Columbo: What made this tv series so successful?

Arts & EntertainmentTelevision / Movies

  • Author Jimmy Del Ponte
  • Published September 11, 2011
  • Word count 551

After the sad passing of Peter Falk on June 24 2011, a whole lot of revived interest has been displayed for the Columbo episodes that showed on television all through the seventies. In this article we will have a glance at what it was that made this tv series so successful.

Peter Falk was fantastic as 'Lieutenant Columbo', a shrewd Los Angeles police detective who appeared to be sleeping on the job, but his unsuspecting suspects would swiftly find out that he was doing anything but that. Two TV-movies and 43 episodes, all from the 70s, are several of the top-notch tv series programming ever documented on film. The brilliant scripts, top notch guest stars, and most all, Peter Falk's excellent acting ability, will make this terrific show live on forever.

Those who came up with the inspiration for the Columbo episodes were truly inspired. The actor (Peter Falk) who played the hero's role couldn't have done a greater job. Columbo is just right. It sensibly balances the harshness of murder crimes with the honesty of the human spirit, the shrewdness and the humanity of police lieutenant who investigates them. You see humans rather than monsters, lifelike behavior instead of extremely abnormal mental patterns. It doesn't furnish on the spectator's misery; neither intends to tyrannize the audience. It relates the pursuits of Lt. Columbo, a modern detective as honourable, crafty and impressive as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. Columbo teaches and delights the viewer, without shocking him or her. It should be rerun frequently so as to allow for contemporary TV buffs to compare current, sadistic shows with a sample of the best tasted shows conveyed.

There was a time around the 1970's when a new American detective character appeared to pop-up on out TV screens every week. McLeod was one, a cowboy transplanted into the big city. Cannon was another: a fat, course toughie, almost a classic hawkshaw. And of course there was Kojak: tough as nails but with a sensitive touch. I seem to remember a comic song in the charts eulogizing them all. They're gone now, and mostly forgotten. But not Columbo.

Some 40 years on from his creation, the frumpy and enthusiastic detective is still being pictured in repeats. Each plot is virtually the same as every other. He and we know who-done-it in the first 15 minutes of the program. After that, by a mixture of psychological warfare, tenacious persistence and Holmesian deduction; we see the over-confident culprit brought down. The resemblances of the plots don't make them any less exciting to watch, because really, the enjoyment is Peter Falk's wonderfully wacky character.

The dubious motorcar, the crinkled ever-present mac, the constant 'now-politically-incorrect' cigar all add up to a character who has only one motivation and concern in life - solving crime. The often mentioned, but never seen wife is little more than a conversational foil, like Rumpole's 'she who must be obeyed'.

Even though out of date in many ways, Falk's detective is still a magnificent entertainment to watch. The much more recent and graphic CSI series have little more to offer.

Peter Falk’s Columbo rates as one of the best TV detective characters ever invented. The wacky Los Angeles Lieutenant has entertained decades of viewers and is sure to also grab younger fans with the long-awaited DVD release.

Visit for a breakdown on the 1st seven seasons on dvd.

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