Murder, She Wrote
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.
|Murder, She Wrote|
|Theme music composer||John Addison|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||12|
|No. of episodes||264 (+ 4 TV movies) (list of episodes)|
|Distributor||NBCUniversal Television Distribution|
|Original release||September 30, 1984 –|
May 19, 1996
For her work on Murder, She Wrote, Lansbury was nominated for ten Golden Globes and 12 Emmy Awards, winning four Golden Globe awards. 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. The series received three Emmy nominations for Outstanding Drama Series. 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.
Murder, She Wrote was mostly filmed on sound stages at Universal Studios in Universal City, California (near Los Angeles). 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.
The show revolves around the day-to-day life of Jessica Fletcher, (formerly 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 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.
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 fall 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, like PI Harry McGraw, reformed thief Dennis Stanton or MI5 agent Michael Hagarty. The "experiment" ended in 1991. The next year, Lansbury took on a more extensive role in production as she became one of the series' executive producers.
By the end of the 1994–1995 season, Murder, She Wrote's 11th season, Lansbury again was considering retirement; this would have made the upcoming twelfth season the final one for the veteran drama. CBS, however, essentially would make the decision for her in what would prove to be a mistake.
When the network released its schedule for the 1995–1996 season, it decided to go in a different direction for its Sunday night lineup and placed two sitcoms, the top 30 hit Cybill and the new Almost Perfect, into the longtime home of Murder, She Wrote. CBS then put the series in its lead position on Thursday nights, anchoring a lineup that included the new drama New York News and the newsmagazine 48 Hours.
The move put Murder, She Wrote 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. Despite protests of many of the show's fans (who believed CBS was intentionally setting the show up to fail in its new timeslot), CBS refused to budge on the new timeslot. Murder, She Wrote plummeted from eighth to fifty-eighth in the yearly ratings as a result; the series lost nearly 6 million viewers and fell below a 10 Nielsen rating as the audience was not willing to follow it to Thursday. It also proved unwilling to watch anything else on CBS on Sunday either; Cybill saw its ratings drop significantly, Almost Perfect was quickly shuffled to Mondays in an attempt to boost its ratings and replaced by The Bonnie Hunt Show, which was quickly cancelled. (In addition, New York News was also cancelled after a few weeks and so was its replacement, the long-running Rescue 911.)
CBS eventually decided the drop in ratings was too much and cancelled Murder, She Wrote after twelve seasons. After a three-week hiatus in April 1996, the network returned the show to its longtime Sunday night home to conclude its run; the finale aired on May 19, 1996. 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).
Lansbury stated in May 2011 that she would like to make a comeback appearance as Jessica Fletcher. 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." She then expressed interest in revisiting the character again in 2017.
- Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher (1984–1996; 264 episodes), a retired English teacher who, after being widowed in her early 50s, becomes a very successful mystery writer.
- William Windom as Dr. Seth Hazlitt (1985–1996; 52 episodes), the local doctor of Cabot Cove and one of Jessica's best friends and most intrepid supporters. There is a hint that Dr. Hazlitt may want to be more than a platonic friend but this possibility was never explored. In the season one finale, Windom portrayed Sam Breen, a lawyer who jointly murdered the victim in that episode.
- Ron Masak as Sheriff Mort Metzger (1988–1996; 40 episodes), 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. His unseen wife, Adele, a former Marine capable of prodigious acts of strength, teaches self-defense classes. In an earlier episode, Masak portrayed a different character, a store owner in trouble with the IRS, trying to get out of trouble by selling his business. He also portrayed a police officer investigating the murder of an author in another season one episode.
- Louis Herthum as Deputy Andy Broom (1991–1996, 25 episodes)
- Tom Bosley as Sheriff Amos Tupper (1984–1988; 19 episodes), Cabot Cove's sheriff at the start of the series. Tupper later retires and goes to live with his sister.
- Michael Horton as Grady Fletcher (1984–1995; 12 episodes), 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 in several episodes. (The two were married before working together on Murder, She Wrote.)
- Julie Adams as Eve Simpson (1987–1993; 10 episodes), the Cabot Cove realtor with a great love for men, both single and married, and for gossiping.
