Columbo is the best TV detective America has ever had.
That, of course, is my opinion, but I’m willing to speak on behalf of everyone else because I believe that I’m correct.
The Brits have Agatha Christie’s Poirot, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.
But I argue that America’s Columbo is far superior.
Peter Falk, of whom I do a pretty spot on impersonation if I do say so myself, (which you can hear if you listen to my podcast version of this column) was first cast as the character created by William Link and Richard Levinson for a movie in 1968, and then in the series, which originally ran from 1971 to 1978.
The show became part of the NBC Mystery Movie series, which rotated other shows including McMillan and Wife, McCloud, Hec Ramsey and Banacek.
I watched them all as a teen and I liked Banacek – but I loved Columbo. Adults did too, but surprisingly, so did high school and college students. Columbo ranked as almost everyone’s number one detective show in the 1970s.
So, why is LA Homicide Detective Lt. Columbo the best TV detective of all time? I believe it was due to his disheveled appearance and a perceived scattered and disorganized demeanor.
He just came across as somewhat bumbling, which made the suspect feel superior.
His, “Just one more thing, sir,” question as he was either departing an interrogation or knocking on the door to come back in for another question after he’d left, gave him the disarming appearance of someone who didn’t have everything completely together.
But that was Columbo’s brilliance. He was the smartest guy in the room, but he was the only one who knew it.
The format of the show was unique. It began with the murder. So, viewers knew who and why they had killed. The rest of the show, we watched Columbo slowly piece together how they did it, and then surprise the killer in the closing scene by telling them which of their mistakes had helped him figure it out.
Almost all of the killers were wealthy, erudite, narcissistic, or all of the above. Which made seeing them get caught even sweeter to watch.
As a fan since its beginning, I’ve read up a lot on details of the show.
The raincoat and shoes Peter Falk wore were actually his. He liked the shoes, and the raincoat he bought in the 60s. By the time ABC revived Columbo in the 1980s, the original coat was worn and replaced and he put the original in his closet at home.
His car was a rare American import Peugeot convertible. Falk picked it out himself from the Universal backlot.
The dog on the show was actually two different dogs. The first one was old when originally cast, and didn’t live long, so a younger lookalike was brought in and had to sit in the make up chair to have gray added to look older.
Columbo talked often about his wife, but she was never seen. Falk said that was always the plan from the beginning.
But what was Columbo’s first name?
It was never said. And supposedly, he didn’t have one on the show.
But a prop man, right or wrong, included a first name on a badge in an episode, and someone on the web paused the episode and took a picture of it on the screen.
It’s debatable whether the prop guy just put his own name or a random first name on the badge, but I found the screenshot of it on the web.
The name on the badge was Frank. Frank Columbo.
So, we may have solved a 50-year-old mystery, without the help of the smartest TV homicide detective we’ve ever had.
But, if you disagree, and think Columbo shouldn’t have a first name, just visit my website, TheCountryWriter.com, and click on the email link and send me your thoughts. In the subject line, write, “Just one more thing, John.”
John’s books, Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, are available on Amazon and on John’s website at TheCountryWriter.com. His weekly John G. Moore Podcast appears on Spotify and iTunes.