Opinion / Reboot

A hypothetical Columbo reboot: how might it work?

Columbo Requiem for a Falling Star
For many fans, the idea of rebooting Columbo is no laughing matter

NB – this is a speculative article considering the best approach to rebooting Columbo should it ever come to pass. If you’re so against the idea that even a hypothetical debate will vex thee greatly, please immediately head to this safe page of photos featuring Columbo cuddling Dog.


We must assume – whether we like it or not – that a Columbo reboot will happen at some point in the future. The show’s too big and too enshrined in popular culture for it to be left untouched forever.

And while the rights have been tied up for years, that could change depending on the outcome of a court case between NBCUniversal and show creators William Link and Richard Levinson (now deceased) over tens of millions of dollars of unpaid back profits and interest.

The case, which has gone to appeal in the US after a Supreme Court judge initially awarded Levinson and Link more than $70m in November 2019, will likely reconvene once the coronavirus crisis of 2020 is finally under control. If NBCUniversal wins, who knows? The rights to Columbo just might become more attainable.

With that in mind, and putting our own personal feelings as to the appropriateness of a reboot aside, how ought a Columbo revival to be handled? When and where should it be set? And, most contentiously of all, who could be entrusted to follow in Peter Falk’s footsteps? That’s what I’m considering here.

Ought it ever to happen?

Columbo Peter Falk
Should Falk’s mastery of the role preclude others from ever portraying Columbo?

Most fans of Peter Falk and Columbo would state outright (and shirtily) that the show should never be rebooted. I know, because I’ve had this conversation with countless fans online. Why bother, when Falk was so perfect in the role, and so intrinsically connected with the character? No one could match Falk’s interpretation – especially in the 70s – so why not just leave it alone?

I sympathise with that viewpoint. Columbo doesn’t need to be refreshed and in the wrong hands it would be very easy to do a reboot badly, which would be infuriating. But whether good or bad, it wouldn’t mean the originals were any poorer because of it. I mean, I despised Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull with a passion, but it hasn’t eroded my love for the Young Indy adventures, nor the original Indy trilogy. If anything, it made me appreciate them more.

“I believe there are more brilliant Columbo stories that could be told.”

The same would be true for Columbo. If the worst came to the worst and a reboot was utterly dismal, we’d still have Falk’s classic era episodes to fall back on. And the hype surrounding the reboot would create an avalanche of interest in the original series, bringing it to the attention of a whole new generation of viewers and underscoring just how amazing Falk’s Lieutenant was – and always will be. That could never be a bad thing.

I believe there are more brilliant Columbo stories that could be told. The great thing is that we only had 69 episodes over 35 years! There is undoubtedly enough creative talent in the world to come up with a dozen or more really excellent Columbo mysteries to add to the mythos. If so, and the team behind it was absolutely top notch, wouldn’t your interest be piqued? Mine certainly would.

What should the format be?

Columbo Prescription Murder
One-off Columbo is good – but it takes a series to get to know and love him

Personally, I see little benefit in bringing Columbo back on the big-screen – unless it was a prelude to a subsequent series. It takes time to get to know and love Columbo, and to notice and appreciate all his mannerisms and idiosyncrasies. One movie wouldn’t be enough to do that. It would short change the character and the audience.

Fortunately, Columbo wouldn’t need the big screen to succeed. As a medium, TV is more appealing to the world’s leading stars than it’s ever been. It wouldn’t be considered a come-down for a Hollywood A-Lister to turn out a few series of event television, and that absolutely plays in Columbo’s favour. It was always served up in moderation, so two or three seasons of 4-6 episodes would be in keeping with the traditions of the show, and offer the best opportunity for quality thresholds to be met.

“If Columbo ever got into the hands of some flashy fool like J.J. Abrams I’d abandon all hope.”

Whatever your feelings are towards Netflix, they do a great job at creating quality, big-budget television and attracting talent. The Lieutenant could find a very happy home there. And while I don’t think a stand-alone movie is the way forward, I do think it would be totally rad to have a star-filled Columbo film on the big screen, knowing that a limited series was following on behind. I’d be keen as mustard – as long as the right creative team was behind it.

That’s the crux. Having the right people in charge would be absolutely crucial. God forbid, if Columbo ever got into the hands of some flashy fool like J.J. Abrams or Guy Ritchie I’d abandon all hope. But there are enough intelligent screenwriters, producers and directors who get what Columbo is all about to believe that a reboot could win the hearts and minds of existing fans as well as newcomers.

When should it be set?

Columbo Identity Crisis
Cool this extreme means any reboot would be best set back in the 70s

The way I see it, there are three options: a prequel exploring Columbo’s formative years as a detective; a continuation of the Lieutenant’s adventures in the 1970s; and a true reboot set in the present day.

Of these, my personal preference would be to keep it in the 70s’ – Columbo’s spiritual home, and a time before forensics and computer technology took a lot of the guesswork and reasoning away from detectives.

Although it was always a contemporary show, Columbo worked best in the ’70s when the scruffy Lieutenant was able to poke his nose around the mansions and pool parties of LA’s rich and famous. It was a classy time, so that aspect would still absolutely appeal. Would I want to see Columbo chillin’ at a hip-hop star’s gold-plated ‘crib’ in a modern day setting? Take a guess…

I see a 70s’ reboot as simply filling in some of the gaps in Columbo’s career and telling some of the stories we hadn’t seen before. Yes, the actor would be different, but the character should be the same: seemingly absent-minded but really razor sharp; bashful and self-deprecating; still smoking cigars, losing pencils and sharing anecdotes about his unseen wife.

This mightn’t, on paper, be the most adventurous way to bring the character back. It would be more of a refresh than a reboot, but the original recipe ain’t broke, so there’s no need to fix it. There’s a reason why so many incarnations of Sherlock Holmes remained true to his Victorian origins, and why Poirot’s ideal home is the 1920s/30s. Those eras are their natural times. I see Columbo and the 70s in the same way.

My second choice would be a prequel, showing how a younger Columbo (to quote himself) was able to “make it happen” through a combination of hard work and inspiration. This could be set in New York or LA and chart Columbo’s formative years as a detective, or even his time as a uniformed officer before he makes the jump to homicide.

Set in the late 50s/early 60s, a prequel would have a style all of its own and would be interesting in that the Columbo we’d meet would doubtless be a very different (and more smartly dressed) character than the fully-realised Lieutenant of the 70s. It could potentially be a fascinating series, and if lessons are learned from success stories like Endeavour (the acclaimed prequel to equally acclaimed UK detective drama Morse), it could be a hit.

Endeavour – a detective drama prequel every bit as good as its parent show

The trick, of course, would be to show restraint in how much of the ‘real’ Lieutenant’s character and background would be revealed – and when. The Columbo we know from the 70s was a mysterious figure. We never really knew if what he was saying was true, how he lived off-screen and how much of an act he was putting on. The danger of a prequel would be to try and give an overt explanation to everything connected with the character.

I use the dire Star Wars Solo film as a cautionary example of a prequel that massacred the enigma of one of cinema’s coolest heroes through its clumsy efforts to explain every little thing about his back story. However, if handled with kid gloves and subtlety there’s no reason to think a Columbo prequel wouldn’t succeed.

There’s also the thorny issue of casting to consider. I know who I’d cast as a Columbo set in the 1970s, but I have no actor in mind who I can picture as a younger variation in his late 20s/early 30s. It would be a difficult choice.

A present day reimagining would be (by far) my least favoured route to go down, as it’s the one that I would most expect to turn into a calamitous pile of steaming pants. Placing Columbo in today’s world would likely mean a different character completely: possibly a daughter, niece, son, nephew or grandchild following in their famous forebear’s footsteps.

