New Columbo episodes / Opinion

‘New’ Columbo: was it any good?

Columbo new episodes

I’m an unashamed Columbo purist. Give me a choice of any episode and I’d be diving straight into the 70s classics. In fact I’d watch almost any ‘classic’ Columbo outing before I delved into the ‘new’ ones. And by ‘new’, I mean any of the 24 episodes released on ABC between 1989 and 2003.

If you’ve ever read my article on my top 10 favourite Columbo episodes, you’ll have noticed that not one of them is from the new batch. That’s not to say I hate them. Dear me, no. There are several gems tucked away amongst them that really stand up to repeat viewing. But when comparing apples with apples, the quality of the new episodes compared to the old is almost always found wanting.

“There are several gems tucked away amongst the ‘new’ episodes that really stand up to repeat viewing.”

But why was that the case? Surely it’s not simply a case of rose-tinted glasses? After all, the oldest ‘new’ episode is now more than 25 years old; the newest, well over a decade. Enough time has elapsed to allow for a level playing field in terms of passing judgement.

And on the surface, much was the same. The Columbo formula, so well established between 1968-78, was largely unchanged. Falk reprised the role, of course, and he brought back with him the coat, the car, the cigar – even Dog. The essential ingredients were there, but the end result, reasonably often, was something of a let down. Again we must ask ourselves why?

I’ll tell you…

TV had changed: Time waits for no man, and the world of the late 80s and 90s, when the bulk of the new episodes were produced, was massively different from the late 60s and 70s. The original series provided us with a glorious snapshot of 70s opulence and fine living. Music, fashions, automobiles, it was first class all the way. By way of comparison, ‘first class’ in the 80s and 90s seems a lot more sleazy and a lot less, well, classy.

The production values were different, too. Gone are the sumptuous scores that graced each 70s episode, replaced by saxophone swill, overuse of the ‘This Old Man’ theme, and the occasional pop hit. And where are the cutting edge camera work and editing techniques that so defined the classic series? Conspicuous by their absence, that’s where, matey. Indeed, the newer episodes more often feel rather bland and workmanlike. Not necessarily bad, just normal, not standing out against other shows of the time, and not being nearly as inspirational or memorable. Had Columbo only existed in the 80s/90s I shouldn’t think anyone would still be talking about the show today.

Columbo era comparisons

Guess which episode was filmed in the 90s?

Falk’s portrayal had changed: As discussed above, Falk brought back all of Columbo’s idiosyncracies to the new series. Yet to me it doesn’t feel the same. Falk’s Columbo subtly evolved through the 70s episodes. The mannerisms and actions seemed natural and believable for the character. In the new episodes the character feels more forced, as if Falk himself is doing an impression of the younger Columbo – or even a parody. The subtlety, the believability, has gone.

Critics have also slammed Falk’s broader comedic turns in the 80s/90s episodes, and I tend to agree. 70s Columbo was sometimes very funny (Negative Reaction has some real rib-tickling scenes, for example), but Falk’s portrayal of the Lieutenant was generally on the level and restrained. He wasn’t really playing it for laughs in the same way he seems to be in some of the new episodes. Worst of all, some of the affected mannerisms just came across as him being an annoying old codger, like your Granddad acting the fool. That’s not what I want for the character.

“Had Columbo only existed in the 80s/90s I shouldn’t think anyone would still be talking about the show today.”

Calibre of the guest stars: Okay, there were some notable exceptions (Faye Dunaway, Patrick McGoohan, William Shatner, George Hamilton), but as a rule of thumb the standard of guest star killers in the new episodes was at a different stratosphere than we were treated to in the 1970s. It made it more difficult to connect with the killers, because it was harder to really dig the actors. Many of them, although undoubtedly talented, could have been cast in just about any other lesser TV show of the time.

Columbo new episode killers

I’d argue that it’s harder to dig these guys than it is to dig Cassidy, Culp, Gordon, McGoohan et al

These weren’t all intended to be Columbo mysteries: Two of the very worst Columbo episodes, Undercover from 1994, and 1992’s No Time to Die, weren’t originally written as adventures for the Lieutenant at all, and BOY does it show. These were adapted from two Ed McBain ’87th Precinct’ novels of the 1970s and bear little or no relation to the Columbo show we know and love. At best these are misguided efforts. At worst, they’re a betrayal of the character. I find it amazing they were ever made.

Ludicrous situations: Allied to the top point about how TV had changed, the new Columbo episodes were often blighted by thoroughly ridiculous, nonsensical and needlessly showy set pieces. Even episodes that are perfectly entertaining are spoilt by some really ludicrous moments. Yes, I’m talking about you, Murder, Smoke & Shadows, with Ringmaster Columbo taking a bow at the end. And you, Sex & The Married Detective. with the Lieutenant blasting out a tuba solo, and then leading a Pied Piper of Hamelin-style march followed by a group of school children. It’s a scene so wonderfully awful it has to be seen to be believed. So take a look…

Another stunner is the denouement of Columbo Goes to the Guillotine – an otherwise watchable effort. I mean, would the level-headed Lieutenant really put his life in danger by switching the safety stickers on a lethal guillotine blade? It’s way out of character, and far too much of a risk. Consider how he handled a life-threatening situation at the end of Lady in Waiting in 1971: with wits, composure and a touch of compassion. That was the way the real Columbo would have dealt with a tight spot.

Columbo silly scenes

Busting out a tuba solo; hangin’ with Little Richard; risking death in a guillotine? How we laughed…

There are, of course, some very good new Columbo episodes. I’ll chronicle my favourites from the 1989-2003 run in a future article, but as a teaser I’d say that Columbo Goes to College is a really excellent addition to the canon, while Agenda for Murder, It’s All in the Game and Ashes to Ashes have much to recommend them. Rest in Peace Mrs Columbo was a successful departure from the usual style of presenting Columbo, while remaining true to the series’ roots. It’s a fine episode, too.

