Which is the best 70s’ season of Columbo?

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Looking back on the 70s’ seasons, which one comes out on top?

It’s taken four years, but I’ve finally worked my way through reviews of every episode of Columbo’s classic era from 1968-1978. GO ME!

As one might expect, there have been some superlative highs and some seriously dark troughs (thankfully the minority) and a lot of very-good-to-middling stuff in between. And while this is a question I’ve considered before, I’m now in a position to accurately assess the strength of all seven seasons, as well as the pilots.

Using a formula I’ve adopted previously, I have ranked every episode based on my personal preference (full list at foot of article) and attributed a points rating for each episode based on their position in the list. That means The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case (my favourite) earns 1 point and the dismal Last Salute to the Commodore (adrift at the bottom) is lumbered with 45 points.

I’ve then totted up a cumulative score for all the episodes in a particular season and divided that total by the number of episodes in the season to get an average points score per episode. The lowest overall points score denotes the strongest season on an episode-by-episode basis. Still with me? Excellent, then let’s have a look at how the seasons compare…

NB – I have slightly rejigged my full rankings list after completing the review of The Conspirators. In the updated list, Blueprint for Murder has moved up two spaces to 28th and By Dawn’s Early Light has moved up one space to 23rd.

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Pilot episodes

  • 2 episodes (Prescription: Murder and Ransom for a Dead Man) in 16th and 32nd positions in my list
  • Points total = 16 + 32 = 48
  • Average score per episode = 24

Season 1

  • 7 episodes (Suitable for Framing, Murder by the Book, Death Lends a Hand, Lady in Waiting, Blueprint for Murder, Dead Weight, Short Fuse) in 2nd, 5th, 9th, 13th, 28th, 35th and 40th in my list
  • Points total = 132
  • Average score per episode = 18.86

Season 2

  • 8 episodes (Double Shock, A Stitch in Crime, Most Crucial Game, Etude in Black, Greenhouse Jungle, Requiem for a Falling Star, The Most Dangerous Match, Dagger of the Mind) in 4th, 10th, 22nd, 24th, 26th, 29th, 37th and 44th on my list
  • Points total = 196
  • Average score per episode = 24.5

Season 3

  • 8 episodes (Publish or Perish, A Friend in Deed, Double Exposure, Any Old Port in a Storm, Swan Song, Candidate for Crime, Lovely but Lethal, Mind Over Mayhem) in 3rd, 7th, 12th, 15th, 21st, 25th, 38th and 42nd in my list
  • Points total = 163
  • Average score per episode = 20.38

Season 4

  • 6 episodes (Negative Reaction, Troubled Waters, A Deadly State of Mind, An Exercise in Fatality, By Dawn’s Early Light, Playback) in 6th, 14th, 17th, 18th, 23rd and 27th positions in my list
  • Points total = 105
  • Average score per episode = 17.5

Season 5

  • 6 episodes (Now You See Him, Identity Crisis, Forgotten Lady, Case of Immunity, Matter of Honor, Last Salute) in 11th, 20th, 29th, 34th, 41st and 45th positions in my list
  • Points total = 180
  • Average score per episode = 30

Season 6

  • 3 episodes (Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case, Fade in to Murder, Old Fashioned Murder) in 1st, 31st and 43rd positions in my list
  • Points total = 75
  • Average score per episode = 25

Season 7

  • 5 episodes (Try & Catch Me, Make Me a Perfect Murder, Murder Under Glass, The Conspirators, How to Dial a Murder) in 8th, 19th, 33rd, 36th and 39th positions in my list
  • Points total = 135
  • Average score per episode = 27

Overall season standings

Columbo best season overall
  1. Season 4 – 17.5 points
  2. Season 1 – 18.86 points
  3. Season 3 – 20.38 points
  4. Pilots – 24 points
  5. Season 2 – 24.5 points
  6. Season 6 – 25 points
  7. Season 7 – 27 points
  8. Season 5 – 30 points

So there we have it. As I’ve always suspected, the strength across the board in season 4 edges it for me personally ahead of season 1, which is hampered by a couple of lesser lights (notably Short Fuse).

I’m not a big fan of season 7 (Try & Catch Me and Make Me a Perfect Murder excepted) and season 5 features relative dud A Matter of Honor and the BILGE that is Last Salute, so it’s no surprise to see them propping up the rest.

However, it should be noted that this formula only works based on my personal preferences, so every fan’s list could be very different depending on the weight you give to individual episodes. It’s a fun experiment, though, so do have a go and let me know your own season rankings in the comments section below.

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Give your own top season some serious thought, won’t you?

My full rankings list

If you’ve missed any of my 45 episode reviews from the classic Columbo era, check them out via the links below…

  1. The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case
  2. Suitable for Framing
  3. Publish or Perish
  4. Double Shock
  5. Murder by the Book
  6. Negative Reaction
  7. A Friend in Deed
  8. Try & Catch Me
  9. Death Lends a Hand
  10. A Stitch in Crime
  11. Now You See Him
  12. Double Exposure
  13. Lady in Waiting
  14. Troubled Waters
  15. Any Old Port in a Storm
  16. Prescription: Murder 
  17. A Deadly State of Mind —B-List starts here—
  18. An Exercise in Fatality
  19. Make Me a Perfect Murder
  20. Identity Crisis
  21. Swan Song
  22. The Most Crucial Game
  23. By Dawn’s Early Light
  24. Etude in Black
  25. Candidate for Crime
  26. Greenhouse Jungle
  27. Playback
  28. Blueprint for Murder
  29. Forgotten Lady
  30. Requiem for a Falling Star
  31. Fade in to Murder
  32. Ransom for a Dead Man
  33. Murder Under Glass —C-List starts here—
  34. A Case of Immunity
  35. Dead Weight
  36. The Conspirators
  37. The Most Dangerous Match
  38. Lovely but Lethal 
  39. How to Dial a Murder
  40. Short Fuse ———D-List starts here—-
  41. A Matter of Honor
  42. Mind Over Mayhem
  43. Old Fashioned Murder
  44. Dagger of the Mind
  45. Last Salute to the Commodore —Z-List starts here

I’ll be following this article up shortly with a post dishes out prizes for the very best aspects of 70s’ Columbo, so keep your eyes peeled for that. In the meantime I will wish you well until we get to spend quality Columbo time together again.

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Columbo Last Salute to the Commodore Swanny
Yes Swanny, it is your fault that season 5 is languishing in the doldrums!
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