“A present day reimagining would be by far my least favoured route to go down.”

It could even be a Sherlock or Elementary-style take, simply transposing Columbo to the present day without any of the baggage of the original series. Creatively, this may be a preferred route for many production teams keen to leave their own indelible marks on the character. For existing fans, however, I suspect this approach would be greeted with the most apprehension.

Columbo has been such a success for more than 50 years because we love the Lieutenant and all his little quirks. Folk determined to take the character in ‘cool’ or ‘woke’ new directions could run roughshod over Columbo’s treasured persona and heritage, alienating fans in the process. That’s why the casting would be so pivotal – and also so difficult to get right.

Who could be cast as Columbo?

Columbo Ruffalo
Mark Ruffalo and Natasha Lyonne: leading contenders to relight the Columbo flame

It’s been several years now since the internet was abuzz with the idea that Mark Ruffalo would be the man to reincarnate Lieutenant Columbo. Put forward on Twitter by screenwriter and author Gary Whitta, Ruffalo was only too happy to be linked to the role and has said in several interviews that he’d love to be the guy to inherit the rumpled mac.

However, with the rights being tied up and Ruffalo having been shackled to the Marvel Comic Universe for years, that ship looks increasingly likely to have sailed. But the actor himself hasn’t forgotten about Columbo – recently engaging in a Twitter debate with Russian Doll star Natasha Lyonne about which of them has first dibs on the character should it become available.

I think Ruffalo would be the ideal choice. Although a bit more physically imposing than Falk, he has the look and the acting chops to pull it off. Many have said – only half-jokingly – that his turn as detective Dave Toschi in 2007’s Zodiac was essentially an audition for Columbo. If so, he nailed it.

Just as importantly, Ruff’s a huge fan of the show and of Falk’s portrayal. The respect and love for the original subject matter are there – without any gimmicks. He could pull it off, but it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Columbo Ruffalo
Give that man a cigar! Mark Ruffalo has the chops to play Columbo

The big issue is that if it’s ever going to happen, it’ll need to happen soon. Ruffalo is 52 now – three years older than Falk was when Columbo’s classic era came to an end in 1978. The rights would need to be secured pronto, and Ruffalo to be able to factor it into his schedule within a year or two before the opportunity really is lost to him. Those are pretty big ifs.

The question also remains whether he’d be able to commit to the character in the long-haul. He’s spoken specifically of wanting to do a Columbo movie, when a TV series is really the best format for the character. It might be a stretch too far for him.

The other name regularly – and increasingly – connected to Columbo is the aforementioned Natasha Lyonne. Another huge fan of both Peter Falk and the good Lieutenant, Lyonne has enough amiability and eccentricity to be the female heir apparent to the Columbo dynasty. If he was still with us, I can imagine Peter would absolutely adore her.

Personally, I think she’s wonderful and if a Columbo reboot were to spiral off into completely different directions (e.g. daughter or niece of Falk’s original Lieutenant), I think she’d be brilliant. But I’m a purist at heart, and a Lyonne-led Columbo might be too much of a departure for my delicate constitution to handle – although I’d definitely tune in.

I’m not against females being cast in male roles per se, but Columbo is such an iconic character that recasting him as a woman doesn’t seem right to me – in the same way that I wouldn’t want to see Miss Marple cast as a chap. That’s why I’m on Team Ruffalo – at least until such a point where he’s categorically ruled out.

Columbo Natasha Lyonne
Natasha Lyonne as Columbo? Artwork by Leona Florianova

Falk’s ownership of the role makes it impossible for many fans to look beyond him as Columbo. But it’s worth remembering that he was the third actor to play the character (after Bert Freed and Thomas Mitchell in the 1960s), and that A-Team star Dirk Benedict won rave reviews for his portrayal of the Lieutenant in the a UK theatrical version of Prescription: Murder in 2010. Falk’s performances may never be equalled, but he’s not the only actor to have excelled as Lieutenant Columbo.

Other names I’ve heard put forward by fans include Supernatural’s Misha Collins (who definitely has the build and look) and Paul Giamatti, who is an ace talent, but I can’t imagine as Columbo in a million years. At the age of 60, Vincent D’Onofrio is now too old (and too intense?) for the role, while Doctor Who legend David Tennant seems to me to be a suggestion completely out of left field.

Summing up

To conclude, I’m not vehemently opposed to a Columbo reboot in a way I once was, but would only feel confident if it was set in the opulent LA of the 70s, remained true to the original character’s sex, ethnicity, habits and personality, was a series not a one-off movie, and was suitably supported by a cavalcade of talent. In short, more of the same from when the show was at its peak.

Mark Ruffalo Columbo
Dramatisation: may never happen

If that sounds unadventurous, so be it. It would work. And do I think RuffaColumbo going toe-to-toe with the likes of George Clooney, Don Cheadle, Michelle Pfeiffer, Denzel Washington and Kate Winslet sounds appealing? Absolutely – as long as the quality of the writing was suitably high.

However, Columbo is such a televisual treasure that a re-imagining is fraught with risk. Anything less than A-List talent in front of the camera and behind the scenes could doom the venture from the outset. Faced with that prospect, I’d happily live my life without ever seeing a rebooted Lieutenant.

But if he is ever to return to our screens in new adventures, I can’t help feeling that the time is right – and I’m not alone in that opinion. Author and critic Mark Dawidziak, writer of The Columbo Phile book and a long-time friend of Peter Falk’s, summarised the subject quite beautifully when I interviewed him last year.

“Nothing’s ever going to touch Peter’s performance, but if a character is truly a great character, then it should be able to be played and reinterpreted by other actors,” he said. “It all comes down to how it’s done. I think the Columbo character is strong enough and vibrant enough to be brought back.

“If Hamlet’s a great character and he can be interpreted and reinterpreted by many different actors, why can’t Columbo? If Sherlock Holmes can be played by a lot of different actors, why can’t Columbo? And I think Peter might be one of the first to say that, because he was an actor himself.”

Columbo Old Fashioned Murder
Could this be the right moment for Columbo to re-enter the fray?

Please spill your thoughts on what you’d want to see in a Columbo reboot should it ever happen. I’m more interested in constructive debate about how a reboot could work than a blanket refusal to even consider the prospect, so do share your views on preferred settings, timelines and cast – the Lieutenant and the potential villains!

It’d also be fun to hear your thoughts on the worst-case reboot scenarios. Who would you hate to see cast as Columbo? What would be the most infuriating directions they could take the character in? It’s always a hot topic, so do wade in and share your opinions – but please always remain respectful to your fellow fans.

Until next time, farewell!


What would be your reboot preference?

If you HAD to make the choice, what path would you want a Columbo reboot to follow?


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103 thoughts on “A hypothetical Columbo reboot: how might it work?

  1. Absolutely agree with the concept that Colombo is a character and there is no reason that other actors shouldn’t interpret the role in their own way. As noted by Colombophile the series is developed from a stage play, and original casting considered sevearal actors.
    I think the great point about a new series would be to open up a new series of villans from our current acting pool. I personally would love to see Piers Brosnan, Jeffrey Wright and Helen Mirron as Colombos opponents (a favorite game and I think object of another bog from CP)

     
  2. I think a reboot would be good, but not with a woman Columbo. I think Mark Ruffalo would be good as Columbo.

     
    • Another actor that would be good to play Columbo would be Canadian actor, Daniel Maslany. He does a spot on impersonation of Columbo on Murdoch Mysteries.