“There are, of course, some very good new episodes. Columbo Goes to College, in particular, is a really excellent addition to the canon.”

Many episodes are plain forgettable. Others are poor. Murder in Malibu, Strange Bedfellows, No Time to Die and Undercover are dreadful pieces of television. They sully the Columbo reputation and add no value to the series. Doubtless a future article on the worst ever Columbo outings will be packed with new episodes.

There was still merit in bringing the good Lieutenant back to our screens in 1989 and beyond. The biggest bonus is that it makes it even easier to appreciate the majesty of the classics. Indeed the new episodes will have introduced Columbo to a whole new generation of viewers who would’ve been too young to enjoy the 70s run. That’s why the idea of a reboot – a sacrilegious notion to many purists – would be a good way of raising more awareness of the original series. I write more about that controversial idea here.

“Watching the new episodes makes it even easier to appreciate the majesty of the classics.”

You can have too much of a good thing. From 1968 – 1978 we were treated to 10 years of TV gold. Those standards were never likely to be repeated in the new televisual age of the 80s and 90s, and so it proved. After a handful of series and a number of made-for-TV specials, the Lieutenant finally bowed out in 2003’s Columbo Likes the Nightlife. That was 5 years too late for me. The last really decent episode, 1998’s Ashes to Ashes, featuring Patrick McGoohan in fine form, would have been a more fitting end to the series.

Columbo Ashes to Ashes

Should Columbo have ended here? Arguably so

But Peter Falk didn’t want it to even stop in 2003. He desperately wanted to return to screens to film just one more episode in 2007, but networks rejected the idea. You can read more about that here. It would have been Columbo’s 70th and final adventure, giving definite closure to the series, but, with Falk almost 80 years old at the time, no one would give it the green light.

To some, that’s a pity. I think it’s probably just as well. I’d rather remember Lieutenant Columbo in his prime, going toe-to-toe with Nelson Hayward, Ken Franklin and the rest, rather than going out with a whimper in an era he never really belonged in.

I would love to hear your views on this subject. Am I being too harsh on ‘new’ Columbo? What do you think the merits of the later episodes were? Please put your comments below.

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Columbo Faye Dunaway

Still, the 90s’ episodes had some attractions, right Lieutenant?

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213 thoughts on “‘New’ Columbo: was it any good?

  1. I agree with what you wrote, I am a lifelong fan and for me the best episodes are those who came out in the seventies, absolutely no doubt about it, Of course I’ll watch the occasional “new” episode, there are some good moments there too, but nothing compares to the shows up to ’78. I suppose a little nostalgia is involved, but they are objectively hard to top. Glad to see other Columbophiles around the world..

    • I agree, plus I love the atmosphere of the 70’s series. The “New Columbo” while I don’t hate it, plays like “Murder, She Wrote”, which I do hate.

  2. There are numerous gems in the newer episodes. I always enjoy the interaction between Columbo and the killers, even in a weak episode (Undercover, Murder In Malibu, and No Time To Die are exceptions as there is nothing to commend in those episodes). But then the 70’s had at least one clunker (Last Salute).

    Obviously the 70’s episodes are superior, but I like so many of the new ones that there are too many to name. But that’s just my opinion.

    Oh, just one more thing: The dreaded “tuba scene” in Sex And The Married Detective, is so bad that people overlook another scene almost as ridiculous. Columbo goes to a bartending school and before he can identify himself, the instructor asks if he wore his green bow tie. Then he has every green bow-tied student hold their shakers up in the air and just keep shaking. It’s like teaching somebody to play quarterback by having them wear a numbered jersey and sit in the living room calling out “hut” a thousand times.

    • And if I may add another “comic” scene that always annoys me, it’s when Columbo gets under the car in the showroom in “A Bird in the Hand”. If they had stuck with the understandable exasperation of the showroom manager then it would have been probably fine but it’s way that inexplicably a crowd gathers to watch outside and then with much laughter, claps the appearance of Columbo at the end. But it’s never clear to me why they’d do this. Seeing a man under a car in a car showroom is not exactly something that usually stops people in their tracks.

      It’s almost as if the show – as was often the fault of the new episodes – steps outside of itself and presents a scene where it’s the famous Columbo performing for whoever is present rather than the unknown Columbo. If that makes sense!

  3. I agree with the article. I would add that the Columbo in the sixties and seventies was a street smart guy. The latter era Columbo seemed naive – destroying the credibility of the character. An example would be the exaggerated response when he learned what the title of the movie “Debbie dies Dallas” really meant.

    • A cringeworthy example to raise, very relevant. His failure to recognise the Jaws theme in Murder with too Many Notes is another example that is truly agonising to watch.

    • I agree totally; in the Classic episodes his absolute confidence in his intuition made him invulnerable as a character; he truly began to seem vulnerable and a bit obsequious in the new episodes I.e. tired and a bit weak.

  4. I don’t think you are being too harsh on the new ones. Like you said, Murder in Lalibu or no time to die, I mean come on ! I never understood how Falk agreed to shoot those.
    The first episodes are more classy I guess.
    I only desagree on one thing. For me the last good one was murder with too many notes.

  5. I don’t think you are being too harsh on the new ones. Like you said, Murder in Lalibu or no time to die, I mean come on ! I never understood how Falk agreed to shoot those.
    The first episodes are more classy I guess.
    I only desagree on one thing. For me the last good one was murder with too many notes.

  6. Agree with the difference in class between the eras and the quality in guests (was the budget lower?).

    A thought on how the character had changed: Firstly there seemed to be too much ‘box ticking’ e.g. ever present raincoat, ‘my wife’s a big fan’, can’t find a pencil, rather than the writers understanding the character and incorporating columboisms naturally into the script. Secondly, too often Columbo was presented as some kind of novelty, a figure of fun rather than the serious and sly cop of the 70’s. Yes he was an oddball, but Falk always played it straight and sincere. Not like the 90’s where he entered a scene and he was usually smiling away with his expansive gestures. It was a too knowing, self aware portrayal.