- Herb Edelman as Artie Gelber (1984–1995, 10 episodes), a NYPD Lieutenant and Jessica's friend. Edelman initially appeared as a New York City bus driver in the series premiere.
- Keith Michell as Dennis Stanton (1988–1993; 9 episodes), a suave English former jewel thief turned insurance claims investigator, who always solves his cases using unusual methods, and often sends a copy of the story to Jessica afterwards. Stanton's assistant, Rhoda, who appeared in most or all of the Stanton-related episodes, was played by Hallie Todd. Many of the episodes starring Dennis do not involve Jessica, and usually begin with her introducing the story to the audience, breaking the fourth wall.
- Len Cariou as Michael Hagarty (1985–1992; 7 episodes), a British MI5 agent 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; 7 episodes), the genial, ineffectual mayor of Cabot Cove whose main campaign promise is that he will do nothing, and that's exactly why the people of Cabot Cove vote for him.
- Jerry Orbach as Harry McGraw (1985–1991; 6 episodes), an old-school private investigator who becomes friends with Jessica. Orbach was popular enough to garner his own, short-lived spin-off series in 1987, The Law & Harry McGraw.
- Wayne Rogers as Charlie Garrett (1993–1995; 5 episodes), a disreputable private investigator who usually gets into trouble and needs Jessica's help.
- Claude Akins as Ethan Cragg (1984; 4 episodes), Jessica's fisherman friend.
- Madlyn Rhue as Jean O'Neil (1993–1996; 4 episodes), the local disabled librarian in Cabot Cove.
- John Astin as Harry Pierce (1984–1985, 3 episodes), a local real-estate agent attempting to organize big land deals around town. In his final appearance, Pierce becomes Sheriff when Amos Tupper retires, but then turns out to be a murderer. Astin originally appeared as Ross Hayley, director of a movie based on one of Jessica's books, in the show's third episode.
- Genie Francis as Victoria (1984, 1987, 1990, 3 episodes), Jessica's niece.
- Ruth Roman as Loretta Speigel (1987–1989; 3 episodes), Cabot Cove's lovelorn hairdresser, also an inveterate gossip.
|First aired||Last aired|
|1||22||September 30, 1984||April 21, 1985||8||20.1|
|2||22||September 29, 1985||May 18, 1986||3||25.3|
|3||22||September 28, 1986||May 10, 1987||4||25.4|
|4||22||September 20, 1987||May 8, 1988||9||20.2|
|5||22||October 23, 1988||May 21, 1989||8||19.9|
|6||22||September 24, 1989||May 20, 1990||13||17.7|
|7||22||September 16, 1990||May 12, 1991||12||16.4|
|8||22||September 15, 1991||May 17, 1992||8||16.9|
|9||22||September 20, 1992||May 16, 1993||5||17.7|
|10||21||September 12, 1993||May 22, 1994||11||16.0|
|11||21||September 25, 1994||May 14, 1995||8||15.6|
|12||24||September 21, 1995||May 19, 1996||58||9.50|
|Movies||4||November 2, 1997||May 9, 2003||N/A||N/A|
Crossover with Magnum, P.I.
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.
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.
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.
|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||Won|
|Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Bruce Babcock)||1993, 1995||Nominated|
|Outstanding Costume Design for a Series (Alfred E. Lehman)||1986||Won|
|Golden Globe Awards||Best TV Series – Drama||1984, 1985||Won|
|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. The show rated as the following:
|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||20.1|
|2||1985–86||22||Sunday at 8:00 pm||September 29, 1985||May 18, 1986||#3||25.3|
|3||1986–87||22||September 28, 1986||May 10, 1987||#4||25.4|
|4||1987–88||22||September 20, 1987||May 8, 1988||#9||20.2|
|5||1988–89||22||October 23, 1988||May 21, 1989||#8||19.9|
|6||1989–90||22||September 24, 1989||May 20, 1990||#13||17.7|
|7||1990–91||22||September 16, 1990||May 12, 1991||#12||16.4|
|8||1991–92||22||September 15, 1991||May 17, 1992||#8||16.9|
|9||1992–93||22||September 20, 1992||May 16, 1993||#5||17.7|
|10||1993–94||21||September 12, 1993||May 22, 1994||#11||16.0|
|11||1994–95||21||September 25, 1994||May 14, 1995||#8||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||9.50|
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."