       
  3. “It could even be a Sherlock or Elementary-style take, simply transposing Columbo to the present day without any of the baggage of the original series.”

    This is the way to go.

     
  4. I honestly don’t have any interest in it. I wouldn’t watch it, not even out of curiosity. 99% of modern tv doesn’t interest me at all, the only non-comedy shows i’ve properly watched this century are Lost and The Good Doctor and quite a lot of those were a struggle to get through at times. Watched a bit of Bates Motel, it was good but i still got bored after 5 or 6 episodes. There’s just that much great tv from bygone eras, like The Twilight Zone, that i still haven’t got through watching them all yet, new shows don’t interest me much. Peter Falk is Columbo, any new show would be just using the name to get interest going. I’m not even against remakes, i just don’t have any interest in watching one.

     
  5. Hi, I think there’s a BIG problem for a reboot in the 70s (which should be, for me too, the best solution).
    A lot of the Columbo episodes have (beautiful) scenes that are filmed in real Los Angeles. That’s one of the qualities of the feuilleton. The “reboot”-episodes, should they be filmed in smaller areas, disconnected of the real LA-world (in the same way as are “Mind over Mayhem”, “Grand Deceptions”, “Old Fashioned Murder”…)? It should be regrettable.

     
  6. I just had an idea for how you could play a ‘descendent of Columbo’ show, say a granddaugher (even his daughter would probably be at least in her 60s by now). She should still be eccentric in her own way, but rather than making her clueless about tech as Columbo was – which really wouldn’t work for a 21st-century detective – have her be *obsessed* with tech and gadgetry. After all, in modern times it’s ‘tech nerds’ who are often stereotyped as absent-minded and eccentric. Instead of throwing suspects off balance by commenting on their clothes or decor, you could have her breaking off abruptly in the middle of interrogations to answer random text messages, getting distracted by the latest updates on Twitter, playing Pokémon Go in the perp’s living rooms (and if you know any Pokémon Go players, you’ll know how obsessive they can get), or admiring their fancy new gaming rig. Obviously she shouldn’t be solving all the crimes through fancy high-tech, since that’s not the point of the show, but it’s a starting point for a character who’s recognisably similar to Columbo, but also fits realistically into the 2020s.

    Bonus point: have her refer frequently to ‘my grandfather’ and his previous cases. 😉

     
    • Or maybe she could present herself as clueless about everything electronic, then during the gotcha the murderer (a tech mogul) realizes that she was onto all his tricks from the beginning.

       
  7. I’m vehemently against a Columbo reboot as I am a Rockford or Perry Mason one and refuse to watch the lame Magnum, PI one but… you make some good points I must admit. If there absolutely had to be and I mean HAD to be one made because Hollywood and a lot of its writers, directors and studios are lazy, greedy and uncreative these days with the reboot nonsense. I could maybe stomach either a prequel special with the right younger actor or a spin off with a nephew or niece. Maybe this Natasha Lyonne could be Columbo’s niece who shares her uncle’s keen senses and powers of observation and clever questioning techniques, I don’t know but personally I’d rather keep Columbo as Falk til the end of time. That’s just my view on this thing.

     
    • No one, I mean no one but the late James Garner could play Jim Rockford, to try would be a travesty.
      Just got wind that we are just about to get a new version of Van Der Valk in the UK, a role made famous by Barry Foster and now to be played by Marc Warren, how he inhabits the mean streets of Amsterdam has yet to be seen!

       
  8. I could see Hollywood giving it the summer comedy treatment, lots of campy in-jokes, modern day with abrasive current soundtrack but Columbo is stuck in the 70s. And he will be played by Steve Carell.

     
    • I’m sure you’re right. Set in in the 70s, and it will be a spoof, like the Green Hornet movie from 2011. Steve Carell is probably a best-case scenario if that happens.

       
    • Yep, that would be absolute worst case scenario – they did that with Charlies Angels, which whilst not a dead straight show in the fist place it was by no means so far fetched, likewise with Starsky & Hutch. The very thought of a comedy columbo fills me with fear – a Columbo cross between, National Lampoon, American Pie and The Naked Gun would be truly toe curling and make Mrs. C/Kate Loves a Mystery seem like a great TV event!

       
  9. If it were set in the present day, Columbo could not be played by a white man. You’d want several nonwhite villains, and the way race works in the USA a white policeman is never truly the underdog the way Columbo is the underdog with his overclass adversaries. A reboot set in the past, either pre-1968 as Richard Weill wants or in 1978-1989 as Paul A suggests, might allow Mark Ruffalo or John Leguizamo to play Columbo- if we see Denzel Washington or Halle Berry or whoever playing characters who were already rich and powerful decades ago, maybe we can believe that those characters are part of something so well-established and imposing that they would be as blithe in their attitude towards Columbo as were the great villains of the 1970s.

     
  10. This one might be hard for some to envision because he’s a comedy actor but I honestly think Charlie Day could make a perfect Columbo.

     
    • Charlie can’t read or write and has a glue and alcohol problem…….. oh i’m sorry i got my Charlies mixed up…..

       
  11. 1. If the choices are between Reboot, Prequel or Sequel, I would have to say no to either option. A Reboot changes everything, and prequels and sequels serve no purpose if there isn’t a consistent theme running throughout, or a character arc that could be explored more.

    2. Many people call themselves fans of things they’ve only an affinity for. This has to be distinguished. We would want writers and directors who would have a REVERENCE for the source material, not a vehicle for social commentary as seems to be common at the moment.

     
    • Your point about directors and writers needing reverence for the source material is absolutely spot on. That would also have to extend to the lead role. That way, there’d be hope for a successful remake whatever time period it was set in.

       
  12. PS, Thank You to Columbophile for your continued efforts at this time – I’m sure everyone reading these posts is having their lives to some extent upset by the pandemic and reading these thoughtful postings is a welcome distraction!

     
  13. Except that prequels seem to escape that pattern of failure quite consistently: “Better Call Saul,” “Smallville,” “Young Indiana Jones,” “Endeavour,” “Jane Tennison” — even “Young Sheldon.”

     
    • I think mostly because many people like retro tv. If a Columbo prequel was made, in a slightly more serious style like he was in Prescription: Murder, then maybe i would change my mind and watch it. That’s my only Columbo disappointment, that more episodes weren’t like that. I love the whole bumbling detective thing, lulling killers into underestimating him, but i would have liked a few more in the earlier style too. That could work. A modern Columbo will be abysmal.

       
  14. Setting it in modern times works for me. Sherlock did well doing a limited series of 3 episodes. Rian Johnson would be perfect to come in to direct an episode and he’d pull other talented people in (see: Knives Out). Finding the right writers would be the challenge.

     
    • Can’t agree to the likes of Rian Johnson touching Columbo, I’ve seen his Star Wars movies lol but you have to consider setting Columbo in modern times takes away lots of the charm of the original series because 1. The way police work is done now with all the technology it’d take away the great questioning cat and mouse game between Columbo and the killer and I’m just not here for a CSI\Columbo mashup. 2. We’re living in sensitive politically charged times so Columbo would probably be wokenized so that takes away the fun. I’d rather see it still be the the 70s and you could still have great a list stars as killers like George Clooney, Denzel Washington, Helen Mirren, Angela Basset, Don Cheadle, Robert Downey Jr, Scarlett Johanson etc.

       
      • He’s made one Star Wars film (which was great). He’s a huge Columbo fan and his mystery film Knivies Out (one of the best movies last year) had some Columbo touches. He’d be a good choice to write as well, but he’s writing another mystery film thanks to the overwhelming success of Knives Out. He’s directed episodes of Breaking Bad so he’s done TV before and given his love of Columbo he’d be a great pick up.

