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Murder, She Wrote
Mswss.jpg
End of original opening title sequence for Murder, She Wrote.
Format Mystery, Procedural drama
Created by Peter S. Fischer
Richard Levinson
William Link
Starring Angela Lansbury
William Windom
Tom Bosley
(1984–1988)
Ron Masak
(1988–1996)
Theme music composer John Addison
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 12
No. of episodes 264 + 4 TV Movies (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Angela Lansbury
Peter S. Fischer
Richard Levinson
William Link
David Moessinger
Running time 60 Minutes
Production company(s) Corymore Productions in association with
Universal Television
Broadcast
Original channel CBS
Original run September 30, 1984 –
May 9, 2003
Chronology
Related shows The Law & Harry McGraw

Murder, She Wrote is an American television mystery series starring Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher. The series aired for twelve seasons from 1984 to 1996 on the CBS network. It was followed by four TV films and a spin-off series, The Law & Harry McGraw. It is one of the most successful and longest-running television shows ever for CBS, with close to 23 million viewers in its prime, and was a staple of its Sunday night lineup for a decade. The series is also successful across the world.

Lansbury was nominated for a total of ten Golden Globes and twelve Emmy awards for her work on Murder, She Wrote. She holds the record for the most Golden Globe nominations 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 but no wins 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.

Since the series ended in 1996, a series of four TV movies were released between 1997 and 2003, a game—created by Legacy Interactive, was released in 2009 for the PC platform,[1] and a spin-off novel series, written by Donald Bain, continues to the present.

Contents

History

Origin

Debuting on Sunday, September 30, 1984, Murder, She Wrote, starring the character of Jessica Fletcher, might never have come about had producers Richard Levinson and William Link enjoyed success with their TV series Ellery Queen. That series folded after a single season, but Levinson and Link were still committed to the concept of a bestselling murder mystery novelist who solved real murders when not at the typewriter. By changing the gender of their protagonist from male to female and transforming the character from a good-looking, absent-minded young pedant to a middle-aged down-to-earth widow, the producers were able to parlay their "mystery writer/amateur detective" premise into a 12-year hit for CBS.

The title comes from Murder, She Said, an adaptation of a Miss Marple novel by Agatha Christie. While not appearing in the aforementioned film, Angela Lansbury herself did play Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack'd, and the character of Jessica Fletcher is thought to be based on a combination of Miss Marple, Agatha Christie herself, and another Christie character, Ariadne Oliver, who often appears in the Hercule Poirot mysteries.

Premise

The show revolved around the day-to-day life of a retired English teacher who, after being widowed in her early fifties, becomes a very successful mystery writer. Despite fame and fortune, Jessica remains a resident of Cabot Cove, a cozy coastal town 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.

Her one eccentricity is an insatiable curiosity, especially whenever murder rears its ugly head, which it does with great regularity. The mystery term "Cabot Cove syndrome" was eventually coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations.

In most episodes, Jessica somehow becomes entangled in a murder investigation. The police are almost always willing to arrest the most likely suspect, but Jessica invariably feels that the so-called guilty party is innocent. Carefully and methodically piecing the clues together and asking astute questions, she always manages to trap the real murderer, who, given the series' "special guest star" policy, was often played by a famous film or TV personality.

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 a British police officer attached to Scotland Yard.

In 1991, newly appointed executive producer David Moessinger and producer J. Michael Straczynski were brought aboard in an effort to shore up ratings. They moved Jessica to New York, and revitalized the show, bringing it back into the top ten from the mid-thirties where it had fallen. It was Straczynski who made her an instructor in writing and criminology, and is widely held to have most emphasized her role as a working writer, with all the deadlines and problems involved in that profession.

Following the 1991–92 season, Angela Lansbury became the series' executive producer after she and her husband's production company, Corymore Productions, purchased a majority interest in Murder, She Wrote from Universal Television. As the series entered the middle of the decade, it remained a Sunday night staple and eventually became the longest running mystery series in television history.[citation needed] While the ratings for Murder, She Wrote had slipped slightly following its resurgence in 1991, it still maintained a loyal viewing audience.

Ending

By the end of the 1994–95 season, Murder, She Wrote's eleventh, Lansbury began to consider ending the series, as her advancing age became a concern (as she had just turned seventy). However, CBS effectively made the decision for her that autumn. After spending eleven years on Sunday, the network's longest running weekly series (at that time) was moved to Thursday nights at 8 PM. This put the series in direct competition with the first hour of NBC's Must See TV lineup, which had been drawing the highest ratings of the week for any network for years. More specifically, Murder, She Wrote would be facing off against NBC's comedy Friends, which was entering its second season on the network and was given the 8 PM timeslot for the fall, and The Single Guy, a brand-new sitcom that NBC gave the coveted 8:30 timeslot between Friends and Seinfeld. CBS cited that Murder, She Wrote was "skewing too old" in the ratings demographics, as—while the series was still successful—they were not gaining the valued 18–49 ratings demographic that is most desired among networks.

