April 1 2018 struck a sombre note for Columbo fans with news that Steven Bochco had died at the age of 74 after a long battle with leukemia.
I don’t pretend to be a great student of Steven’s work, although of course I’m familiar with many of his blockbuster hits including LA Law, NYPD Blue, Murder One and the seminal Hill Street Blues.
However, it would be poor form to not reflect on Bochco’s considerable contribution to Columbo, which commenced in 1971 when he wrote Season 1’s opening episode Murder by the Book at the age of 27.
“Bochco wrote Columbo‘s Season 1 opener Murder by the Book at the age of 27.”
In collaboration with rookie director Steven Spielberg, Bochco created a story that stands the test of time better than almost any other Columbo episode, setting a standard of interaction and confrontation between the Lieutenant and his quarry (in this case Jack Cassidy’s Ken Franklin) that was rarely bested in the show’s 35-year run.
For this, he was nominated for an ‘Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama’ Emmy in 1972, although he didn’t win. He went home empty handed a year later, too, after receiving a nomination for his work on Columbo Season 2 opener Etude in Black. He did, however, win 10 Emmys from his 30 lifetime nominations, the majority for Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue.
Although small compared to his main body of work, Bochco’s Columbo legacy is strong. He also contributed the teleplay to the excellent Lady in Waiting and Blueprint for Murder from Columbo‘s stellar first season – the latter including a scene cut from Murder by the Book when the murderer’s tyre blows with the corpse in the trunk and a traffic cop pulls over to help. It’s a scene of superior tension, so it’s great that Bochco was able to ensure it was finally aired.
“I’m grateful that a man of Bochco’s talents was able to hone his skills on Columbo and create some outstanding memories for millions of fans the world over.”
As well as Etude, Bocho also wrote the teleplay for Season 2’s Double Shock (a great personal favourite of mine) and Season 3’s Mind Over Mayhem. His final outing in Columbo colours came in 1990, when he wrote Uneasy Lies the Crown at a stage in his career where he had essentially established himself as the leading in figure in the episodic cop drama genre.
There are many excellent tributes to Bochco that have aired since his death. For my part I’m simply grateful that a man of his talents was able to hone his skills on Columbo and create some outstanding memories for millions of fans the world over.
Another such talent, Steven Spielberg, who cut his teeth on Columbo in a similar fashion, paid this touching tribute to his long-time friend and colleague: “Steve was a friend and a colleague starting with the first episode of Columbo in 1971 that he wrote and I directed. We have supported and inspired each other ever since and through many deep mutual friendships we have stayed connected for 47 years. I will miss Steve terribly.”
As will the entire televisual community. May he rest in peace.
You can view a terrific video interview of Steven Bochco talking about his Columbo involvement below.