        Knives Out is a modern day mystery film that didn’t deal with technology. Good writing doesn’t have to lean on CSI tropes.

         
        • Haven’t seen Knives Out but I do remember hearing some good things. That’s true good writing shouldn’t have to lean on CSI tropes but it all depends on whose doing it which is why the original became such a gem. It relied on strong characters, good dialogue, quality casting and genuine chemistry with Peter and whoever guest starred. There was a timelessness to Columbo because of those things which is why he traveled from decade to decade well. If they did god forbid reboot it then they’d definitely have to resist the urge to modernize it with tech or social commentary and keep the escapism and focus on good character stuff and dialogue. Idk about Johnson but whoever did do it would have to truly get those things.

           
  15. I say let sleeping dogs lie.

    So many movie/tele reboots/sequels have been horrendous failures. A lot of them are done strictly in the name of cultural diversity or gender: Ghostbusters, all of the Police Academy and Revenge of the Nerds sequels, Death at a Funeral (the dreadful US version), Caddyshack II, Jaws II, Blues Brothers remakes, Weekend at Bernie’s II (should be spelled Weakend) The Wiz, Wall Street, Lil Rascals…basically every movie sequel (with a few exceptions) haven’t worked when tried. I will say that SAW II, Twilight Zone the movie, Exorcist III, and a few others were worthwhile watches.

    TV series remade as movies that were dreadful: Wild, Wild West, Simpsons Movie, Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Charlies Angels, Lost in Space, Dukes of Hazard, Get Smart, Flintstones/Jetsons, and so many more.

    Successful tv series tried for a comeback after their glory days and flopped: Roseanne, Several dreadful The Odd Couple remakes, Bionic Woman, Dallas, Ironside, The Fugitive (although the movie was excellent), Mrs. Columbo, Hawaii 5-0, and the most sacreligious of all, The Twilight Zone remakes in the 80’s and the current fiascos passing themselves off as The Twilight Zone. When it comes to British comedies, I could never imagine classics like Keeping Up Appearances, Last of the Summer Wine, Bennie Hill, The Young Ones, Allo, Allo, Absolutely Fabulous, etc. ever being remade in current times, without the original stars of the show. Office Space did quite well on both sides of the pond, though the US version dragged on way too long. Most people don’t know that All in the Family was a successful remake of the UK’s Death Do Us Part.

    Sometimes the worst, final seasons of once great series have been successful, even though their quality was lacking. The Andy Griffith Show continued to be well loved once they colorized the show and lost Don Knotts, ending at #1 when they went off the air. Happy Days jumped the shark toward the end, but was still successful, even Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zones lost their way in the 4th season by going to a full hour format, but then switched back to the half hour for the final season 5. I loved the Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Hitchcock Hour eps. No one could ever replace Hitch, though his television series were written and acted by others.

    A lot of television reboots fail since the original series/characters are indelibly etched into our minds/hearts, and don’t seem to translate throughout later periods of history. With Columbo, the 1970’s shows didn’t quite seem to translate in the later decade runs. Certain characters just can’t be replaced, like Peter Falk, Roseanne Barr, Carroll O’Conner, etc.

    If I was forced at gunpoint to pick a successor to Peter Falk’s Columbo, I’d go with Sean Penn. He’s an excellent actor, and could easily play a scruffy, mumbling Columbo. Unlike Falk, Penn is part Italian (mother was half Italian and half Irish) and part Ashkenazi Jew. Falk was a Hungarian Ashkenazi Jew on both sides. Penn also has ties to Columbo, as his father, Leo, directed Any Old Port in a Storm and The Conspirators. Leo and Sean were/are Marxists, and after a little research, I found out that Leo was outed/blacklisted during the HUAC hearings in the 1950’s (so were Lee Grant, Will Geer, and John Randolph, all Columbo alums). I learn something new everyday.

    My vote is to never, ever do another Columbo.

     
    • We had a rash of TV movie remakes of classic comedies here in the Uk in the 70’s, all made by Hammer or ITC for bargain basement budgets, all featured original casts and were made by bolting together scripts from the original run. On the Busses, Rising Damp, Porridge, Dads Army, the list goes on – the casts gave it their best shot, but all lacked the gloss of the original series.

      Detective show remakes have generally been poorer than the original. The remake/reboot of Kojak was easily forgetable, as it the rebooted Magnum P.I. – in part I think because whereas the producers remaking those UK comedy shows in the 70’s tried to do so on a minute budget, the producers of these detective show remakes have relied too heavily on special effects, big bangs, visuals, rather than really clever scripts.

      Magnum, Kojak, Quincy et al were all team shows, much more like current dramas like NCIS – In every episode of Quincy for example you had the same formula. Dr Quincy winds up Lt. Monahan and Dr. Asten whist solving the case, meanwhile Sam does the labwork and Danny provides the comedy element. It’s maybe slightly easier to remake a team show?

      Columbo was fairly unique in that there is no recurring cast as such, the odd fellow detective (like Sgt. Kramer) pops up now and again, but largely it was a one man show, aided and abetted by a fine guest line up.

      Peter Falk simply inhabited the part, made it his own, you feel that when watching, and I suspect (know in some cases) that his roster of baddies were genuine, bona fide friends off set – certainly McGoohan & Cassavetes were, I’m sure more as well, and that carries over in interplay between them – many like McGoohan had more in depth production relationships with the show, so there was an awful lot of investment in what they were doing.

      When re-watching Columbo, and other classic NBC output from that time, the one thing that always grabs me is that while Quincy, Kojak, McMillan etc. look like TV productions, Columbo looks like a movie (certainly the 70’s series).

      Richard’s idea of a prequel has legs, but the more I think on it, the 70’s-00’s run is best left as it is, much of it is frankly near perfection – why try and improve.

       
  16. There is a related topic worth considering in this debate. That is: does Columbo “own” the Columbo format? By this I mean: can anyone BUT Columbo ever again do a “Columbo-like” inverted TV mystery — where we see who did it, where each episode is a clever one-on-one cat-and-mouse battle between the detective and the murderer, with a surprise “gotcha” cinching the case at the end?

    For me, the beauty of the Columbo format is one of the great attractions of the show (which is ironic, since it originally was an impediment to it becoming a show). Even without a reboot, I would love to see another show duplicate the brilliance of the Columbo format. But I fear that any attempt to do so would be dismissed as “a Columbo clone,” and forever bear that scar.

    Because if others share my interest in a future Columbo-like mystery format, but agree with my concern that Columbo “owns” that format, then the only option is a reboot in some form or fashion.

     
    • Interesting , one I’d have to say no to. Have you ever read the Dr Thorndycke mysteries? It has the exact same format, first showning how it’s done and then we the Doctor at work solving the crime. I’ve only seen one movie adaptation so far, an episode in the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes Collection, and that was the one story NOT in this format. But my point is, if anyone ever would make a series of the Dr Thorndycke mysteries, the formula would be similar to Columbo’s when it comes to the inverted mysterie format.

       
      • I have read Dr. Thorndyke (“The Singing Bone” and “Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight,” both by R. Austin Freeman). Also Francis Ile’s “Malice Aforethought,” which was adapted for TV. But adaptations of old books are in a different category. They clearly predate Link and Levinson. My question addresses any new creation.

         
        • The answer would still be no. Either several writers have thougt of the format independently of each other, or the creators of have themselves derived the Columbo format from another detective series, for example dr Thorndyke. Therefor it cannot be claimed as a unique way of storytelling and no intellectual rights to it could have been patented or owned by Link and Levinson.