  7. Sorry for my bad english, im spanish. We dont have sites like this in Spain to discuss about Columbo.

    I know this is a 2015 post, but i have to say that there are some many episodes in the later seasons that are very good.

    -Columbo goes college: The best of the new Columbos. The murder is very inteligent, and the “Gotcha” is simply perfect. The way how Columbo discard the other suspects is brilliant too.

    -Death hits the Jackpot: For me the best of the new Columbos after “Columbo goes college”. First, the chemistry between Rip Torn and Peter Falk is just awesome. Rip Torn is a great villiain and I think in this episode we see the best Falk interpretation of the later episodes. He reminds me the 70s Columbo. William Link said the “gotcha” in this was in his top. I dont really agree but is a VERY nice gotcha.

    -Agenda for Murder: Very good episode. Patrick and Falk, both won the Emmy for this.

    -Murder of a rock star: Nobody talks about this episode and I think is a very good one. First of all Dabney Coleman performs a very good villain. The clues in this one are very good, like the champagne bottles, the one with the private detective´s chamera, and the ending. I like a lot the theme composed for this episode

    and this ending is incredible, with Columbo at first singing, and then looking to the photo of the murdered rock star, probably thinking: “Poor girl, but i did my job and that man is under jail, he will never hurt again anyone”. Little details like this are the ones that describes the personality of our Lieutenant.

    The song was sung by his wife, who acted in the episode too.

    -Ashes to ashes: Falk looks too old in this episode but it doesn´t matters, because his chemistry with Patrick is amazing. It would be a very good ending for the series.

    I have to add that the nightlife episode is not bad, we can see Columbo in his roots, making a real detective work and picking some nice clues with a traditional method, but the villains doesn´t work well, and it´s not well directed. And Peter Falk too old, for me is not believable a 75 years old cop.

    Murder with too many notes is for me the WORST episode of the whole series. And there are very bad episodes like “Undercover”, “No time to die” or “Last salute to the commodore”… But this one is simply HORRIBLE.

  8. I guess it is strange to say, compared to others here, but I actually liked the newer ones! The way how he played Columbo in a more funny way, well I liked it. For some reason the newer episodes seem to be “faster” (more paste in it).
    For me some of the best episodes are from the last season(s).

    • I’ve read great comments in favor of each series of episodes. I think that an hour and a half seemed just right as far as the length of the episode,and the longer ones tended to drag at times. The music was definitely better in the older series, not the constant “This old man” cliches.

  9. I must be way too simple minded to notice the same flaws as many others would. I like (or, at least do not dislike) many of the new episodes. I even find “No Time to Die” and “Undercover” somewhat watchable, even though they are some of the worst in my opinion as well – but yet I can’t bring myself to watching “Last Salute to the Commodore”.

    A majority of the newer episodes are the reason I got into Columbo in the first place, watching them on TV during sleepless nights – so maybe that’s why I don’t mind them so much. Then I went and bought all the seasons, and after viewing the old ones, I too appreciate them more than the new ones – but I can’t be as critical as others since they introduced me to this great series. Or maybe I’m just too kind.

    • I was hoping to leave general feedback.I started watching Columbo in the early days, and it quickly became a high point of my TV watching. They are still showing the episodes on Hallmark, and I look forward to my daily dose of Columbo after work. I’ll never get tired of watching them, and I agree that the earlier ones were better. Even my wife, who is from the Philippines and never heard of Columbo is starting to say “Just one more thing”.

  10. Glad I found your site because I often watch Colombo on the weekend if there is nothing I like on TV.

    I have seen 90 per cent of them many times but, seriously, they are worth watching again until the past Sunday when I saw Murder in Malibu.

    The writing was terrible and the story line was way off. I could not get it out of my mind. As it wrapped up I said what show am I watching. All of the old ones were very tightly written as far as the story goes and as you very appropriately stated they fit the time. In Murder in Malibu the sting was not sound–it was a flimsy theory. The acting was okay but the story just was not there and then I was completely offended at the end when Brenda Vaccarro fell for Andrew Stevens. She played a good character but the ending had no lead in or story line.

    Who wrote this thing and who thought it was okay to finalize.

    It did seem like a series redone cheaply. I had to search out your site because I could not understand what happened. There was really no depth to the characters. I did read one site where it was mentioned that one often had compassion for the murderer in the end, including Colombo.

    It is pretty hard to redo a top line show like Colombo. It has a place in time and also Peter Falk became too old. Part of the appeal to the original for me was the fact that he was very cute, the well written and well thought out sting showing off Colombo’s genius and the talent of the actors, one of my very, very favorites, Peter Culp. To me, none of that existed in the new show.

    That was one of the hallmarks of the original was using and bringing back real talented actors.

    Enjoyed reading your information. I think you hit the nail on the head. Those shows hold a place in time, like Perry Mason. As you suggest the time or the era and the person fit the part. It cannot always be duplicated.

  11. Agree with most of the comments. As a boy growing up in the 1970’s Columbo was my favourite detective and still is. The 70’s episodes were the best, however one exception stands out – It’s all in the game. I thought this was a very, very good film. Almost cinema quality. Faye Dunaway was the perfect breathy, sultry murderess who would have even bedded Columbo if it meant her getting away with murder! She was so flirty and there was definitely an onscreen connection between the two. Faye’s on-screen daughter was a real shock too, as the story unfolded. Very clever indeed. Just wish the following episodes were as good, but alas, like many have commented on here, they were a pale shadow of the 70’s films. Thanks Peter, your were superb as Columbo and no other actor has tried to emulate you!

