It has been fifty years since Peter Falk's Columbo first appeared in his own TV series and uttered the words, "Just one more thing." Murder By The Book was the first episode of the detective drama and premiered on 15th September, 1971 after the concept of the character was proven with two previous TV movies. That first episode was directed by none other than Steven Spielberg, and started in motion a series that would run for ten seasons and 69 episodes between 1971 and 1978, when it ran in rotation with the likes of McCloud and Quincy M.E. as The NBC Mystery Movie. While those other shows would be regarded in their own right, Columbo has by far been the most influential and iconic.
While many detective dramas would set up a mystery and then keep audiences guessing to the end about who did the crime, Columbo was one of the first and best at revealing the villain in the first act and followed Lieutenant Columbo as he attempted to unravel the leads and work out how to bring the culprits to justice by the final reel. It was a huge change from many other crime dramas of its time, and allowing the audience in on who did the crime was an ingenious way of then showcasing the process of analyzing the actions of the guilty party before they were finally apprehended with that "one more thing" that they thought had been overlooked.
The longevity of the character and the series, which continued to air new movies and special episodes all the way through until 2003, was in no small part down to the scruffy and lovable lead that Peter Falk made his own. There have been many Hercule Poirots and Miss Marples over the years, but there is only one Columbo. With his shabby trenchcoat, staggered and meandering, old uncle style of delivery, Falk was able to bring a charisma to a character that always managed to get up the noses of the rich and arrogant criminals he brought to book.
It was a reverse cat and mouse game, where audiences knew where both parties were, and just had to see how the irascible mouse would manage to get one over on the big and hulking cat. Columbo was the mouse in the same vein as Jerry in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, always managing to get ahead of the one that should be in control.
The character was created by Richard Levinson and William Link, who were also responsible for that other mystery mainstay Jessica Fletcher in Murder She Wrote, as well as Mannix, Ellery Queen and many other similar veined TV movies. Over its run Columbo featured some of the biggest names in TV and film of the time, including the likes of Faye Dunaway, William Shatner, Janet Leigh, Martin Sheen and Vincent Price to name a few. Ten years on from the death of Peter Falk, it is good to know that his legacy continues to live on in his greatest creation.