           
          • I’m not raising a legal argument. This is not a copyright/intellectual property issue. (Hence, I put the word “own” in quotes. This is not about legal ownership.) It’s entirely about how the public would react to a non-Columbo series copying the Columbo format (exclusive of the adaptation of a pre-Columbo mystery novel or story). Would they dismiss it as a rip-off? Do they expect the Columbo format to include Columbo?

             
            • Then I misunderstood, I thought I’d answered your question. Then let me try again, hope I ot you this time:
              I can’t speak for the public, wouldn’t dream of trying, but personally I wouldn’t dismiss it as a rip-off, since Columbo could technically beseen as a rip-off by itself. Or in other words, the inverted mysterie format is not exclusively Columbo so I couldn’t object to the use of the format in future television series.
              Adding to that, depending on the quality of the hypothetical series, it would’t surprise me if many, including me, would feel nostalgic for Columbo because the format is primarily associated with it.

               
            • Well, they bought into Perry Mason without Perry for a good few years after Raymond Burrs death, quite a few episodes with the actor who played his sidekick (name evades me, was married to Tracy Nelson) and then Hal Holbrook for the final 6 or so, all watchable, and there was a good few Murder She Wrote episodes not featuring Jessica, so in theory you could have Columbo in name (of show) but another detective on the case, possibly?

               
    • Actually quite a few mystery shows have adapted the inverted mystery format inspired by Columbo like Matlock, Diagnosis Murder and Monk for example. I think if a new show adapted that style it would have to be well handled enough so it doesn’t feel like it’s just a poor Columbo knock off.

       
      • As a consistent format, or as a one-off episode? I’ve seen plenty of Monk episodes. They weren’t inverted mysteries.

         
        • They would do them every few episodes but not every week though. Monk definitely did the show the audience who the killer was at the beginning and see how they did it while Monk figures it out early and tries to find a way to prove it(though unlike Columbo Monk would say “he’s the guy” or “she’s the guy” etc.

           
  17. Just an idea. Why not a reboot of the series in the present, but not with ‘Frank’ Columbo (because he just died) but with ‘Tony’ Columbo or ‘Gina’ Columbo (his nephew, or niece…) that moves to L.A.. You can have the same type of character – low tech, people smart.

    For the low tech part, why not a Columbo who uses a pager or even a cellular phone (a flip, of course) that he/she always forgets to charge. He/she could still drive the same car since he/she inherited it. For the DNA, computer reconstitution and other high tech gadgets, in fact, the show could be more realistic since those analysis take way much more time to do than what the CSI, NCIS or other let you think. The crime scene analyst could take the samples and everything, but Columbo would solve the crime before getting the results anyway!

    I agree that a character that tries to smoke the cigar but never finds the place would be a good compromise. Anyway, in the 90′ episodes, you could fell that his smoking was not accepted as well. I think Columbo was well set in its time and reflects a mildly conservative middle class American.

     
    • Funny ideas there.

      He could smoke vaping cigars or something ^^ or, I wouldn’t mind watching a new Columbo visiting cigar lounges from time to time. Maybe even to have big mental breakthroughs, maybe with key witnesses or even the criminal.

      And I like the idea about him solving it old-school, like the trademark method, with subtle psychological pressure.

      But there should be a new element to it. Maybe in this way,: The criminals are wealthier today, and everyone has top lawyers. And Columbo’s main task would be to break through the lawyer facade, and then put an enormous amount of pressure on the criminal when he has the opportunity. This would make for good tv.

      He could get a break with modern technology, but let’s take it this way: The LAPD is so used to him solving his cases old school, so that they just don’t put aside money or resources for new high-end technology for him to use. So he effectively cuts it out through his own style. This should be made clear to the audience somehow. But from time to time, it could happen through a lucky break of sorts.

      Yeah, interesting ideas.

       
      • I like the cigar lounge idea; there’s something of Sherlock Holmes in this. Also, image if the ‘new’ Columbo would arrive to L.A.P.D. with his/her old-school-methods and would be mocked not only by the criminals, but also by some of his modern police colleagues. I think it would be in continuation of the idea of the character and it could be a way to have tradition vs modernity.

        Modern technology could be a central theme of the new series. The killers use DNA, cell phone GPS and other devices could be use to lure police that would be blinded by false evidences planted by the criminals. Of course, ‘a little detail’ would alarm Columbo and his/her old-fashionned techniques would solve the crime. There’s a ton of subject for new rich, whealthy and modern criminals. For exemple, CEOs of websites (like Amazon and such), autonomous cars (imagine Columbo riding in a driverless car…) or a technological starup… That could be another way to have a metaphor of tradition and modernity.

        The only thing that is sure is that any reboot would need to have the right balance of new and old and that’s the biggest challenge. The character has to be like Columbo, but different enough.

        And let’s go even farther, why not Natasha Lyonne talking about her never-to-be-seen wife? Great way to integrate tradition and modernity, no?We are in 2020 after all.

         
        • I didn’t care for the Columbo episodes that used murderers that were very clearly based on real-life prople, so I would not like to see any real-life people as thinly disguised models for murderers. I don’t care whether it is someone I loathe or love. This was done in some of the 90s episodes. The Fielding Chase character in “Butterfly in Shades of Grey” is the prime example here, undoubtedly based on Rush Limbaugh. I think I heard that the sex therapist character in “Sex and the Married Detective” was based on Dr. Laura Schlessinger (as a local LA radio host before she married and turned to a more general advice format that became syndicated). I didn’t watch the real-life show that was like “Crime Watch” in the George Hamilton episode, so I do not know if the character is anything like the person who hosted that show. In any case, the ability of writers to skewer a real-life person through the Columbo show does not appeal to me.

          The 70s shows had no discernable real-life counterparts to the murderers. We do not know whether Nelson Hayward belongs to our political party or would be an opponent to our party’s candidate. Nora Chandler is just a movie star whose glimmer has faded, but no real-life actress was represented. Likewise, Grace Wheeler and Ned Diamond. We immediately thought of Fred and Ginger, but the likeness between the real and fictional ended at their having been dancers. I like that and admire the talent of writers who can obscure their own prejudices so as to allow us to enjoy a program free from the noise of daily life. I’m sure Nelson Hayward, the corrupt, grasping weasel is from the other political party, not mine. I think we all feel that way. That takes talent and restraint as a writer. If there is ever a reboot, I do not know if today’s writers can do that.

           
          • Writers can do anything, but are fans ready for it? There’s so much money at stake that producers try to please everybody. The problem with that is that people are for sure disappointed. That’s why a show that would be set in the 70′ would have too much risk of failure. They would need to do exactly as what Columbo was back then not too disappoint older fans and, at the same time, attract younger viewers that were not in this world in the 90′! Or you do too much, or not enough or the actor is not like Peter Falk. Recipe for disaster.

            Many hate episodes from the 90′ because they were not like the ones from the 70′, and that’s with Peter Falk! The show evolved from the 70′ to the 90′ and I personally think that was well made. Columbo never was a tech wiz, but in the 90′, he was outdated because of his age, not his personality. Remember that complicated answering machine from the 2nd episode ‘Ransom for a dead man’. Columbo was a man of his time.