  12. Have to say I basically agree with your verdict, although I might be *slightly* more charitable regarding certain individual episodes than you. By my reckoning, there are four really great episodes in New Columbo that I think can withstand comparison to the best of the classic series, and maybe twice that many that are at least a pleasant way to pass 90 minutes even if they’re not great. The other dozen or so episodes? If I were channel surfing and I found one just starting, I’d probably keep clicking.

    I will say, though, that they got almost all the way through the whole of New Columbo without letting the modern era bleed so much into the show that it clashed with the character’s tone. Almost. “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” suffers pretty badly from it. Everything — the gruesome killing, the dialogue, the setting, the music, even the camerawork — is just so relentlessly modern and “edgy,” and then here comes Columbo with his patter, his rumpled coat, his comically broken-down car, and his drawing room mystery style. Honestly, it almost feels like Peter Falk wandered onto the set of an NYPD Blue episode by mistake and no one had the heart to tell him he was in the wrong place.

    They definitely should have called it a day after “Ashes to Ashes.” That’s a hell of an episode. It even has a hell of a closing line to end the series on. The two that come after it…the magic was just gone, I guess. Too bad.

  13. Just wanted to say Peter Falk’s portrayal of Columbo changed in the last two seasons of the seventies, way before the nineties. In episodes like Murder Under Glass, the character became slightly cartoonish and arrogant, with an exaggerated accent. Years later, when he came back, he was better, still cartoonish at times, but more like the Columbo of the first seasons.

    • There was a new producer at the helm for seasons 6 and 7, and he introduced a few changes, notably trying to make Columbo’s entry deliver more tension (Bye-Bye Sky High a case in point). It may have gone slightly overboard in some S7 episodes (Make me a Perfect Murder, Conspirators) where Columbo was perhaps veering away from the character we so loved in the early seasons. Still some gems to be found in those two seasons, though.

      • I’ve been curious for a while about how Peter Falk’s portrayal of Columbo changed over the course of seasons 6 and 7 and did wonder if working with Patrick McGoohan had anything to do with this so I’ve read the comments on the threads here with interest. Falk also aged noticeably between 1975 and 1977 and I’ve wondered if drinking sessions with McGoohan took a physical toll!

  14. I haven’t started watching the “new” Columbos yet (and I won’t for at least a week because I’m going out of town), but I do agree with the people who think there was something…I don’t want to say “off,” but certainly different about Falk’s portrayal of Columbo in Season 7. I can’t say it’s bad, really, but it’s certainly not what you might have come to expect after the first six seasons; he almost entirely drops all the faux bumbling and the self-effacement and the rest of his obfuscating stupidity act. He becomes more assertive and essentially behaves just a perfectly competent detective with a rather eccentric manner.

    I think the zenith of this tendency is probably in “How to Dial a Murder,” where he pretty much figures out the killer’s method instantaneously, stays one step ahead of him the entire way through the show, and in the big ending summation openly mocks him to his face, rubbing his nose in all the mistakes he made and the lies he was caught in and telling him what a disappointment he was as an adversary. This is something that it seems to me the Columbo of previous seasons would never, ever do, even with a perp he really hated like Dr. Mayfield or Milo Janus.

    • probably because the Lieutenant found the man completely disgusting. After all, this man was going to have his two loyal dogs destroyed in order to cover up his own crime. Columbo was as big a dog lover as anyone, and this killer probably really deserved to have his nose rubbed in it in the Lieutenant’s eyes. Just my opinion.

      • I disagree. I don’t think Columbo was mocking the guy out of hatred or disgust; I think the point was to sound like he had a lot of evidence (so the killer has nothing to lose by murdering the detective), and to do that in mocking fashion (so the killer would doing enjoy it). And that provokes the incriminating ‘rosebud’ command, which is the evidence that Columbo was *really* after.

        (I figure it’s like the “IQ” murder, where Columbo raves about how Danziger is a genius: is he *actually* all that impressed with Danziger, or does he just want to provoke Brandt into showing off?)

  15. Agree completely. I am just seeing the second generation episodes on ME TV (a retro TV network over-the-air).

    The first two I’ve seen (Columbo Goes to the Guillotine, Murder, Smoke & Shadows) highlight all the problems that you cite. Falk acts like a self-parody playing up the “shtick” and forsaking the serious detective of old playing a clever cat and mouse game. The murderers lack the charisma and gravitas of a Jack Cassidy, Robert Culp, Ross Martin, Ruth Gordon, Ray Milland, et al. Really bland, uninteresting, unbelievable portrayals.

    Granted I’ve only seen the first two of the second generation, so I’ll hope to see something better, yet.

    • Keep an eye out for ‘Agenda for Murder’, which will be coming up soon. Patrick McGoohan is back and as good as ever. Certainly one of the best of the new ones. Be warned: the dreaded ‘tuba scene’ in the upcoming Sex and the Married Detective is sheer agony to behold!

  16. I watch one episode a week on Sunday night in order from Prescription Murder to Columbo Loves the Nightlife. (OK I watch some of my favorites repeatedly during other times of the week as well). I always get over excited when I get back to the beginning, although the advantage to watching the newer ones is that I haven’t watched them ten million times so in that way they are a little fresher. But they pale in comparison to the originals. I was 13 years old in 1989 when Columbo came back on the air but was very familiar with the original episodes although I was born in 1976. My parents liked the series and watched it and my two sisters and myself noticed and really took to it and it soon became a major family tradition to watch Columbo. I totally agree with the time period and the lack of class of the 90’s and the sleaze that found its way into too much of the Columbo episodes. Still there are a few I really enjoy. At the top of that list is Columbo Goes to College. Obviously a remake of A Friend in Deed with Columbo using his Wife’s car instead of a rented apartment, but the concept was the same but that was just a great epsiode that to me fits right in with the 70s episodes. I also like A Self Portrait with the figuring out what the dreams meant and the return of one of my second favorite Columbo non regular character who played the bar owner (the same guy that was the taylor in Candidate for Crime, the Funeral Insurance salesman from Swan Song and so on). My favorite non regular character was Freddy or John Jay Wilson ??? from The Greenhouse Jungle and Now You See Him. I also thought the final Columbo in 2003 was very good because the solving was right on par with the solvings from some of the best original ones. When it comes down to it though two things really made the newer Columbo episodes not as good: First of all it is just inevidible that the Peter being older made the character less charming. It is not unusual for an older person to be absent minded as it is for a younger person which made Columbo unique. Mostly though is that the idiosyncrasies of Columbo were just over done in the later episodes. You can overdo it and it looses its charm and in the 90s he did overdo it. And yes some of the weird stuff like the Tuba playing and ending of Murder, Smoke, and Shadows were just too goofy. For me the absolute worst episode was No Time to Die, I find it not watchable. I much prefer the original run but if it is not No Time to Die I or Last Salute to the Commodore, I look forward to watching any Columbo episode.

