Murder, She Wrote
Murder, She Wrote (title card).jpg
GenreCrime drama
Detective fiction
Created by
Starring
Theme music composerJohn Addison
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons12
No. of episodes264 (+ 4 TV movies) (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producers
Running time
  • 48 minutes
  • (excluding commercials)
Production companies
DistributorNBCUniversal Television Distribution
Release
Original networkCBS[3]
Picture format
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseSeptember 30, 1984 (1984-09-30) –
May 19, 1996 (1996-05-19)
Chronology
Related

Murder, She Wrote is an American crime drama television series, created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson and William Link, starring Angela Lansbury, and produced and distributed by Universal Television for the CBS network. The series focuses on the life of Jessica Fletcher, a mystery writer and amateur detective,[4][5] who finds herself becoming involved in solving a series of murders that take place in the fictional town of Cabot Cove, Maine, as well as across the United States and abroad. The program ran for 12 seasons from September 30, 1984, to May 19, 1996, for a total of 264 episodes, and included amongst its recurring cast Tom Bosley, William Windom and Ron Masak, as well as a vast array of guest cast members including Michael Horton, Keith Michell and Julie Adams.

The series proved a ratings hit during its broadcast, becoming a staple of CBS Sunday night TV schedule for around a decade, while achieving distinction as one of the most successful and longest-running television shows in history, averaging 25 million viewers per week in its prime.[6] In syndication, the series is still highly successful and popular throughout the world. For her role on the program, Lansbury was nominated for ten Golden Globes, winning four, along with nominations for 12 Emmy Awards, earning her 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. The series itself also received three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series, as well as six Golden Globe nominations in the same category, with two major wins.

After the series finished in 1996, four television films were released between 1997 and 2003, with two point-and-click video games released for PC: one in 2009,[7] and a sequel in 2012.[8] A spin-off book series continues publication at present.

History

Origin

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Series producers Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson and William Link developed the lead role for actress Jean Stapleton, who was initially somewhat interested but eventually turned it down, threatening the project.[9]

Scrambling to find another major star, the producers thought Angela 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 (1978) 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.[10]

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.

Production

Murder, She Wrote was mostly filmed on sound stages at Universal Studios in Universal City, California (near Los Angeles).[11] The series also filmed exterior shots and some episodes on location in the Northern California town of Mendocino, which stood in for the fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove.[11]

Premise

The show revolves around the day-to-day life of Jessica Fletcher (née MacGill), a widowed and 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.

The show usually 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 leads the authorities to arrest 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.[12]

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.

Lansbury considers retirement in 1988

Angela Lansbury in September 1989
Angela Lansbury in September 1989

In August 1988, Lansbury expressed weariness of her commitment to the series as she was not sure, at 63, that she could continue at the pace now required of her; she specifically cited the change from seven to eight days to shoot each episode. Thus, Murder, She Wrote went into its fifth season that autumn with the distinct possibility that it would cease production at the end of it and the series finale would air in May 1989.

A solution was worked on, however, which enabled Lansbury to continue but also give her time to rest. This also enabled some secondary characters to get significant stories. For the next two seasons, Lansbury reduced her appearances in several episodes, only appearing at the beginning and the end, to introduce stories starring several friends of Jessica, such as private investigator Harry McGraw, reformed thief Dennis Stanton or MI5 agent Michael Hagarty. The "experiment" ended in 1991.[13] In 1992, Lansbury took on a more extensive role in production as she became the show's executive producer.

Move from Sundays in 1995

Murder, She Wrote was renewed for a twelfth season after finishing the 1994-95 season as the eighth-most watched program on television, tied with NBC’s new sitcom Friends for the spot. Despite the continued popularity of the program, Lansbury was considering retirement again after the upcoming season as she would be nearing seventy years of age at its conclusion. The decision, ultimately, would not be left up to her as CBS would make a decision regarding the series that would prove problematic for the network on two separate nights of programming.

Murder, She Wrote was, at the time, CBS' most popular scripted series; in fact, it had been one of only two series on the network to garner a rating in the top ten (60 Minutes was the other). Meanwhile, over at NBC, their Thursday night Must See TV lineup had been a ratings powerhouse for years and CBS decided to use Murder, She Wrote in an effort to cut into their viewership. So, after eleven years on Sunday night, the series moved to Thursday for the 1995-96 season. It would keep the same 8 PM timeslot on its new night, leading off a lineup that included the new drama New York News and the long-running newsmagazine 48 Hours.

The move was met with protests from fans, and the entire Thursday night lineup for CBS proved to be no match for NBC's lineup. Going up against Friends and a pair of freshman comedies in its time slot, Murder, She Wrote saw its ratings drop significantly on Thursday; in fact, the series dropped below a 10.0 rating when the final season ratings were tabulated. (Its follow-up, New York News, continued the downward trend and did even lower ratings, with CBS cancelling the new drama before December 1995.)

