Columbo News / Opinion / Reboot

Sherlock and Doctor Who writer reveals bid to bring back Columbo

I’m as sceptical as Columbo looks here
UPDATE: Steven Moffat has been in touch to clarify his position on this topic, so please refer to this new article to read his comments.

Steven Moffat, creator and writer of hit UK television series Sherlock and Doctor Who, has revealed he failed in a bid to secure the rights to Columbo.

According to an interview in British magazine The Radio Times, Moffat’s hopes of rebooting the Lieutenant were thwarted by red tape. He said: “I really tried with Columbo. I did have a decent go at it, but the rights are really tied up.”

While some Columbo fans might be excited to learn of Moffat’s ambitions to bring TV’s greatest ever detective (take that, Sherlock) back to our screens, I ain’t one of them – especially after reading his further thoughts on the matter in The Radio Times.

“The idea of taking Columbo into ‘madly different’ directions is one that I’m sure would enrage most true fans of the show.”

“I think [Columbo] is a devastatingly brilliant format,” Moffat continued. “My plan was to put Peter Falk to the back of my mind and start again from the beginning. Maybe just go madly different.”

Let’s stop right there! The idea of taking Columbo into ‘madly different’ directions is one that I’m sure would enrage most true fans of the show. To me, that’s setting up the premise to fail because the great joy of Columbo has always been in how likeable the character was, despite a raft of eccentricities.

Madcap Columbo? Been there, seen that, and it was DREADFUL!

Interestingly, the one attempt to take the original series into madly different directions was Last Salute to the Commodore from 1975 – an episode largely detested by the fan base. Maybe Moffat’s a fan of that one, who knows?

The interview also reveals that Moffat doesn’t appear to even ‘get’ the Columbo character at all, saying: “The one thing Columbo has to be is the most unprepossessing, seemingly unimpressive sadist you’ll ever meet. All that ‘Oh, just one more thing’ stuff isn’t absent-mindedness. He’s such a sadist.”

I’ve been a Columbo fan for a long time and while I agree the ‘one more thing’ stuff isn’t absentmindedness (quite the opposite), I have never thought for even a second that Columbo is a sadist.

His obfuscating around the point is an act, sure, but it’s not done to amuse himself at other’s unease – it’s to ensure his suspects underestimate his mental prowess and to lull them into mistakes. Certainly, the viewer can enjoy seeing the killers squirm, but calling Columbo a sadist is quite wrong and seems a rather spectacular misread of the character.

“I have never thought for even a second that Columbo is a sadist.”

Adding things up, it seems that if Mr Moffat ever does get his hands on the rights to Columbo, fans can ‘look forward to’ a madcap, cruel and sadistic version of their beloved Lieutenant, probably set in the modern day rather than in the show’s spiritual home of the 70s.

That’s a reboot we can all live without…

What’s your opinion on this? Would Columbo be in safe hands with Steven Moffat, or is this the worst idea in the history of entertainment since Abraham Lincoln said: “I’m sick of kicking around the house all day, let’s go take in a show.”

Should Columbo ever be rebooted at all? And if so, who could possibly play him? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Carsini’s take on the idea of a Moffat Columbo reboot

How did you like this article?

47 thoughts on “Sherlock and Doctor Who writer reveals bid to bring back Columbo

  1. I could get behind a reboot with Mark Ruffalo as Columbo, or possibly Tony Shalhoub. Ruffalo would be my preferred choice, as he bears a vague resemblance to Falk and has the aww-shucks ability down pat. However, I think Shalhoub could pull it off well also. He’s played a television detective for laughs, but also has dramatic range, so he’d be a solid choice also.

    The biggest draw would be how many familiar faces they could bring in. Ruffalo’s Columbo vs. Pretty much anybody from the Quentin Tarantino film roster. Anthony Hopkins? James Woods? Timothy Dalton? Ray Liotta? A stunt casting episode similar to Swan Song with Gordon Ramsay (Not allowed to drop F-bombs) as a restaurateur who kills the employee who discovered him embezzling funds? a cast-against-type episode similar to “Negative Reaction” where instead of a killer played by kindly Dick Van Dyke, Columbo squares off with Tom Hanks? The possibilities are endless.

    • Ive been chomping at the bit to answer this question for ages i propose MARK RUFFELO for the part of Colombo..he would be ideal for the part not only does he have a uncanny likeness to peter falks version but he also has that newyork accent overtones its got to be ruffelo

  2. Pingback: 2019: the Columbo year in review | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  3. I don’t have a problem with re makes, after all one doesn’t have to like them or watch them. They said as much with lord of the rings-it couldn’t be done etc. etc.

    Give someone a go, and with the right people , done the right way, it could work. Imagine, instead of Dr Spock, we could have Dr Gosling, or Dr Bale, or Dr Edward Norton,. Michelle Pfiefer as Forgotten Lady, Robert de Niro as the Police Superintendent, or Viggo Mortensen as the stealer of priceless paintings; Dicapprio as the playboy magazine owner; j.Phoenix as Johnny Cash (again), Meryl Streep as the safe owner, the possibilities are endless.