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  18. I put “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” in my top ten because it redeemed the slide of the last two decades by returning him right to where he started, with “Prescription for Murder”. I thought it was well-written, Vanessa played a sympathetic character trapped in the accidental death of her scummy ex-husband, and having to go along with her scheming boyfriend, set up a great stage for Columbo to appear.

    The portrayal of Columbo here is very much like the pilot; he returns to his roots and does good detective work. The cop who works with him is confused by his old-fashioned detective work, but gains respect for him and he sees his results. Instead of Columbo playing Columbo, he IS Columbo, no longer with tongue in cheek. His meeting the Mafia thug was an interesting piece and not out of place; he worked with Artie Jessup to nab the commissioner in “A Friend in Deed”. His unwinding of the facts is matched by the surprise by Vanessa and Justin as they realize this old cop is on to them.

    I found the ending to be a nice piece of detective work and a clever plot twist, and his final walkout to be a fitting end to the Columbo legend. He walks out as he walked in, an average guy with the mind of Sherlock Holmes. This was better than a final episode. Columbo walks away, his legend secure, walking into the future. Well done Lieutenant.

    • I have to second this. When we did this episode for our podcast, I was extremely, pleasantly surprised. This one seemed to get what made the 70s episodes work and it made me wish there had just been one or two more.

    • Working through the later years Columbos with my brother. I had read ITS SPIDEYMAN’S post very recently and so was expecting a good show when we watched Columbo Likes the Nightlife this evening, and we were not disappointed. We noticed that it had been a few years since the last Columbo and that the director was new, not one of the two more common directors who had directed many of the 1990-2000 shows. The beginning set the stage for a more edgy show right from the start. music and cinematography. Columbo was very much business throughout the show. Sure there were a few “One more thing” and “I have a nephew who works at the big zoo in San Diego and he told me…” for us diehards, but it did not patronize us with some of the crazier theatrics of many of the other shows from the later years. I completely agree that, relatively speaking, he went out with a very good show that highlighted his detective work with just enough Columboisms to keep the fans happy.

  19. My brother and I are working our way through the ABC years episodes after buying the DVD set. I am not sure how they decided the order, as it is chronological but it seems to start in the 1990s. At any rate, I have left a comment or two before regarding “mistakes” in the episodes we have seen thus far. We are currently on “Its All in the Game”, actually written by Peter Falk. About half way through the performance he refers to the deceased as Mr. French when in fact his name is Mr. Franco. Perhaps Falk had been watching an old episode of Family Affair between takes. I think one of the weak points of the newer episodes is that they allowed these mistakes to persist rather than editing them out and/or repeating the scene. Somehow I don’t see Steven Spielberg or the folks at NBC allowing a mistake like this to remain in the completed show.

    Columbophile is wonderful; I’m always finding new things to read on the site!

  20. Peter Faulks acting style changes at some point toward the end of the original run. From the beginning of the series through season 5 and Now You See Him Faulk plays the character pretty straight but starting with season 6 things change. Faulk’s acting starts to go over the top, by the time we get to Make Me a Perfect Murder his acting is off the rails, like others have pointed out it’s has if he’s doing a parady of the character from the earlier episodes. I’d really like to know why this is. Can anyone shed light on this?

    • For me the big changes are when Richard Alan Simmons came in as producer from By By Sky High onwards. Whereas before Falk has played Columbo as a bit of a down trodden working class cop, from then on he became far more whimsical (for want of a ether word) and eccentric. He doesn’t seem as self aware of these eccentricities either whereas before he might have used them as a device to put killer’s off guard. Now they seem more over-the-top needless. Incidentally this is also when he stats to refer to his wife as “Mrs Columbo” and not just “my wife”. I cringe every time I hear him say that, it doesn’t seem natural and makes him appear from eccentric than he needs to be.

    • I suspect, although I’ve never read anything confirming this, that Falk was happy to see the character evolve somewhat after so many years in the role. He loved where McGoohan took the character in terms of whimsy and eccentricity in Last Salute to the Commodore (I HATED it), so perhaps that was an influence in subsequent seasons’ portrayal? And, yes, Simmons did come in and mix it up to a certain extent and tried to make Columbo’s entrance to each episode more dramatic – only partly successfully in my opinion.

  21. I do admit the 70s classics are better, they seem to have a bigger budget? or just are more immersive. However I still like the newer ones, the best in my opinion (no particular order):

    -Murder a self portrait: beautiful, story flows, columbo’s dog and a murder inside a murder. great.

    -Columbo Cries Wolf: good plot twist and brilliant 90s extravagance: neon lights, bad fashion, fast paced saxophone melody, general excess!

    -Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health: great title, hilarious murder death, and that scene: murder; “this shirt is Italian cost $300 from the other side of the globe”, Columbo “Gee, mine came the same distance too, $29.95 Korean”.

    – Agenda For Murder: Patrick McGoohan – enough said.