Meanwhile, CBS decided to go with a new Sunday lineup which consisted of the sophomore sitcom Cybill and the new comedy Almost Perfect replacing Murder, She Wrote in the 8 PM hour. The former fell nearly out of the top 50 in the ratings while the latter was moved to Mondays at midseason and replaced with The Bonnie Hunt Show in an unsuccessful effort to lift that show's ratings and prevent its cancellation.

Ultimately, Murder, She Wrote finished in 58th place in the final ratings and CBS opted not to renew the series for a thirteenth season. The network did, however, eventually reverse itself on the scheduling. After CBS aired a new episode of Murder, She Wrote on February 25, 1996 that drew nearly 20 million viewers, the show went on a month long hiatus for CBS’ coverage of March Madness. Following two episodes that aired on Thursdays on March 28 and April 4, 1996, Murder, She Wrote was moved back to its original Sunday night airtime for the remaining episodes of the series. The show returned to Sunday on April 25, and the final episode aired on May 19. Three of these episodes drew over 16 million viewers and the finale finished in the top 20 programs for the week.

The network also agreed to commission four Murder, She Wrote movies over the next few years. The first was South by Southwest (1997), with three more following as A Story to Die For (2000), The Last Free Man (2001), and The Celtic Riddle (2003).[14]

Lansbury stated in May 2011 that she would like to make a comeback appearance as Jessica Fletcher.[15] However, in a 2015 interview, she quashed the idea of reprising the much beloved character, stating, "I think it would be a downer. In some way, we’d have to show her as a much older woman, and I think it’s better to maintain that picture we have in our mind’s eye of her as a vigorous person. I’m still pretty vigorous, especially in the garden … but if I wanted to transform myself back into the woman I looked like then, it would be ridiculous. And I can't do that."[16] Lansbury passed away on October 11, 2022, five days before her 97th birthday.[17][18]

Cast

Actor Character Season 1 Season 2 Season 3 Season 4 Season 5 Season 6 Season 7 Season 8 Season 9 Season 10 Season 11 Season 12 Movies
Angela Lansbury Jessica Fletcher Main
Tom Bosley Sheriff Amos Tupper Recurring Does not appear
William Windom Dr. Seth Hazlitt Does not appear Recurring Does not appear
Ron Masak Sheriff Mort Metzger Does not appear Recurring Does not appear
Will Nye Dep. Floyd Does not appear Recurring Does not appear
Louis Herthum Dep. Andy Broom Does not appear Recurring Does not appear

Regular and frequently recurring cast

Occasional cast

Episodes

Main article: List of Murder, She Wrote episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally airedRankRating
First airedLast aired
123September 30, 1984 (1984-09-30)April 21, 1985 (1985-04-21)820.1
222September 29, 1985 (1985-09-29)May 18, 1986 (1986-05-18)325.3
322September 28, 1986 (1986-09-28)May 10, 1987 (1987-05-10)425.4
422September 20, 1987 (1987-09-20)May 8, 1988 (1988-05-08)920.2
522October 23, 1988 (1988-10-23)May 21, 1989 (1989-05-21)819.9
622September 24, 1989 (1989-09-24)May 20, 1990 (1990-05-20)1317.7[a]
722September 16, 1990 (1990-09-16)May 12, 1991 (1991-05-12)1216.4
822September 15, 1991 (1991-09-15)May 17, 1992 (1992-05-17)816.9
922September 20, 1992 (1992-09-20)May 16, 1993 (1993-05-16)517.7
1021September 12, 1993 (1993-09-12)May 22, 1994 (1994-05-22)1116.0
1121September 25, 1994 (1994-09-25)May 14, 1995 (1995-05-14)815.6[b]
1224September 21, 1995 (1995-09-21)May 19, 1996 (1996-05-19)589.50
Movies4November 2, 1997 (1997-11-02)May 9, 2003 (2003-05-09)
  1. ^ Tied with Chicken Soup.
  2. ^ Tied with Friends.

Crossover with Magnum, P.I.

See also: Magnum, P.I. § Crossovers

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 on November 19, 1986, with the concluding Murder, She Wrote episode following four days later on November 23.[19]

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.[20]

Awards and nominations

Over its twelve-year run Murder, She Wrote received numerous award nominations. Lansbury herself holds the record for the most Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actress in a drama series with twelve, one for each season. She never won, which is also a record. Mary Dodson, the art director for 102 of the series' 264 episodes, received three Emmy nominations for her work on Murder, She Wrote.[21] In total, the show was nominated for 41 Emmys.[22]

Group Award Years Result
Emmy Awards Outstanding Drama Series 1985–87 Nominated
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Angela Lansbury) 1985–96 Nominated
Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (John Addison) 1985[23] Won
Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Bruce Babcock) 1993, 1995 Nominated
Outstanding Costume Design for a Series (Alfred E. Lehman) 1986[23] Won
Golden Globe Awards Best TV Series – Drama 1984, 1985 Won
1986–89 Nominated
Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series – Drama (Angela Lansbury) 1984, 1986, 1989 & 1991 Won
1985, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1992 & 1994 Nominated
Edgar Awards Best Episode of a TV Series ("Deadly Lady") 1985 Won
Best Episode of a TV Series ("The Dead File") 1993 Nominated
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series – Drama (Angela Lansbury) 1994 Nominated