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. It was announced on January 21, 2014, that the reboot would not be going forward.
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. A sequel, Murder She Wrote 2, was launched by Legacy Interactive in November 2012.
In 2020, Funko released a Jessica Fletcher POP! vinyl collectible figure.
- Silden, Isobel (August 17, 1989). "It's No Crime When Yesterday's Stars Get Into 'Murder'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
- Weinstein, Steve (May 21, 1994). "Television: After 10 years and more than 200 corpses, no one has been able to knock off 'Murder, She Wrote,' powered by you-know-who". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
- 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. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
- Harmetz, Aljean (October 27, 1985). "Angela Lansbury's unlikely sleuth has staying power". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
- Weinraub, Bernard (December 1, 1991). "TELEVISION; Angela Lansbury Has a Hit. She Wants Respect". The New York Times. Retrieved August 20, 2010.
- "TV Ratings Archive – 1988/1989". USA Today Weekly. September 25, 1988. Retrieved February 16, 2016.
- "E3 2009: Murder, She Wrote game coming to the PC", news.bigdownload.com, June 8, 2009; retrieved January 14, 2010.
- "First screenshots of Murder, She Wrote". Murdershewrotegame.com. November 17, 2011. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- Brunsdale, Mitzi M., Icons of Mystery and Crime Detection: From Sleuths to Superheroes. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC (2010), p. 307
- Parish, James Robert (1989). The Unofficial Murder, She Wrote Casebook. New York: Kensington Books. p. 8. ISBN 9781575662107. Retrieved February 28, 2021.
- "Murder She Wrote" location named as Murder Capital of World
- "A break, she needed, from Murder She Wrote". The Hamilton Spectator. May 24, 2013. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
- "Movies Keep 'Murder, She Wrote' Alive". Chicago Tribune. August 5, 1997. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
- "'Murder, She Wrote' Angela Lansbury Return". Entertainment Weekly. May 13, 2011. Retrieved February 22, 2012.
- Bobbin, Jay (July 17, 2015). "Angela Lansbury thinks reviving Jessica Fletcher 'would be a downer'". Zap2it.com. Retrieved August 10, 2016.
- McCreesh, Louise (August 8, 2017). "Murder, She Rewrote? – Angela Lansbury wants Murder, She Wrote to return for one final special". digitalspy.com. Retrieved September 7, 2017.
- "Murder, She Wrote | TV Guide". TVGuide.com. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
- "Magnum P.I.: Season 7". Amazon. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
- Barnes, Mike (February 21, 2016). "Mary Weaver Dodson, Art Director on 'Murder, She Wrote', Dies at 83". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
- Du Brow, Rick (September 13, 1991). "Television: Angela Lansbury is miffed that her top-rated series, a CBS bulwark, is routinely ignored at Emmy time: 'The industry is barely aware the show exists.'". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 20, 2010.
- "TV Ratings: 1984–85". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1985–86". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1986–87". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1987–88". Classictvhits.com. July 26, 2002. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1988–89". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1989–90". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1990–91". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1991–92". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1992–93". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1989–90". Classictvhits.com. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "TV Ratings: 1994–95". Classictvhits.com. Archived from the original on October 26, 2009. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "Complete TV Ratings 1995-1996".
- Andreeva, Nellie (October 24, 2013). "NBC To Reboot 'Murder, She Wrote' With Octavia Spencer Starring, Alex Cunningham Writing And David Janollari Producing". Deadline.com. Retrieved October 26, 2013.
- "Angela Lansbury is not happy with 'Murder, She Wrote' remake". Los Angeles Times. November 11, 2013.
- Andreeva, Nellie (January 21, 2014). "NBC's 'Murder She Wrote' Reboot Not Going Forward, Could Be Revisited In The Future". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
- "Legacygames.com" (Press release). Legacy Interactive. December 18, 2009. Archived from the original on March 29, 2012. Retrieved May 14, 2012.
- "Murder, She Wrote for PC". Archived from the original on November 10, 2016. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
- "Murder, She Wrote 2 for PC". Archived from the original on November 10, 2016. Retrieved November 9, 2016.
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