    – Butterfly in Shades of Grey: Captain Kirk, I mean William Shatner plays the most horrid murder out of all the episodes, he is so vile you want Columbo to catch him!

    The list could go on, but I think these are the most memorable later versions in my mind. As I say I prefer 70s Columbo’s particularly when he gets the murder to frame themselves or caught in the act. I will still watch later episodes as well.

    • You certainly reference some of the better new episodes, and I thoroughly enjoy Agenda for Murder. I’m not a fan of Self Portrait. In fact that’s one episode I actually think I’d turn off if it came on TV, and it’s not many episodes that cause such a reaction with me!

    • My favorites from that era are “Try and Catch Me”, “How to Dial a Murder” and “Bye Bye Sky High Murders”. I think all three of these episodes are worthy of Lt. Columbo.

  22. I know what your saying about ludicrous situations and padding in the “new” Columbo’s but but I think it should be pointed out that there are some really awkward moments in the 70s run too – particularly in the final season. Remember the uncomfortable book reading sequence in “Try and Catch Me”? or that awful and pointless sequence when Columbo’s playing with the editing equipment in “Make Me A Perfect Murder”? I completely agree about the sequences in “Sex and the Married Detective” etc but I think it’s wrong to say it’s just a “new” Columbo phenomenon.

    As for Falk’s characterisation – the beginnings of the character becoming a caricature of himself begin around this time as well. The slower delivery and loss of subtlety are all seen in the final season. In fact, it really begins with season six’s “The Bye Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case”. Watch it again and you’ll see his portrayal of Columbo is noticeably different from “Old fashioned Murder”. And don’t get me started on when he starts to refer to his wife as “Mrs Columbo”. It’s awful and just makes him sound like a cartoon character.

    Interestingly, all of these elements are at their most noticeable in episodes produced by Richard Alan Simmons. I think he must’ve had something to do in implementing these changes.

  23. I have to grudgingly agree re the new seasons being a poorer version of the detective, I have to admit I would still rather watch any of these than most other fare dished up on our TV screen just now

  24. No disagreement from me. While there are some 90s episodes that I love (Sex and the Married Detective, Columbo Likes the Nightlife) the vast majority of them are weaker than the 70s run, and there are some I hate (because I feel they got it wrong).
    I didn’t even like the font they used on the titles!! Too Murder She Wrote, and I missed the original credits-style.

  25. Excellent article! Thank you! “No Time to Die” has always been upsetting to me–as have other episodes. You’ve put your finger on it precisely. I’m a Columbo-file from the first airings. Thank you!

  26. I too can not stand to watch “No Time to Die.” However, I do enjoy “Murder in Malibu.” Even though the later episodes aren’t up to the standard of the earlier episodes, the bottom line I love to see him in action

  27. I left my comment as a reply instead of a new post:
    “I’m just now watching the later ones. I have to agree with the article. I’ve avoided them for many many years, but I’ve seen the originals so often I wanted to see the new ones. I’d totally go with the ’70 series. Murder by the Book (directed by a young Spielberg) Suitable for Framing and By Dawns Early Light (filmed in my hometown) are my favorites.”

  28. Forgive my tardiness on finding this wonderful blog. And on finding Columbo! I’m a young person watching the original series for the first time, and loving just about every frame of it. I watched the tuba scene above—unbearable. And somehow detrimental to Columbo’s entire character. I wonder if you consider the later series skip-able for a newcomer, with the exception of some better episodes?

    • I always recommend newcomers start with the 70s classics and go from there. There are a handful of really good 80s/90s episodes, but some are so poor that a first time viewer would never bother watching the show again. What got you into the show? And did you start from the beginning, or a random episode?

      • I turned on the TV one night and there was William Shatner in “Fade in to Murder”. I’d never seen Columbo, but I’m a fan of the original Star Trek, so I watched. I thought this detective was very interesting and unusual in his process, and I wanted to see more of him. After that, I watched “Murder by the Book” and was amazed by the overall quality of the show—from the guest stars to the music to the visual direction, and of course Columbo himself. I’m working my way through the series in order, and I’m currently in season 1. I’m pleased to discover there’s an online fan base.

      • I’m just now watching the later ones. I have to agree with the article. I’ve avoided them for many many years, but I’ve seen the originals so often I wanted to see the new ones. I’d totally go with the ’70 series. Murder by the Book (directed by a young Spielberg) Suitable for Framing and By Dawns Early Light (filmed in my hometown) are my favorites.

  29. I do want to say some nice things about “Columbo Goes to the Guillotine.” I know that many people ridicule the ending (with Columbo risking his neck, banking entirely on the murderer trying to kill him), but the show is saved by the “viewing at a distance” psychic illusion. That was a terrific trick that Columbo explains just before the ending. And the kid Tommy has the line of the show: “It’s a trick. You remember it’s a trick and never forget it’s a trick. And then you can start figuring it out.” I’ve thought of that line often since in various circumstances.

    • Thank you for these words. I’ve just started watching the new episodes (I’ve been watching Columbo in order from the beginning for a few months now). I really enjoyed “Columbo Goes to the Guillotine” – it was fast, tense and gloomy enough. The killer was a real badass, who resembled Paul Gerard to me, although he might be a little more “justified” given his terrible past and betrayal in the African prison. Moreover, I felt satisfied when Columbo exposed the tricks one by one as I don’t believe in telepathy and all that stuff. As for the ending, I immediately thought that Columbo must have tampered with the guillotine somehow – in the way that the blade wouldn’t have cut his head no matter how the killer positioned the element. Maybe he put some small bolt in it or something? It seems perfectly possible to me that he was able to figure out guillotine operation by himself or, possible, assisted by some police technician/locksmith. Then, he cleverly tempted Blake into trying to kill him and that was it.
      The only thing that worries me about the new episodes is this: are the killing scenes increasingly brutal and gruesome than those in the old series? “Guillotine” seems to be saying “get ready”. Its killing scene was still indirect, but so blood-filled and tense… I can’t watch cruelty and one thing for which I respect the 70’s Columbo so much is that they were able to make terrific, entertaining crime stories without showing guts on the wall.