             
          • You are quite right, and it has made me think that in the 70’s run there doesn’t seem to be any borrowing of plot from real life cases or inspiration directly from real life people.
            There were several episodes of UK cop shows that very thinly covered there use of a real situation and person as the basis for a plot. An episode of Strange Report and one of Gideons Way for example both feature a baddie based very obviously on British politician Enoch Powell – those made me uneasy, because much as I loathe Powell’s racist views, he never committed any crime, and so it seemed wrong to cast a thinly veiled version of him as a criminal. So I think using real life people as material is dubious.
            Quincy was another series that started to make more and more use of real life situations, tragedies and injustices for story lines. Whilst in this case they did actually do good in drawing the publics attention to these issues (Jack Klugman was heavily involved in the campaign in the US to legalise so called Orphan drugs) – the passage of time has not been kind to the campaigning episodes – that injustice has passed, things have moved on rendering them more or less unwatchable other than through the prism of sociological history.
            Thankfully 70’s columbo didn’t tread that furrow. Interestingly, being in the UK, I am not aware of the parallels you highlight for the 90’s episodes simply because they are not on my radar. I suppose the question, say with Butterfly, is how many “shock jock” talk show DJs were operating in the US at that time, could Chase be argued to be a composite of many?

             
  18. There’s a great risk no matter what way a reboot is done. Prequel, 70s, present day, they all have huge risks. But if it’s to be “Columbo” emphasis on the Columbo character part, in my opinion it should be a 70s-based show. My vote goes to Mark Ruffalo.

    A prequel with a young cop in uniform is that really a Colombo? And the present day setting gives us other problems. Isn’t a present day detective show about a quirky detective the series Monk? Present day police work depends more on science, forensics, technology, then ever before. Many criminals are caught using computer records, cell phone records, DNA evidence. All these take away from the traditional detective who is doing the investigating with his brain. The original Colombo solved cases with his mind, his own intellect, his own observations. In the modern day you still need that great mind, but that’s only one part of it. If the original Colombo had DNA, cell phones, etc., the case would’ve been solved in 45 minutes. You wouldn’t have Peter Falk as Colombo showcasing his great observational and thinking skills. A modern detective show would have to make up for the time lost where things are easily solved by DNA, by getting more into the characters personal life and bringing in other major characters to spend time on. All this would take away from the original Colombo premise.

     
  19. Columbo is my favorite TV show ever. As a fan, I have all the DVDs.
    I feel it’s a classic —like Forrest Gump– that should be left alone! —Law

     
  20. This is the best place to discuss this topic, a huge thank you to Columbophile for providing the opportunity.
    I’m against a reboot, because I love the show as it was. Having said that I can’t resist fantasizing about it. So IF there ever was to be a reboot, here’s what I think the makers should consider.
    1. Don’t change anything about the format or the character, or the locations. In other words: change as little as possible. But make the setting the present day, because Columbo has always been a product of its current time. In the 70’s Columbo was set in the 70’s; in the 90’s he walked around in the 90’s, so it should continue that way. Personally I don’t like the idea of a prequel, I’d hate to see a young Columbo having to proof himself and surprise his superiors, that’s been done before, and way too often as it is. And the 2020’s would give its own dimension to the character, like the 70’s and the 90’s did. I can see Columbo having trouble finding a place where he can smoke a quiet sigar; there are still lots of Basset hounds around and many Americans still drive old beat up cars, so no problems here I’d think.
    2. Take a great actor. Only the best will do. He doesn’t have to resemble Peter Falk, but he has to be able to carry the show and the format as it is. Never mind typecasting, the really good ones don’t need it. I’d name Tom Burke and Adam Driver, they could do it. But I’m sure some others could as well. Like many of you I thought no one but Peter Falk could do it, but then I saw Dirk Benedict in a London stage version of Prescription Murder some years ago. He was amazing, and it took me totally by surprise. I’d always miss Peter Falk as Columbo but Benedict showed me it can be done.
    3. The makers should be true fans of the original show, appreciating the show for what is was. They’d only have to adjust the time setting. And better to broadcast a few great episodes a year then 20 a season, featuring 17 mediocre ones.
    If a Columbo reboot would be approached in this way, I might even watch it.

     
  21. I had read somewhere that Dirk Benedict from Battlestar Galactica and The A Team had reprised the role of Columbo. I loved the original episodes, but never seen any with the “Face Man”. I’d like to see those.

     
  22. I think a prequel, early-mid sixties, he doesn’t quite get the whole free love and hippy scene aesthetic,’or clever new gadgets like Stereo-Pak cartridges playing music in cars. Chuck in Andy Warhol type artists, etc. so he doesn’t really fit in with the wealthy cool people he’s investigating in New York with Gilhooley. He’s not a lieutenant yet, more in the role of Sgt Wilson, but smart as a whip. We follow him as a newly made homicide detective, a bit of a maverick, often finding the perp while some of his superiors think it’s someone else. As the series progresses and as the new actor is accepted the years can start to role by series to series, or every few series until he moves to LA to take up the position of Lieutenant.

     
  23. I do not believe anything would look more silly and draw fewer viewers than trying to go back 40-50 years in time to create a television show. It would be like trying to recreate the Mary Tyler Moore Show with a newsroom from the 1970’s. Detective work these days(DNA being an obvious choice / pick the lowest hanging fruit from the tree) is totally different from 50-years ago.

    Two issues which I think could make it work in present day…

    1) Columbo was not technology smart…fax machines, security system cameras, voicemail, etc. were all “new” to him in various episodes.

    2) I think in large part due to technology, it seems to me that more crime shows in this day and age are a team versus one person….NCIS and Law & Order come immediately to mind. And there is always a cast member in these shows who sits at a computer to assist the team.

    Thus I think a modern day Columbo who is not tech smart but people smart who is part of a team could still “solve” crimes. While it ended about a decade ago, Monk was far more quirky than Columbo and he was not even a police officer but he solved many crimes. I think Bull with Michael Weatherly is the best example of how a modern day Columbo would work albeit not in the courtroom.

     
  24. I think the Morse/Endeavor/Barnaby Series is a good example of how it could be done. But there is a certain luster that wore off in the last of the Columbo series that didn’t happen yet with the Morse series. I think it would be a disaster bringing it back seeing how those last of the Columbo episodes were. There was a charm to the Columbo series that can’t be recaptured.

     
  25. Mark Ruffalo may resemble Falk somewhat, but Falk was never a socialist stooge like Ruffalo, it would be a stain on one of the greatest series of all time.

     
  26. Let sleeping dogs lie. I watch Colombo reruns every week and I wouldn’t watch a remake. Without the same writers, directors and co stars (and Falk) it wouldn’t have the same magic.

     
  27. You ask about worst-case scenarios: How about a woke, young, trans-gender, neurotic, Asian Columbo, working in present day LA, who loves K-pop, vapes e-cigs all day, drives a tiny electric car and is accompanied at all times by a diamond collared chihuahua. I’d like to think this could never happen, but with Hollywood as it is who can say?

     
  28. Any detective series set in the present day (whether it’s a new show or a reboot) is a non-starter because of modern technology and forensics. A show in which famous people commit murder couldn’t work in the era of the smart phone (for instance Alex Benedict would have ended up on social media in his ‘inconspicuous’ attire) and there would doubtless be endless speculation on the web about Santini’s past (and the secret being his water tank illusion). If a reboot happens I’d wish them well, but wouldn’t watch it.

     
    • I dont know whether Falk was political or not, but in this age of divisiveness combined with lightning speed internet, almost everyone today is political. Lt. Columbo was pure, and oftentimes, seemingly gullible. The political scene of today would, for me, ruin any sense of that purity and humbleness of the lieutenant. Today’s actors don’t want to be seen with a water bottle in their hands let alone driving around in an old beater that likely needs a quart of oil every thousand miles.

