Given that there hasn’t been a new Columbo episode in more than 15 years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the show was old news. You’d be wrong!
Granted, there’s not much front-page Columbo action going on, but there has still been a liberal sprinkling of interesting headlines and developments throughout the year – both good and bad.
It’s entirely conceivable some of these may have passed you by, so this review of the Columbo year aims to succinctly fill you in on anything you might have missed. So fill yer proverbial boots my dear friends and reflect on the year that was…
NBCUniversal vs Levinson and Link
In a rather sad on-going case, NBCUniversal has been battling it out in court with William Link and the heirs of his series co-creator Dick Levinson over 40 years of unpaid profits.
The case hit court in March, and in November Levinson and the estate of Link were awarded $70m in back profits and interest. However, the story didn’t end there. In early December the presiding judge overturned his own judgement and ordered a new trial to take place after it emerged crucial evidence was kept from the jury until after they’d agreed NBCUniversal could be sued.
I’m no legal expert, so I advise checking out this summary of the case for all the correct terminology. No date for the new trial has yet been set, so this one could run for a good while yet. Could this uncertainty over profits be a reason why the rights to Columbo remain under lock and key, thwarting reboot ambitions? Could be, which nicely segues to…
Moffat reveals doomed Columbo reboot bid
In a November interview in Britain’s Radio Times magazine, Doctor Who and Sherlock writer / creator Steven Moffat revealed that he had failed in bid to bring back Columbo due to the rights being so thoroughly tied up.
The interview itself quoted Moffat as saying his plan had been to do ‘something madly different’ with the show, while also describing the Lieutenant as ‘a sadist’ – comments which irked many fans.
However, following an article on this blog about the interview, Moffat was in touch personally to clarify his views and claimed his comments to the Radio Times journalist were taken well out of context. “Much of the writing [on Columbo] – especially the early stuff, but throughout – is inhumanly good,” he said. “Just matching that would be nigh on unachievable, let alone trying to improve on it.”
A few years ago, all the internet talk was that Mark Ruffalo was the man to play Columbo in any reboot – something the actor even admitted he’d be very interested in. All that talk amounted to nothing with the Columbo rights unavailable, but that hasn’t stopped the online community championing the cause of an unlikely new Lieutenant – Natasha Lyonne.
Following the blockbuster success of her Netflix show Russian Doll, the actress has soared to megastar status, while her charm and quirky mannerisms have led to no small number of commentators saying she’d be the perfect choice to be cast as Columbo in a reboot – possibly as his daughter or niece.
A huge fan of Peter Falk and Columbo herself, Lyonne has the goods to deliver a character the world could love, but would fans be ready to accept such a sea change in the show’s direction were it ever to come about? That’s a tough question. But with this all purely hypothetical the answer’s a moot point at this stage.
RIP to Rip and Valerie
Alas, it’s a sad fact that every year that passes sees a number of Columbo guest stars and contributors say a permanent farewell and 2019 was, of course, no different.
The highest profile losses this year were arguably Rip Torn (murderer Leon Lamarr in 1991’s Death Hits the Jackpot) and Valerie Harper (Eve Babcock in The Most Crucial Game) – both of whom garnered world-wide sympathy when news of their deaths was reported.
In the first week of January I’ll be posting a longer article about the Columbo stars we lost in 2019. It’s always a melancholy read, but plays a small role in celebrating the contribution so many made to the show over so many years. May they rest in peace.
Streaming on Amazon Prime
Since Netflix ditched Columbo at the end of 2016, fans have been clamouring for the chance to stream their favourite detective in glorious high definition – and now it’s possible via Amazon Prime, at least in some parts of the world.
All seven seasons from the 70s, plus pilots Prescription: Murder and Ransom for a Dead Man, can be accessed via Amazon Prime in the US and watched for free with ads (or so I’m told). Each episode can also be purchased for just $2.99 – a good price, although more expensive per episode than buying the DVDs box set.
I’ve also had it on good authority that season 1 is available to UK viewers via the same means, so hopefully the rest of the 70s’ seasons will swiftly follow. In the meantime, a number of full episodes continue to be viewable on the official Columbo YouTube channel, but again they’re not available to the whole world and they only ever have 6 episodes up at any one time. I’ve said it before and will do so again: nothing beats the investment in the full DVD box set.
New reprint of iconic Columbo book
Serious fans will have been aware of it for many years, but getting their hands on a copy of Mark Dawidziak’s out-of-print 1989 masterpiece The Columbo Phile has been a tricky task due to its scarcity and high asking price.
Luckily the TV critic and author was able to commit time to penning 10,000 words of new prose that was added into an updated 30th anniversary reprint edition of the book and published in November. Coming at a much more accessible price tag (US$30), it’s now even more essential reading than ever. Grab a copy right now!
Columbo costume goes unsold at auction
Just about sneaking into 2019 was a major Hollywood memorabilia auction in California in mid-December, run by Profiles in History. Amongst the hundreds of lots up for grabs was a full Columbo raincoat, suit, shirt and tie combo as worn by Peter Falk in 1990’s Uneasy Lies the Crown (and very likely other episodes, too).
The lot had been expected to fetch between $15-20,000 under the hammer but instead went unsold – its fate no different from that of an authentic raincoat from the 70s’ series that twice failed to sell at auction in 2017-18.
Why won’t anyone give these authentic Columbo items a good home? It’s a mystery to me…
Carsini and Santini win fans votes/hearts
I’ve run two major fan polls on the blog this year, with Adrian Carsini and The Great Santini sharing the spoils.
Any Old Port in a Storm continues to dominate the fans’ top 10 episode poll, claiming top spot for the fourth consecutive year. Carsini would be delighted. Santini, meanwhile, topped the standings in the fans’ favourite killers poll – pipping Carsini (who else?) to the coveted #1 ranking.
Thanks to everyone of the thousands of you who have voted in both polls!
A big year for the Columbophile blog
If you’re a regular visitor here, you may remember I was cock-a-hoop last October when the blog achieved its millionth view, a little over three years after launching. Well, I’m delighted to report that the blog has amassed 1.1 million views for this year alone with still a few days remaining – a sensational indication of how much love there still is for the dear Lieutenant.
Since I quit my day job in January, I’ve been able to publish 54 articles this year, including 12 episode reviews – starting with Forgotten Lady and concluding with Make Me a Perfect Murder. I’ll be pushing into the series’ 1989 comeback episodes in early 2020.
If you’re one of the dozens of readers who have made a donation towards the upkeep of this site in recent months, please accept my sincere thanks! And if you’re one of the thousands of readers considering doing the same, you can do so right here – from just $3.
“I’m delighted to report that the blog has amassed 1.1 million views for this year alone.”
I’ll be taking a well-earned holiday for a few weeks, so after an early January post about the Columbo stars we lost in 2019, I’ll be lying low for a while. I will take this opportunity to wish you all a wonderful New Year and a simply smashing 2020.
Oh, just one more thing… If you don’t already do so, you can get your daily Columbo fix by following me on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook. In a world of political and social aggro online, the virtual Columbo community is a shining beacon of restraint and decorum. More power to us all!