  4. Sadly, I think what passes for TV shows in ‘modern times’ have made impossible anything similar to Columbo. Look at modern TV in the U.S. It’s all 24 minute canned laughter sitcoms, or 48 minute dreadful shows like Blue Bloods or Hawaii 5-0, where you can predict the entire rest of the show after 5 minutes. Or ‘reality’ TV that sucks the brain cells out of your head. TV nowadays is something that you can have on while also doing something else. Like ironing or talking on the phone to grandma. You don’t need to pay close attention like you did with Columbo. So there’s no reason to pay top writers or directors or guest stars if the viewing public is only 40% involved in the show.

  5. No no no keep Moffat away from “Columbo”I still watch every time Colombo appears on screen He is not sadistic or any of the names Moffat calls him, he is a clever cop who has a special way with people and He works out every detail no mistakes don’t we wish some people today did the same .
    I am so glad the owners of Columbo don’t want moffat to mess about with their columbo please never change your mind
    Peter Falk rip was Columbo and will always will be.

  6. Why reboot Columbo at all? It was good for it’s time, but the role will always be associated with Falk. It would be like trying to remake Casablanca. RJ White and Jon Morris had the right idea on their podcast–create something new. Don’t keep trying to recapture the past.

  7. Almost as bad an idea as the failed(thank God) attempt to “reboot”(aka destroy) The Rockford Files and that 3D remake idea for Vertigo. (I hear a Citizen Kane remake is still in the works.)

    Vulture capitalism once again picking at the bones.

  8. The only way it should be rebooted is maintaining the charm of Columbo as he was cast in the original,

    but I think Clayne Crawford is your guy. He did Riggs correctly and he had the expertise to do Lt. Columbo in the respectably.

  9. Leave Columbo as is. No remakes or added episodes. He was and always will be one of a kind and none can replace or come close to Peter Faulks—COLUMBO.

  10. Pingback: Moffat clarifies stance on Columbo following Radio Times interview | THE COLUMBOPHILE

  11. I must admit, as an avid fan of the show, I’d sooner it was left alone – “Likes the Nightlife” was an interesting episode but being so modern in timeframe it didn’t really fit. Columbo inhabits the world before forensics when mental agility alone solved crimes.
    Some years ago when Mark Ruffalo was mooted as a possible Columbo, I could see that working, not only in his general appearance but also based on his excellent performance as real life 70’s detective Dave Toschi in Zodiac, a man who alas never got his quarry.
    Any remake needs to be set in the 70’s, or before, I like Richards suggestion of an Endeavour like prequel, that could work well. It would have to have the same sort of production values as the original Columbo, with a top class guest cast, but there would be scope to maybe introduce some additional recurring cast, like Gilhooly.
    I don’t think Moffatt would be the man for this, I’m a Brit and a fan of both US and UK drama, they are different animals, we have very different production values, Law and Order never transferred well to the UK despite a valiant effort by those involved.
    If ever undertaken it needs to be handled carefully, after all there has only been one Columbo spin off, Mrs. Columbo, and we all know how that ended, although I always feel sorry for Kate Mulgrew who did give it her best shot as a mere 24 year old trying to do the impossible.

  12. I would not trust anyone with Columbo from tv land. Lurking agenda everywhere. Besides try to get creative and come up with something original. I watch very little tv , mostly old films. Columbo is unique and I am happy to repeatedly go through my dvd set until I go and meet Columbo personally to offer him my congratulations.

  13. Hello. Steven Moffat here. Ouch, etc. As a huge Columbo fan, I’ve always enjoyed this website, so I wanted to set the record straight here. First of all – most importantly – I’m NOT doing Columbo. Really not. I’ve got The Time Traveler’s Wife for HBO, Inside Man for the BBC, a play, and a possible movie. You’re quite safe, I promise. Second, the interview made my views sound rather odd. What I had advocated, during my one meeting about Columbo, was doing the show EXACTLY THE SAME WAY. No change required. Beyond finding a new lead (which, I accept, might be impossible) there’s nothing to alter. It’s perfect. Much of the writing – especially the early stuff, but throughout – is inhumanly good. Just matching that would be nigh on unachievable, let alone trying to improve on it. My comments about the “sadism” were episode specific. I mentioned in passing that I liked it in “An Exercise In Fatality” when Columbo’s dislike of the murderer boils to the surface, and his toying with him becomes quite merciless. I always enjoyed those moments when the “bumbling” mask fell away. Like that wonderful moment when he menaces the golf pro in “Death Lends A Hand.” But those are occasional treats, not the spine of the character, I know that. Anyway hope that clarifies, and I can go back to reading your website without feeling like Public Enemy Number One. I’m not doing it, and what I’m not doing isn’t what you think I’m not doing. All perfectly simple really.

    • Good day sir, and thanks a million for this clarification. Gee, I feel like a real heel now, as well as feeling like shaking a fist at the Radio Times writer (who, incidentally, had initially described Columbo as an iconic BRITISH detective) for causing such confusion.

      I shall update the article and include some of this comment in it to help set the record straight.

