Oh Amos...", and it was a really sad moment. Angela Lansbury has always reminded me of my grandmother, and after my gradmother passed in '85, (when I was 8), it was almost like seeing her every week. It was a shame when CBS gave it the axe, you often have to wonder why networks kill a great show.
Angela Landsbury is almost as old as Demi Moore. I think she is doing good for someone that old. Good for her.
Our grandmother luved MSW. Had 4gotten that show.
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