      • I felt they were getting more brutal as well, culminating with “Columbo Likes the Nightlife”, where Prince attacks Coben. I think it was a product of the time, a general coarsening of the culture. I’m one of those who thinks that violence can overwhelm the plot. Give me a good-old-fashioned suspense story any day.

        • Oh no, that’s what I feared. Luckily, I always watch Columbo with my husband, who isn’t a fan of excessive cruelty, but is still able to watch such scenes and sleep well afterwards. He’ll tell me when I can watch again, then. I would hate it if I had to quit watching Columbo just because of increasing brutality.

      • Well, then, I watched “Columbo Likes the Nightlife” by accident, so to say, and I must admit it’s very good. Columbo is himself, the gotcha scene is great and the interaction and ending with the mafia guy is a really nice addition which proves that Columbo can indeed get along with anyone in the right way. The only, but huge, charge, goes to the killing scene. Maybe it’s just me, but I had to turn my head away and cover my ears so as not to hear or see that. They really overdid it in terms of length and brutality. Some might say, “what’s the problem – you just missed some two minutes; don’t like it – don’t look”. Well, yes, but I don’t like the idea that I can’t watch a Columbo episode from start to finish without worrying. Then, I also saw “Murder with Too Many Notes” and it wasn’t that good. The gotcha was somehow unconvincing and they still had to force in some irrelevant cruelty (via the horror scene where the killer stabs the woman – they repeated it twice very carefully…). The only thing I liked about it was the presence of music, Columbo guessing the film titles and so on. Oh, and the very last scene where Rebecca teaches Columbo a simple melody – again, he showed his interaction skills in managing to console her with that simple gesture. To sum up, I’ve only seen three new episodes thus far and the fantastic eagerness to watch another one (so strong during going through the old series!) has already gone. I will watch them all, of course, but I already know what most of you mean.

    • I agree with the “viewing at a distance” point. When I first saw it I was flabbergasted. But Tommy had it right, just don’t forget it’s a trick. I really enjoyed the reveal, excellently set up (although Columbo milked the scene a touch) and for me the great redeemer of the episode. You’re right Rich, I’ve taken that line to heart whenever I see a magician do their magic.

    • One thing about the remote-viewing trick that I still don’t get is that the one factor controlled by Elliott Blake is which direction the drivers look. He tells them to choose a direction at random and take a photo and fax it to the institute, which means he has only a partial chance (maybe one in three?) of them choosing the landmark he plans to draw from memory.

      Of course none of it would have worked if Max Dyson hadn’t been his secret confederate—someone trying to debunk him would have asked to examine the equipment, including the map-books with identical pages and pre-marked locations, and the dry pens.

  30. Just one more thing on this subject (to coin a phrase). You say that; “In the new episodes the character feels more forced, as if Falk himself is doing an impression of the younger Columbo – or even a parody.” I agree, but I wouldn’t limit this to the “new” Columbos only. I would say the same about some of the later episodes from the original series as well.

    I grew up with Columbo. I watched “Prescription: Murder” when I was not yet 12; “Murder by the Book” when I was 15. And I can remember not only thinking, but also mentioning to others, as the original series progressed into its last few seasons, that Peter Falk was doing more and more of a Columbo impression, rather than simply playing the character. I thought this while the original series was still on the air. Look at “Fade in for Murder” in Season 6 as one example.

    Perhaps the fact that Falk was also asked to appear as Columbo for comedic purposes (see, e.g., influenced the exaggeration of his portrayal.

    • Perhaps you’re right. Fade in to Murder’s whole concept is pointing fun at TV detectives and Falk’s own studio battles, so offered itself very naturally for a more comedic approach. While several others have funny scenes (Bye-Bye Sky High has plenty) I never felt Falk was playing it for laughs for the sake of it, which bothers me with several newer episodes.

      • “How to Dial a Murder” may be a better example of Falk playing the Columbo caricature more than playing the Columbo character. I saw it again recently and the overacting was unfortunate.

      • I agree with Rich that some of the episodes in the later seasons from the 70s show Columbo being a bit “too much” Columbo. Lovable, but maybe a bit over the top at times.

      • My husband is a 5’7″ Italian who looks so much like Columbo it’s uncanny. HE even acts like Columbo with his one arm across his chest and the other with his hand to his chin. They share the same first name “Frank” which was revealed by a shot at his credentials in one episode. I love every episode for the pure enjoyment of watching Peter Falk in action. He is my favorite actor.

  31. Recently, I was listening online to the Archive of American Television’s interview with William Link. Link lists what he considers the three best Columbo clues (what Peter Falk called the “pop” at the end that seals the case). Ironically, two of the three he mentioned came from the “new” Columbos. One was the ending of 1990’s “Columbo Cries Wolf” (where Columbo calls the victim’s pager). Another was the monkey’s fingerprint in 1991’s “Death Hits the Jackpot” (which, according to Link, was an idea from, but never used in, the original series that Falk appropriated for a later episode). The only one of the three on Link’s list from the original series was the ending of “Suitable for Framing.”

    • Rich,

      Very interesting. Thanks for sharing with us. I think we would all agree with the Suitable for Framing ending as being definitely at the top of the list, or at least very close to the top.

    • When was that filmed? Perhaps the proximity to Cries Wolf and Jackpot influenced his thinking? I don’t think either of those is a patch on the best clues of the 70s.