       
  29. A prequel would definitely be my preferred option, for several reasons:
    – The opportunity to try out a different historical setting: 1950s/60s New York as opposed to 1970s LA.
    – A younger Columbo obviously wouldn’t be exactly the same character, which would help avoid the constant, inevitable comparisons to Falk’s performance.
    – Columbo’s unique detective skills would still be relevant here (unlike modern times where it’s all about forensics).
    – I’d like to see more about Columbo’s past, and how he came to be the person he is in the original series. I don’t mean anything too on-the-nose, like “this is why he smokes cigars!” or “this is why he hates guns!” – more a gradual sense of how he came to develop those little habits we all know and love.
    – Following on from the last point, it offers up some interesting scenarios that wouldn’t have been possible in the original series. An experienced lieutenant can get away with a lot more than a young, wet-behind-the-ears detective. I can imagine a younger Columbo butting heads with his superiors quite frequently – maybe that’s why he eventually had to leave NYC?

    I don’t really see the point of a remake set in the 70s; it would just seem to be competing with the original, which IMO is a bad idea. Paul A had an interesting idea below about setting it in the ‘missing years’ of the 1980s; I could go with that, if they found the right actor.

    As for a modern reboot: I quite like the idea in theory, but I just don’t think it would work. Society and police work have both changed too much, and I don’t think they’d be able to resist the temptation to ‘woke-ify’ it, which would definitely be my Worst Case Scenario. Columbo was always about the mystery, not the Culture Wars of whatever era it was set in.

    Regarding who would play him: I don’t have strong opinions regarding individual actors, but I absolutely would not accept a remake with a female Columbo. This particular character just does not work as a woman. As for a reboot starring his daughter/granddaughter/whatever: yeah, I could see that. However you’ve still got all the problems inherent in a modern version as described above.

     
    • I think you are spot on that it could not be set in modern times – for a start one has to consider Columbo was probably just about to retire after Likes the Nightlife, almost 20 years on he wouldn’t be active in detection being in his 80’s.

      Additionally as you say, the business of crime solving is now, and has been for a good 30 years, driven by science along with a team approach to investigations and I can’t see Columbo’s methods fitting in with that in any way.

      Prequel, yes that could work. Gap filling from the 70’s to 80’s, possible if carefully cast and skillfully produced. or as someone gas suggested a “grand daughter/Grandson” lead effort – but that would be Columbo only in name and fleeting references, in effect just trading of the name to bring a new show to a new generation, a bit like Hawaii Five O reboot, it bears very little resemblence to the original (thats not to say it’s a bad show) but it owes more to CSI or NCIS set in Hawaii than the original, the McGarett link and title sequences are the only real joining bonds.

       
  30. A small correction: Peter Falk was 50-51 when Columbo ended in 1978, so Ruffalo is only a year, not three years older than him at the time.

    I agree with your opinion regarding the ’70s setting, but I doubt that’s what they’d go with. I’m 99% sure they’ll do the present-day reboot thing if a new series ever makes it on air.

    Also, 6’4″ tall Vincent D’Onofrio would be a huge departure from Falk’s persona (pun slightly intended).

     
  31. While the thought of a politically correct Columbo makes my blood run cold, I would love to see him in the present day. It would be great to see him poke some current pretensions and turn some 21st century technology against the baddie. Finally, anyone looked at Michael Pena as a possible Columbo? He has the look and the acting chops for either drama or comedy. And he would make sense on the LA force.

     
  32. I really like the idea of Natasha in a total reboot. However, I would also suggest Liev Schreiber.

     
  33. Ideally, I’d rather get possession of a time machine, go back to spring 1978, and force (then) NBC Television head Fred Silverman at gunpoint to renew ‘Columbo’ for at least one, if not two, more seasons.

    But short of that… leave it alone!!!

    You have interesting new murder-mystery stories to tell? Great… then CREATE A NEW SHOW WITH AN EQUALLY INTERESTING NEW CHARACTER!!!

    Some roles are indistinguishable and inseparable from the actors who played them… as the recent flop Han Solo prequel movie so ably proved…

    Let the good Lieutenant rest in piece, let his legacy stand on it’s own.

    Here endeth the lesson.

     
    • The trouble is a brand new ‘cat and mouse’ detective show would inevitably be compared to Columbo, so I suspect a TV exec would sooner sign off on a reboot than a new show (I agree with you entirely though).

       
  34. I would most like to see a “pre-Columboian” series. (Clever, huh?) Columbo as a uniformed cop, maybe teamed with an older officer who thinks this kid is a mess, but gradually comes to see his partner’s brilliance – we’d still have Columbo but it would avoid the pitfalls of direct comparison with to 70’s iteration, as Falk never played this younger character. And I know the perfect person to play him – Bing Crosby!

     
  35. If they reboot it, I can’t see why they should feel tied to Falk’s physical appearance. (That seems the reason for Ruffalumbo). There are plenty of actors with the right touch for the role, I think.

    But I hope they don’t do it.

     
  36. Personally, I think a young Columbo should fall into a wormhole and return to the 1970’s in an alternate universe. Then we wouldn’t be plagued with all the inconsistencies in the existing Columbo oeuvre. (It worked for Star Trek. Beam me up, Frank.)

     
  37. My preference would be a modern day reboot. Make no connection to the ‘classic Columbo’. Keep the inverted mystery and the ‘bumbling fool’ persona and the same references to private life but no connection. Controversially, I’d like to see an ethnic minority or woman play Columbo…just so there’d be no competing on the same turf as Peter Falk.

    Annoyingly, I saw the 2010 tour of the UK with Columbo but missed seeing Dirk Benedict in the role. The actor who played Columbo was fine but he was definitely playing Peter Falk playing Columbo and I’d have loved to have seen what Dirk Benedict did with the role.

     
  38. I’d do a reboot in the current day. The plot formula would remain the same. However, in this case Lt. Columbo is the recently promoted granddaughter of the famous detective. While she puts on the famous Columbo Act of letting the killer underestimate her and otherwise looking down on her, does the “one more thing” line and is bothered by details, is an expert at billiards, is unfailingly polite, and otherwise doesn’t act as smart as she really is around the suspected killer, she’s a lot different from her grandfather. This Lt. Columbo is an expert at forensic science, wears different professional outfits each day, is a top marksman (but retains her grandfather’s dislike of guns), and drives an unmarked modern police vehicle. Like her grandfather, when she arrives on a crime scene she is in complete control of the situation, and the other officers and detectives have the utmost respect for her.

    The biggest difference we’d know her first name because her friends on the force, crime lab, and in the DA’s office call her by her name.

    The only instruction I’d give to an actress auditioning for the part is DON’T do an imitation of Peter Falk as Columbo. Be your own person, sell me on being the granddaughter who shares some traits, but is still a different person.

    My $.02.

     
    • Actually, this could work for a series that was successful on its own terms, perhaps not even a how-catch-em. Columbo would just be a recurring character, not even appearing every episode. With the right actor and good writing, viewers would eagerly anticipate his appearances. (This has already already been done with a different twist in Silence of the Lambs.)

       
  39. I agree Ruffalo would be perfect for the role, his turn as Dave Toschi was indeed superb – and to any readers unfamiliar with the Zodiac case, I would hardily recommend not only the film, but the case itself as something well worth viewing/researching, fascinating stuff.

    There is an actress who was in one of the Star Trek spin off’s called Kate Mulgrew – I wonder if perhaps they could come up with a format where she played the crumpled detectives wife, who also investigates crimes….