      Thanks again, and bonne chance with the other projects.

      • The interviewer wasn’t being a dick, in fairness – he was grabbing the most radical thing I said on the subject and headlining it. Fair enough. I should watch my mouth better by now. Never mind. So long as Columbo fans don’t think I was dead set destroying what I consider to be a genuine TV masterpiece.

        • The interviewer probably could do with spending a week in the company of the Columbo DVD boxset by the sounds of it! I’ll quickly pen a clarification article now to ensure Columbo fans know not to take your name in vain.

    • Dear mr Moffat, thank you for clarifying. Now that you explained I’m even more curious as to what a Columbo episode created by you & co would have looked like – seeing how much of a fan you are. And on a more personal note: thank you for (co-)creating Sherlock!

  14. Yes, I get the sentiment here and I tend to agree. I want to Columbo to stay how he is/was as much as the rest of you and any potential reboot I would anticipate with great distrust, especially when someone expresses his ideas in the way Steven Moffat has.
    Having said that, I think that if it came to a reboot someone like Steven Moffat could be one of the writers/producers to do it. His take on Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock) is arguably the best contempory detective series there is. What he did to the Cona Doyle’s stories has been careful, precise and inspired (and I’m a purist so this is saying something!), so for curiosity’s sake alone I would have liked to see the result of his intentions with Columbo.
    But now that he didn’t get the rights I’m actually relieved so Columbo will stay who and what he has been for me: my absolute favourite thing ever made on screen.

  15. You are correct, the shunned writer does not seem to understand Columbo. Sadist is the last word that should be used to describe Columbo.

    On this blog site at one time there was a picture of Mark Ruffalo from the movie Zodiac (early 70s setting for the movie) with reference made to him as potentially being the next Columbo if there was a reboot. Whoever suggested that is a genius because I do believe he would be perfect for the role. If we ever had a reboot it should be set in the 1970s (not modern), star Ruffalo, and keep the old format. You just need a variety of good writers, each bringing something a little different, just like in the original series.

    The ABC Columbos had to be more modern because Falk got older and it would not make sense to still be in the 70s. With Ruffalo, the first season could be say 1970 and as he got older the years could progress forward (1971, 72, etc) with resulting changes in cars, dress, fads, etc.

  16. There is only one possible Columbo “reboot” that interests me: a Columbo prequel — what “Endeavour” is to “Inspector Morse”; what “Jane Tennyson” is to “Prime Suspect.” These prequels are exceedingly well done period pieces that stand entirely on their own while connecting just enough to the title characters’ future selves.

    You could set a Columbo prequel in the L.A. of the late 50’s/early 60’s, or even set it in New York’s 12th Precinct, with Columbo mentored by Sgt. Gilhooley (discussed in “The Conspirators,” although there’s a decent chance “Gilhooley” was a Columbo concoction, an Irish mentor designed to placate Irish gun-runner Joe Devlin). You could see Columbo working harder, putting in more time, reading the books, and keeping his eyes open, as he told Oliver Brandt in “Bye Bye.” You could see how he picked up his unique interrogation technique, not to mention where he bought his first raincoat.

    You’d keep the format the same — inverted mysteries, where we see who did it — although Columbo won’t be working alone as much this time around. And maybe he doesn’t yet have a wife, but still has plenty of family members.

    • I see potential in this with the usual caveats of a world-class cast and writing team who are thoroughly respectful of the original series. I would worry, though, that too much about the Columbo character would be given away in a prequel. I like the hints we get about his past, but like even more that we never really know him and have to figure out what to believe about how he evolved into the Columbo we know.

      • Well, it would inevitably be a series unto itself. “Endeavour” is my model. After a while, you forget it’s a prequel (although the fact that it’s set in the past, linked to then-current events, remains).

    • I said somewhere else on this site–I can’t keep track of my own posts–that Columbo surely started in New York. (The accent!). Why not show his experience there?

      He could even be a “Sgt. Kramer” who solves HowCatchEm cases is his sly, elfin way, allowing his ambitious superior to constantly take the credit–much like the Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes did for the hapless Dennis-Hoey Inspector LeStrade and the somewhat more competent Inspector Gregson. Columbo’s later move to LA could be in frustration for his never getting any respect in the Big Apple (a la Rodney Dangerfield). It would work best as a limited Netflix series.

      Or…what about a British Columbo set in the swinging London of the1960’s? (Clearly not the same Columbo, but a good opportunity for an up-and-coming British actor.) Holmes himself handily survived two, rather severe time jumps: Rathbone’s and Cumberbatch’s. Could Columbo survive a time/place transplant? Maybe not. Robert Mitchum’s promising Marlow reboot was killed in its infancy by an attempted transport from 1930’s LA to late 1970’s London in the second film.

      • I think you’re on the right track. A reboot would have to be radically different. I’m thinking maybe an African American actor as Columbo, or if the show is set in the UK an Afro-Caribbean actor.

    • It would be great if tv producers tried to reboot coming up with their own ideas. . Maybe they can get Mark Ruffalo or somebody with three names to do it, any of them would be perfect.


Leave a Reply