One of my first thoughts upon hearing the news was that 83 seemed young. Maybe I thought he was older because his disheveled character was such a big part of my own past TV life which is definitely starting to feel rather like a long time ago these days!
The TV show originally premiered on NBC on February 20, 1968 and was subsequently picked up as a regular show in 1971 where it ran until 1978. A revival of the show was picked up by ABC in 1989 and aired until 2003. A total of 69 episodes were televised over an amazing span of 35 years!
“Columbo” — the show and the character — hearkens back to a simpler time in TV Land.
The Lieutenant always wore the same ill-fitting trench coat, a sloppy off-the-rack suit and a narrow dark-colored rayon tie.
He drove an old and dirty 1959 Peugeot 403 Cabriolet convertible instead of a standard black and white LAPD car.
He smoked cheap cigars (indoors!) and he had a goofy-looking Basset Hound named “Dog.”
His favorite food was chili and crackers at a local greasy-spoon.
He had a wife who was never shown on-camera and he never even revealed his own first name.*
Columbo did not carry a gun nor did he perform super-human feats of running, jumping or fighting.
Rather, Columbo relied on good old-fashioned gumshoe detective work, his amazing intellect and his gift for being annoying to the point of driving his suspected killer to the point of insanity.
(Sometimes he even drove ME kinda crazy…. Sometimes it was like, “Confess already! Confess!!”)
The show itself was also different in that the audience knew from the start who murdered who and how. The fun was in watching Columbo bumble his way in and out of the killer’s life until he or she gave up and spilled the beans.
Nowadays, a lot of detective shows rely more on the quantity of blood spatter and disemboweled guts rather than the quality of the protagonists’ intelligence.
21st-century TV detectives wear outfits that often seem way beyond the limits of their pay scales, have perfect hair and makeup and they don’t smoke. Some of them can chase after bad guys with unbelievable stamina even though it doesn’t look like they have exercised or worked out…well, EVER…. They carry fancy handguns (which, yeh, ARE pretty cool) but unlike Columbo, who considered himself a bad aim with a gun, they always kill the villain just-in-time with amazing accuracy and massive exsanguination on the part of the unfortunate casualty.
Small or medium-sized cars are no longer the norm either. The gang on “CSI Miami” drives around a mega-huge Hummer/SUV with no explanation as to why they need a vehicle that big or how the city can afford the gas for it. (Maybe it’s “product placement.”). There are no more Batmobiles, Monkeemobiles, Woody station wagons (“The Mod Squad“) or Gran Torinos (“Starsky and Hutch.”).
Many modern-day detective shows have a lot of soap-opera-ish drivel written in around the action about the detectives’ personal lives. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, but nothing is left to the viewer’s imagination anymore. And how many co-employees in real life get to sleep around with one another as much TV heroes do and never get caught or fired?
In real life, Peter Falk had a glass eye which rather added to his character’s unique and quirky facial expressions.
With the exception of Forrest Whitaker, what leading actor or actress on TV ever looks imperfect nowadays? The men are beyond buff and the women are so skinny as to be almost subhuman.
I haven’t watched an episode of “Columbo” for years but I have a feeling that reruns abound all over the world.
It would probably be fun to watch an uncomplicated guy who has chronically bad hair days solve a crime without a cell phone or a CSI team, a computer, a GPS device or an SUV with all the bells and whistles.
It could probably be done the simple way now as well if the good guy only had more brains than brawn.
*Columbo’s first name was eventually revealed in an indirect way. A close-up of his badge and ID on one episode showed his first name to be Frank!
c June 2011 by Phyllis J. Hanniver