Although he scores billing in my tagline, thus do I love him so (and forgive him unconditionally for Mrs. Columbo) I’ve never really stopped to consider why. Or done any research into the Columbo genesis story. I am an ugly American watching the Hallmark Channel without thinking critically. This needs must end.
I just found this 1981 excerpt from “Stay Tuned: An Inside Look at the Making of Prime Time Television” called “How We Created Columbo” by Levinson and Link. The goods I like? Are actually kind of fancier than I thought and completely redeems my proclivity.
- The inverted mystery format. Columbo uses “a method of storytelling invented by an English writer named R. Austin Freeman in the early part of the century.” And in a study of detective fiction, the format answers the question: “Would it be possible to write a detective story in which, from the outset, the reader was taken entirely into the author’s confidence, was made an actual witness of the crime and furnished with every fact that could possibly be used in its detection?” YES. This is possible and it’s the best. See also Encyclopedia Brown, kinda.
- “We had no intention of dealing with the realities of actual police procedures.” YES. Do not want to “go down the precinct.” Do want to hang out in swinging 70s houses. Like deees.
- It’s a commentary on manners in an upstairs/downstairs way. They made “a mythical Los Angeles and populate it with affluent men and women living in the stately homes of the British mystery novel; our stories would be much closer in spirit to Dorothy L. Sayers than to Joseph Wambaugh” YES. They’re talking about my Columbo here. It’s actually a manor drama.
- And why, besides the format, I say I love it because “it’s so cozy.” “Our final decision was to keep the series nonviolent. There would be a murder, of course, but it would be sanitized and barely seen. Columbo would never carry a gun. He would never be involved in a shooting or a car chase (he’d be lucky, in fact, if his car even started when he turned the key), nor would he ever have a fight. The show would be the American equivalent of the English drawing room murder mystery, dependent almost entirely on dialogue and ingenuity to keep it afloat.”
So you see people. I love it because it subverts the genre and provides societal commentary based on nothing but sparkling wit.
Oh, and one more thing: Guest Stars. OH. And! “Thus far and no farther.” (Take it. Use it. Love it.)
Wait. Did Columbo have a first name?