US television ratings

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, during Season 11 and 12 CBS lost affiliates during the television realignment, meaning major markets could not find the network. The show rated as the following:

Television ratings
Season Episodes Time slot (ET) Season premiere Season finale Rank Rating
1 1984–85 22 Sunday at 8:00 pm (Episodes 1, 3–22)
Sunday at 9:00 pm (Episode 2)
September 30, 1984 April 21, 1985 #8[24] 20.1
2 1985–86 22 Sunday at 8:00 pm September 29, 1985 May 18, 1986 #3[25] 25.3
3 1986–87 22 September 28, 1986 May 10, 1987 #4[26] 25.4
4 1987–88 22 September 20, 1987 May 8, 1988 #9[27] 20.2
5 1988–89 22 October 23, 1988 May 21, 1989 #8[28] 19.9
6 1989–90 22 September 24, 1989 May 20, 1990 #13[29] 17.7
7 1990–91 22 September 16, 1990 May 12, 1991 #12[30] 16.4
8 1991–92 22 September 15, 1991 May 17, 1992 #8[31] 16.9
9 1992–93 22 September 20, 1992 May 16, 1993 #5[32] 17.7
10 1993–94 21 September 12, 1993 May 22, 1994 #11[33] 16.0
11 1994–95 21 September 25, 1994 May 14, 1995 #8[34] 15.6
12 1995–96 24 Thursday at 8:00 pm (Episodes 1–12, 14–17, 19–20)
Sunday at 8:00 pm (Episodes 13, 18, 21–24)
September 21, 1995 May 19, 1996 #58[35] 9.50

Abandoned reboot

Deadline Hollywood reported in October 2013 that NBC was planning a reboot of the series, starring Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer as a "hospital administrator and amateur sleuth who self-publishes her first mystery novel."[36]

Lansbury commented that she was not a fan of using the title, saying "I think it's a mistake to call it 'Murder, She Wrote,' because 'Murder, She Wrote' will always be about Cabot Cove and this wonderful little group of people who told those lovely stories and enjoyed a piece of that place, and also enjoyed Jessica Fletcher, who is a rare and very individual kind of person." Early on it was decided by producers that Spencer's character would not be named Jessica Fletcher, for only Lansbury could play Jessica Fletcher.[37] It was announced on January 21, 2014, that the reboot would not be going forward.[38]

Merchandise

In 1985, Warren Company released a Murder, She Wrote board game. In the game, one player takes the hidden role of a killer and the other players try to determine which player is the killer through deduction. The killer wins for killing five of the characters on the game-board and escaping, while the detective players win by correctly deducing the identity of the killer.

In December 2009, casual game developer and publisher Legacy Interactive, under license with Universal Pictures Digital Platforms Group (UPDPG), announced the release a PC and Macintosh video game, Murder, She Wrote, based on the television series. In the game, players help Jessica Fletcher to solve five unusual murders.[39][40] A sequel, Murder She Wrote 2, was launched by Legacy Interactive in November 2012.[41]

In 2020, Funko released a Jessica Fletcher POP! vinyl collectible figure.

Multimedia

References

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  3. ^ Haithman, Diane (October 20, 1990). "TV: The grind of a weekly hour series is too much, but a half-hour show is something else". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
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  9. ^ Fisher, Peter (April 19, 1988). "The selling of Murder She Wrote". The Christian Science Monitor. USA. Archived from the original on May 8, 2022. Retrieved May 6, 2022.
  10. ^ Brunsdale, Mitzi M., Icons of Mystery and Crime Detection: From Sleuths to Superheroes. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC (2010), p. 307
  11. ^ a b Parish, James Robert (1989). The Unofficial Murder, She Wrote Casebook. New York: Kensington Books. p. 8. ISBN 9781575662107. Archived from the original on October 11, 2022. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
  12. ^ ""Murder She Wrote" location named as Murder Capital of World". Archived from the original on February 7, 2018. Retrieved April 4, 2018.
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  20. ^ "Magnum P.I.: Season 7". Amazon. Archived from the original on April 23, 2021. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  21. ^ Barnes, Mike (February 21, 2016). "Mary Weaver Dodson, Art Director on 'Murder, She Wrote', Dies at 83". The Hollywood Reporter. Archived from the original on October 7, 2016. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
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  37. ^ "Angela Lansbury is not happy with 'Murder, She Wrote' remake". Los Angeles Times. November 11, 2013. Archived from the original on February 1, 2014. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
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  41. ^ "Murder, She Wrote 2 for PC". Archived from the original on November 10, 2016. Retrieved November 9, 2016.