    ,,,OK, i’ll get my coat!!

     
  40. I’m definitely in the “No” camp on rebooting anything that either criss-crosses the Columbo era (1968-2003) or purports to pick up the Columbo story after “Columbo Likes the Nightlife.” That’s all Peter Falk territory. Yes, I know of the myriad examples of actors who became synonymous with a famous role, but nonetheless were succeeded by other actors. William Gillette, for all intents and purposes, WAS Sherlock Holmes for over 30 years (and 1,300 stage performances). Then Basil Rathbone was everyone’s Holmes for years on both film and radio. Then Jeremy Brett played Holmes 41 times over a decade on television. None deterred his successor, not to mention all of the others who donned the deerstalker, some successfully.

    And, as CP says, it’s not as if Falk were the first Columbo. Bert Freed and Thomas Mitchell preceded him.

    But this is different. Holmes existed on the page long before he ever existed anywhere else. In contrast, scant few people had ever heard of Lieutenant Columbo before Falk assumed the role. Starting in 1968, and forever after, Falk is Columbo.

    But what about BEFORE 1968? Well before 1968? And in a place far removed from Los Angeles? Falk wasn’t Columbo then or there. We all know that.

    That’s why, with as much conviction as I oppose a traditional reboot, I favor a Columbo prequel. I was a big fan of “Inspector Morse”; I’m perhaps a bigger fan of its prequel, “Endeavour.” And “Endeavour,” although set earlier than “Morse,” is set in the same place. A Columbo prequel needn’t be.

    I propose going back to the late 1950’s, after Columbo’s service in Korea (“Swan Song”) and before he migrated to Los Angeles. When he served under the “sainted” Sgt. Gilhooley of the (fictional) 12th Precinct in Manhattan (“The Conspirators”). He’s not a lieutenant, but a novice homicide detective. (A uniformed NYPD cop wouldn’t be able to dog a murder suspect like a detective could.) Call the show: “Det. Columbo, NYPD.”

    I’ve even taken this idea to the next level. I’ve written mysteries before, several plays and a novel, so I wrote a pilot script for “Det. Columbo, NYPD,” entitled “Curtains.” I tried both to evoke the classic Columbo format — a formidable villain, a “perfect” crime, something specific that focuses Columbo’s attention on the murderer, lots of interplay between the two, and a solid “gotcha” — as well as evoke NYC of that era: Broadway, Madison Square Garden, delicatessens, ‘50’s television, etc. The title “Curtains” refers to the fact that the murder takes place on a Broadway stage.

    Essentially, I tried to put all the analysis I did writing “Make Me a Perfect Columbo: the 5 key steps to crafting a Columbo mystery” for The Columbophile (https://columbophile.com/2017/12/10/make-me-a-perfect-columbo-the-5-key-steps-to-crafting-a-columbo-mystery/) into crafting this script. I’m generally a harsh judge of my own work, but am reasonably pleased with how it all turned out.

    Now I need to find someone influential to read it.

     
    • Some very good points there Richard. I agree with pretty much everything you say here, and I like your ideas for a prequel.

       
    • I admit I like your idea Richard. Endeavour has worked very well, and is almost better than the original Morse series, handily for ITV they had Lewis as Morse’s sidekick to carry on the post Morse series too.

      A Columbo prequel could well be just the ticket, as you say set in 50’s or early 60’s New York, a total opposite of 70’s LA style and climate wise, all Neon lights, steam vents and over engineered fire escapes that provide handy escape routes and obstacles (thats a Brit’s view of NY in that period you understand!!)

      We could have references to the unseen girlfriend or fiance (the future Mrs. Columbo) and we might see him saving enough to buy the car (I think it’s a 50’s model), but it would of course at that point be pristine and brand new, perhaps to impress the future Mrs. C, perhaps thats why he kept it so long.

      Done properly, it could be a visual feast of 50’s American style, fashion, automobiles etc. just as Endeavour is a showcase of the post war austerity of British design colliding with the 60’s style, and classic British motors.

       
      • Thank you, Tony. I see the prequel very much as you do — with one exception. Columbo has no need of a car in ‘50’s NYC. Few in his circumstances did. That’s something he would get after moving to L.A.

         
  41. There’s a 4th option staring us in the face – Columbo, the ‘missing’ years. The original run ended in 1978 and the new run began in1989 – why not just have an early to mid 80s set Columbo?
    The wealthy murderers of the 70s are now becoming the super rich of the 80s, perhaps even more deserving of being taken down a peg or two?
    The technology too would be about right – Sony Walkmans, VCRs and early home computers but not quite yet mobile phones and the internet.
    Whatever option we go for though it has to be classy with a budget to do it justice – no repeat of the cheap look of some of the 90s episodes!

     
    • Actually you’re right, that would represent an interesting opportunity to see Columbo rocking the early 80s. Ruffalo would be the right age for that! I’d want the coke-sniffing exec from Die Hard to be one of the series villains. He was based in LA, after all!

       
  42. Worst Case Scenario

    A continuation set in the present day, a Ninety Year old Columbo has been retired for several years after having seemingly lost his edge, his wife has left him, dog ran away, he is a broken shell of his former shelf. Enter the strong female young sergeant (who happens to be Sergeant Wilson’s granddaughter). She’s working a tough murder case, she knows that a wealthy politician did it but doesn’t have the evidence. Suddenly, remembering her old idol on the force (whom she also seems to mimic in both style and investigation techniques) she goes to the elderly Columbo and coaxes him out of retirement for “one last case” to help her with the investigation. What follows is 80 mins of hollow call-backs to Columbo’s “famous catchphrases” with Columbo only serving as a comedic foil as the young Sergeant makes all the breakthroughs in the case. In the final scene, Columbo goes back into retirement, officially handing over his old police badge to the young sergeant, this (somehow) makes her an official lieutenant.. The last we see of Columbo is him driving off into the sunset in his broken down Peugeot. In a post credits scene we see our new heroine getting her new office, a workman is replacing the old name off the front of the door, to which she declines and says to leave it as it. The camera pans and we see to who the office originally belonged to; Lt. ‘COLUMBO’. Thus beginning a new generation.

    Meanwhile behind the scenes the showrunner and the elderly actor roped in to play Columbo will describe the series as reflecting current events such as Brexit.

     
  43. There is no way current Hollywood could do Colombo without being woke. Especially if it’s with Ruffalo. No thanks!

     
    • Absolutely right. Even if the show were based in the 1970’s, you can bet the new Columbo won’t be smoking cigars or driving an environmentally unfriendly car.

       
  44. Thank you, Columbophile.
    I agree: the way you describe it, it must be possible. I think also at the different “commissaire Maigret” (Simenon) that have existed, and will still exist.
    Sometimes the new Columbo-episodes may even be beter than some of the old ones.
    However, the worst-case reboot scenario should be a Disney cartoon. Disney has already succeeded in disfiguring existing characters, and making people forget the original ones. it should be a pitty.

     
  45. When I think of reboots, I always of people taking too much creative liberty with a treasured character or story, and I’m against reboots as a whole.
    That said, a story set in the 70s could be fun. The costumes!!! But since that’s Columbo’s golden era, that would be the toughest sell for me as a fan.
    I really dislike most modern actors, and Mark Ruffalo is a nightmare casting for me.
    I’d like to see Steve Carrell take a turn in the role if I had to pick someone. He’s able to be funny and serious. He’s able to put people at ease. He’s got the look. He’s used to filming a TV series. As long as the director doesn’t make him repeat his Michael Scott-shtick, and no silly voices, i think he could be a possible success in the role.

     

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