    • I’m not a disliker of “Columbo Cries Wolf”, because the plot takes form for 3/4 of the episode, and I liked the callback to Detective Chief Superintendent Durk, Columbo’s friend from “Dagger of the Mind”. Callbacks give a continuity, a feel for the life of the character. Anyway, the evolving plot, the uncertainty of whether Dian Hunter was really dead, and the twist in the end makes for asking questions at the end, something I like to do. This one was in my “maybe” column for years, but after watching it again and again I got to like it.

  32. My brother and I just watched Murder of a Rock Star, which we had not seen in decades. Two significant filming errors, for those who like to know everything Columbo.
    1) Champagne bottle with sedative (in refrigerator) moves one spot all by itself between scenes
    2) Closed captioning shows the discount audio store spelt at “Dodi’s” whereas the box Columbo has in the final scene clearly shows “Dhoti’s”.
    Just some fun facts.

  33. Very nice article Columbophile. I agree with you. I think the firts wave is better that the 2nd. But I still think that the new episodes are better than most of the new series now. Keep up the good work Columbophile, continue writting, we will keep on reading !

  34. The style, the writing, the naturalness,
    The production quality and overall care seem to be lacking greatly in the newer Columbos.

    In fact the only 70s Columbo I seriously dislike is Last Salute to the Commodore. The only truly dreadful 70s episode.

    Dagger of the Mind is also not great but I’d still watch it instead of the majority of the newer ones.

    • Hi Russell, thanks for your comment. I share your views, not least with regard to Last Salute. I can’t stand it. Of all the 70s episodes, it is the one I can’t stomach. It would feature highly in my personal ‘Columbo worst 10’. It might possibly be only 1 of 2 ’70s episodes to appear.

      • And now I’m intrigued to know what your second worst of the 70s episodes would be.

        Oh..and one more thing, this may sound picky but I really didn’t like it in the newer episodes when they had Columbos name as part of the title. I.e. “Columbo goes to college” etc. It just seemed like a weak and lazy way to title things.

  35. I’ll watch most of the new episodes if they come on TV, but only regard a handful as being of any great quality. No Time To Die is an absolute shocker for all the wrong reasons, a truly dire experience. Glad you mentioned the horrible tuba playing scene as well, I think I shouted at the TV the first time I witnessed that nonsense. I too also agree with the farcical gotcha in Columbo Goes To The Guillotine, I mean, really, he’s going to risk his life like that? I could go on with more complaints, and that’s the sad thing about the newer ones.

    Looking at the positives, I’ve never really thought about which of the later episodes is my favourite, but pondering it now I’d probably say It’s All In The Game with Faye Dunaway. That one has a lot of the touches that made the seventies ones so special and I can happily watch it numerous times.

  36. The denouement in Columbo Goes to the Guillotine always bothered me, too, for the same reason. Granted, Columbo had good reason to think the killer would do this, but still….up until the ending I thought it was a fine return.

    I think the 90 minute time frame is just perfect for Columbo, and one reason the newer episodes didn’t work as well was the padding (you’ve mentioned a few examples, i.e. the tuba bit) needed to bring each episode to 2 hours in the late 80’s and 90’s. Another way television had changed: 90 minute time slots were pretty much a thing of the past by 1989.

    I did enjoy a number of new shows: Uneasy Lies the Crown (Paul Burke helped a great deal), Columbo Cries Wolf (the first real variation on the formula, and the villain was a real slimeball) and most of the McGoohan episodes during the revival.

    Just seeing Patrick McGoohan and Peter Falk working together several more times made the revival worth it IMO, flaws and all.

  37. I don’t think you’re being harsh enough! The newer episodes are a massive drop in quality from the classics. I never revisit them and I think they dilute the overall quality of the ‘Columbo brand’.

  38. The newer Columbo is a lot like The Who after Keith Moon died. Some of the fire disappeared, the writing wasn’t as good, but there were still some gems. For me, the final Columbo (loves the night life) was exceptionally good without a decent villain. But if I had a choice of no Columbo vs. new Columbo, I’ll take new every time.

  39. Agree with you wholeheartedly. I was 14 when the series came back in the late 80’s and I did enjoy them. The problem was that the 70’s episodes were SO good it was too hard an act to follow. There were some genuine cringeworthy moments in the later (80s/90s) stories. Columbo was Columbo in the first 10 years. In the second round of episodes it felt at times that I was watching a different character. Still enjoyed them though!

  40. I’ve enjoyed both batches of episodes. The “old” ones are generally better, but there are also not that good episodes among the old ones that I watch less likely than the best of the later episodes. I may be in the minority, but I don’t appreciate seeing some of the villains (even thought they are great actors) so many times. Twice is OK, but three or four times is too much even for Jack Cassidy.

    So for me it is not that black and white.

  41. The younger Columbo was more natural and authentic. The older Columbo was too forced and more of a caricature. But love him nonetheless.

  42. I agree with a lot of this. But today I watched “Murder, Smoke & Shadows”, and I really enjoyed the scene where Columbo first meets the murderer. It has not only comedy (he is discovered playing with a toy train set), and suspense (the murderer is totally baffled why the detective might connect him with the murder). But also not one but two “leave the room and barge back in again” moments: the first time to tell the murderer how incriminating his two soda glasses would be if he were actually under suspicion, and the second time just after the murderer has smashed the incriminating glasses. Fantastic!

  43. Yeah, I think Columbo Goes To College is a highlight of the newer episodes. It was on today and the interaction between Columbo and the two college kids is really strong. They’re a really unpleasant, smug pair – openly teasing and mocking him in some scenes – which makes the ‘gotcha’ all the more satisfying to watch!

  44. Generally with you on this but also usually able to grapple with the shortcomings and watch one from the latter bunch. The 70s will always be the go-to episodes — it’s an excellent thing there are twice as many of them — but can’t bring myself to rule out a Columbo episode, whatever its age.

  45. I also do not enjoy the new episodes as much but watch for the Columbo character. The idiosyncrasies of Columbo seem somewhat forced as opposed to the natural flow of the original episodes.


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