After a stint as Miss Marple on screen, former movie star Angela Lansbury was a dead-cert for this watchable but ridiculous murder mystery series. She plays Jessica Fletcher, a crime writer and amateur sleuth who solves more crimes than the cops – but she almost always knows the victim and/or the main suspect.
Lansbury is good although the scripts were increasingly trite and the solutions became blindingly obvious. If there is a file of papers, Jessica will steal it. If times don’t tally, Jessica will be on the trail quicker than a bloodhound. Ron Masak played long-suffering Sheriff Metzger for most of the run, always being shown up by Jessica’s dogged insistence that every decision he makes is wrong. William Windom played her doctor friend, Seth Hazlett, from series 2, adding some comedy value, but he really was slumming it in this series.
Cabot Cove becomes the US murder capital – everyone who lunches with Jessica, talks to her on the telephone, or even bumps into her in the street might end up as a murder victim. This ranges from movie stars to drug smugglers, to gossipy biography writers and theatricals, to high-flying business men and willowy models.
In the tradition of ‘Columbo’ and other US crime series, ‘Murder She Wrote’ doesn’t tax the brain and – amazingly – had enough material to replay pretty much the same episode for twelve years and some feature length specials. When it ended in 1996 we even missed it. A bit.
Murder, She Wrote is an American crime drama television series starring Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher. The series aired for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996 on the CBS network. It was followed by four TV films. Among the most successful and longest-running television shows in history, it averaged more than 30 million viewers per week in its prime (sometimes hitting above 40 million viewers), and was a staple of the CBS Sunday night lineup for a decade. In syndication, the series is still highly successful throughout the world.
Lansbury was nominated for ten Golden Globes and 12 Emmy Awards for her work on Murder, She Wrote. She holds the record for the most Golden Globe nominations and wins for Best Actress in a television drama series and the most Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Murder, She Wrote, with those nominations netting her four Golden Globe awards. The series received three nominations in the Outstanding Drama Series category at the Emmys. It was nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category six times and won twice.
After the series finished in 1996, four TV movies were released between 1997 and 2003. In 2009, a point-and-click video game was released for the PC platform, followed in 2012 by a sequel. A spin-off book series continues publication at present.
Series producers Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson and William Link thought Lansbury would be perfect for the part of Jessica Fletcher but did not think that she would be interested in a television series. Earlier, she had acted in two film adaptations of Agatha Christie’s mystery novels: as Salome Otterbourne in Death on the Nile and as Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack’d (1980). When the latter film did poorly—despite an all star cast including Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, and Tony Curtis—the offer for Lansbury to reprise Miss Marple in three more films never materialized.
When she made it known she would be available if the right project came along, the three creators sent her the script and almost immediately, Lansbury felt she could do something with the role of Jessica Fletcher. With Murder, She Wrote debuting on Sunday, September 30, 1984, the producers were able to parlay their “mystery writer/amateur detective” premise into a 12-year hit for CBS. It also made Lansbury, known previously for her motion picture and Broadway stage work, a household name for millions of television viewers. The title comes from Murder, She Said, which was the title of a 1961 film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple novel 4:50 from Paddington.
The show revolves around the day-to-day life of Jessica Fletcher, a childless, widowed, retired English teacher who becomes a successful mystery writer. Despite fame and fortune, Jessica remains a resident of Cabot Cove, a small coastal community in Maine, and maintains her links with all of her old friends, never letting her success go to her head. Exterior shots of Cabot Cove were filmed in Mendocino, California. The fictional “Cabot Cove” name for the series’ coastal town was derived from the name of an actual bay harbor inlet in Kennebunkport, Maine, located near the town’s center, on the road where motels and lobster shack dives are located.
The show mostly starts with a preview of the episode’s events, with Jessica stating: “Tonight on Murder, She Wrote…” Jessica invariably proves more perceptive than the official investigators of a case, who are almost always willing to arrest the most likely suspect. By carefully piecing the clues together and asking astute questions, she always manages to trap the real murderer. Murder occurred with such regularity in her vicinity that the term “Cabot Cove syndrome” was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations. Indeed, if Cabot Cove existed in real life, it would top the FBI’s national crime statistics in numerous categories, with some analysis suggesting that the homicide rate in Cabot Cove exceeds even that of the real-life murder capital of the world.
Jessica’s relationship with law enforcement officials varies from place to place. Both sheriffs of Cabot Cove resign themselves to having her meddle in their cases. However, most detectives and police officers do not want her anywhere near their crime scenes, until her accurate deductions convince them to listen to her. Some are happy to have her assistance from the start, often because they are fans of her books. With time, she makes friends in many police departments across the U.S., as well as with a British police officer attached to Scotland Yard. At the start of season eight, more of the stories were set in New York City with Jessica moving into an apartment there part-time in order to teach criminology.
The Third Season episode of Murder, She Wrote entitled “Magnum on Ice” concludes a crossover that began on the Seventh Season Magnum, P.I. episode “Novel Connection”. In the episode’s plot, Jessica comes to Hawaii to investigate an attempt to murder Robin Masters’ guests, and then tries to clear Magnum when he’s accused of killing the hitman. The Magnum, P.I. episode originally aired in 1986 with the concluding Murder, She Wrote episode following four days later in 1986.
The Magnum, P.I. episode of the crossover is included on the Murder, She Wrote Season 3 DVD set, as well as the Complete Series Set. The Magnum, P.I. Season 7 DVD set, as well as its Complete Series set, includes the Murder, She Wrote episode.
Murder, She Wrote maintained extremely high ratings finishing in the top 15 of shows for eleven of its 12 seasons (eight of which it was in the top 10), even well into its late seasons. By its 11th season, Murder, She Wrote was still averaging 25 million viewers per week. At its very peak, the show even hit above 40 million US viewers. However, at the beginning of its 12th season in 1995, CBS moved the show from its extremely popular Sunday night time slot to Thursday night forcing it to compete with NBC’s Must See TV line up, and as a result the ratings plummeted and the show was cancelled.