Retro T.V. Review: Murder She Wrote (1984)
Updated: Mar 25
Show Name: Murder She Wrote
Created by: Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson, and William Link
Starring: Angela Lansbury, William Windom, Tom Bosley, Ron Masak, Louis Herthum, and Michael Horton
Number of Seasons: 12
Number of Episodes: 264 (plus 4 made for TV movies)
Original Air Dates: September 30, 1984 to May 19, 1996
I remember watching this show on Sundays on CBS with my dad. It would be the show that we would watch before going to bed.
This is a classic TV show, that no matter who you are, young or old, you probably heard about this show at some point. If not, it probably inspired new shows.
Let us see if this show is as good as the ratings indicated back in the 80's and early 90's.
Brief History and Background
The reason why CBS seemed interested at the time with the series is that Agatha Christie novels were very popular in Britain. They wanted to bring over that level of success. They aired an Agatha Christie made for TV movie called A Caribbean Mystery. This was a ratings hit and so CBS was interested in bringing that same type of show to America.
The show started with an idea from 3 of the creators, Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson and William Link. They had seen some movies starring Angela Lansbury as a detective. Most notably as MIss Marple and Salome Otterbourne. Both were characters created by Agatha Christie. The were not sure that Lansbury would take the part. However, from what I can gather, it did not take long for her to sign on to the project.
Before she accepted the role, Angela Lansbury had a few stipulations that she wanted to see carried out. Unlike the shows of the day like Miami Vice, Knight Rider or Magnum P.I., Lansbury did not want to make the show about car chases and violence. In the show, Jessica Fletcher does not drive nor do you ever see her use a gun or fight. In addition, you also never really see anyone getting killed. In most cases, Jessica will just find the body.
Interesting Fact: Although we could not think of anyone else to play the part of Jessica Fletcher, Angela Lansbury was not the first option for the show. They had initially asked Jean Stapleton who was known for her work in All in the Family. She ultimately declined the offer.
Murder She Wrote Trailer
For anyone that grew up in the 1980's and 1990's, you will recognize this theme. It is not one of my favourites but it is one of those iconic themes.
I was not able to find the actual original opening theme sequence. However, you do get a glimpse of it in the trailer above. This theme and her riding her bike are tattooed on our minds.
Angela Lansbury plays the character of Jessica Fletcher. She used to be an English teacher and then started writing mystery novels. According to a few sources, in the show, she wrote about 25 novels.
The show would start with the narration of Jessica Fletcher, saying, "Tonight on Murder She Wrote..." and then you would see a preview of what is to come.
She often works with law enforcement in order to resolve a murder. Sometimes, the police officers are open to the idea and sometimes, they do not want her involved, with reason.
In the end, she always finds something that the investigators missed and it makes her useful for cracking the case.
What can I say about this TV show. It does have its charm I must admit. I am not sure if a show like this would work today.
The show itself has a formula to it. This is the CBS way of making shows at that time. They had a formula for a show and then they ran with it. This is true of many of their shows through the 80's and 90's. All you need to do is look at the following Walker, Texas Ranger, Diagnosis Murder, and Magnum P.I..
No matter where Jessica Fletcher went, there was a murder to be solved. I do not know about you, but after the first season I would have asked questions.
Younger audiences, might find this premise familiar and they would not be wrong. Castle has a similar premise. Castle is an author and he helps the police to solve murders and crimes. However, that makes a little more sense as he is a consultant for the police department. In Murder She Wrote, Jessica Fletcher just seems to always be at the wrong place at the wrong time.
The show had many guest stars through the years. These would be such stars as Ray Abruzzo (Sopranos, The Practice), Bill Maher (Real Time with Bill Maher), William Atherton (The Last Samurai), Rene Auberjonois (Star Trek: Deep Space 9, An American Scandal, Boston Legal), and Jason Beghe (Chicago P.D.) just to name a few. This was typical at that time for shows like these. Law & Order has done the same thing as well.
It is nice to see some of these actors when they were younger, like Bill Maher. I always have the reaction of, "oh jeezz they look young in this".
What was great about the show is that there was no over bearing arc. The shows could be watched independently and out of order and it did not matter. You can skip half a season and not really be lost in terms of the show. I think shows like these are getting rarer and rarer. The last of these types of shows that I can remember is Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. However, even this, the characters have evolved, where as here the characters seem to be stuck in time.
There were a few episodes that still jump out at me. For example, there was an episode called, Murder with Friends, which was a parody about the actual show Friends (on NBC). This time it is a show called Buds, and there is a murder with on of the producers. Was this CBS taking a jab at Friends. I could not find any evidence of that but it seems a little evident.
I learned about this fact a long time after the show was of the air, the final episode of the series was called Death by Demographics. Apparently this was a shot at CBS for cancelling the show. They wanted to bring in a younger audience and subsequently cancelled the show. I was not able find any concrete evidence of that, but it is a common belief.
In conclusion, the premise of the show does not make too much sense. However, this is not why people tuned in. It was to see Angela Lansbury solving mysteries. I do not think that the show would have had as much of an impact, if it was another actress in her place. Until this point, Angela Lansbury was more known for her theatre background. However, this show cemented her in lore of television.
Although the show does look dated, I must admit, the lack of violence is refreshing. Yes, I agree, if you watch too many shows in a row, you will get bored as it is the same formula over and over again. However, it was different from the shows at the time and I think that is what resonated especially with older audiences. It was more in the style of a Perry Mason.
I think that this is a show that will be in syndication for years to come. There is just something that draws you to these shows and even if they are bad, you cannot look away. I think it is worth a watch, if not just to see current actors make their debut on this show.
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