Despite protests of many of the show's fans,[citation needed] CBS refused to budge on the new timeslot. Friends had finished its first season (1994–95) in eighth place in the final Nielsen ratings. This situation was exacerbated further by the success of The Single Guy (which many attributed to piggybacking off of Friends), as well as another freshman sitcom, Boston Common, which debuted in March 1996 against the second half of Murder, She Wrote. CBS cancelled the series in August 1996 after twelve seasons. To soften the blow, the network agreed to air several Murder, She Wrote movies over the next few years; the first was broadcast in 1997, with three more following in 2000, 2001, and 2003.

Cast

Regular cast

Seth Hazlitt, Jessica Fletcher and Mort Metzger in 1996.
  • Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher (1984–1996). The show was originally conceived as a vehicle for Jean Stapleton, who had just finished a nine-year run on All in the Family; when Stapleton decided she didn't want to commit to another television series, the role was offered to Lansbury. Doris Day was offered the part afterwards, and also declined.
  • William Windom as Dr. Seth Hazlitt (1985–1996), the local doctor of Cabot Cove and one of Jessica's best friends.
  • Tom Bosley as Amos Tupper (1984–1988), Cabot Cove's sheriff at the start of the series. Tupper later retires and goes to live with his sister.
  • Ron Masak as Mort Metzger (1988–1996), a former NYPD officer who takes Tupper's place as sheriff in the mistaken belief that he would be living in a more peaceful place. In one episode he was shown as a cheap store owner in New York City who was in trouble with the law and was trying to get out of trouble by selling his business.

Recurring cast

  • Michael Horton as Grady Fletcher (1984–1995), Jessica's not-so-lucky favorite nephew, who (through no fault of his own) always seems to get in trouble with the law. After many romantic disasters, he gets married later in the series. In real life, Horton is married to actress Debbie Zipp, who played Grady's eventual wife, Donna Mayberry. The two had been married for many years before working together on Murder, She Wrote.
  • Jerry Orbach as Harry McGraw (1985–1991), an old-school private investigator who becomes friends with Jessica. Orbach was popular enough to garner his own, short-lived spinoff series in 1987, The Law & Harry McGraw.
  • Len Cariou as Michael Hagarty (1985–1992), a British MI6 agent of Irish origin, who would appear when Jessica least expected him to drag her into a dangerous case. Cariou had previously starred with Lansbury on Broadway in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street as the titular character.
  • Richard Paul as Sam Booth (1986–1991), the genial, ineffectual mayor of Cabot Cove whose main campaign promise is that he will do nothing.
  • Julie Adams as Eve Simpson (1987–1993), the Cabot Cove real estate agent with a great love for men, both single and married, and the hobby of gossiping. She is a good friend of Jessica.
  • Keith Michell as Dennis Stanton (1988–1993), a former jewel thief turned insurance claims investigator, who always solves his cases using unusual methods, and sends a copy of the story to his friend Jessica afterwards.
  • Wayne Rogers as Charlie Garrett (1993–1995), a disreputable private investigator who usually gets into trouble and needs Jessica's help.

Guest stars

Awards and nominations

Over its twelve year run Murder, She Wrote received numerous award nominations. Angela 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.

Group Award Year(s) Won
Emmy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Angela Lansbury) 1985–1996 No
Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (John Addison) 1985 Yes
Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Bruce Babcock) 1993, 1995 No
Outstanding Costume Design for a Series (Alfred E. Lehman) 1986 Yes
Golden Globe Awards Best TV Series – Drama 1985, 1986 Yes
Best TV Series – Drama 1987–1990 No
Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series – Drama (Angela Lansbury) 1985, 1987, 1990 & 1992 Yes
Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series – Drama (Angela Lansbury) 1986, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1993 & 1995 No
Edgar Awards Best Episode of a TV Series ("Deadly Lady") 1985 Yes
Best Episode of a TV Series ("The Dead File") 1993 No
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series – Drama (Angela Lansbury) 1995 No

Ratings

Murder She Wrote maintained extremely high ratings finishing in the top 15 of shows for eleven of its twelve seasons (8 of its 12 seasons it was in the top ten), even well into its late seasons. At the beginning of its twelfth 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 Line Up. The show rated as the following:

  1. 19841985: #8[2]
  2. 19851986: #3[3]
  3. 19861987: #4[4]
  4. 19871988: #4[5]
  5. 19881989: #8[6]
  6. 19891990: #13[7]
  7. 19901991: #12[8]
  8. 19911992: #8[9]
  9. 19921993: #5[10]
  10. 19931994: #11[11]
  11. 19941995: #8[12]
  12. 19951996: Not in the Top 30

International syndication

Aside from its original run on CBS, Murder, She Wrote has been syndicated in many countries around the world, and continues to be to this day.

Merchandise

In December 2009, casual game developer and publisher Legacy Interactive, under license with Universal Pictures Digital Platforms Group (UPDPG), announced the release a PC/MAC video game based on the television series. In the game, players help Jessica Fletcher to solve five unusual murders.[13]

Multimedia

References

External links








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