Here’s some news that is guaranteed to make the hearts of Columbo fans SING: a panel of experts and enthusiasts have got their heads together to compile a (reasonably) definitive list of the Lieutenant’s greatest moments from his classic era.
While there are hundreds of memorable moments across the first seven series, there are many select scenes that resonate with pretty much every viewer. Being able to assess the popularity of these scenes and rank them in some sort of meaningful order has been on my priority list for many a moon – and now it’s becoming a reality.
With the help of 11 other Columbophiles, the votes have been cast and the list of Columbo’s 100 greatest scenes has been shaped. The purpose of this article is to introduce the panel and outline just a little bit about how the process worked…
NB – while I’ve titled this article ‘the 100 greatest Columbo moments of the 70s’, it will also incorporate Prescription: Murder from 1968 – and we all know there are some cracking scenes in that one that are sure to crop up!
The expert panel
Alongside myself, I’m pleased as punch to reveal I’ve managed to secure the assistance of a range of knowledgeable and passionate Columbo experts and fans from across the globe. You’ll know of some of them already, but by way of introduction here are brief pen pics of them all:-
Steven Moffat – The TV writer and producer behind such global hits as Doctor Who, Sherlock and Dracula is as passionate about the Lieutenant as any man on earth, and revealed in 2019 he’d had a good (but ultimately fruitless) crack at securing the rights to Columbo in a bid to bring him back to screens. It’s a real thrill that so busy a chap could find time to contribute to this enterprise.
Mark Dawidziak – TV/film critic and author, whose iconic The Columbo Phile book was first published in 1989, Mark is the globally recognised doyen of Columbo writing who became firm friends with Peter Falk. The Columbo Phile was reissued last year to mark its 30th anniversary. Aside from his writing, Mark is also an adjunct professor at Kent State University.
Aurora Bugallo – By day Aurora works in higher ed administration. By night she watches movies and Columbo. A prolific blogger, you can read her work at Once Upon a Screen, and connect with her as @CitizenScreen on Twitter. Aurora’s also an Advisory Board Member of the Barrymore Film Center in NJ; a Brand Ambassador for Turner Classic Movies; and was one of the initiators of the #ColumboTV livetweet phenomenon of the 2010s.
Alex Deane – A commentator on political events on national and international television (often reviewing the headlines on Sky News or BBC Dateline London), Alex is a former aide to the Conservative Party and a non-practising barrister. He is now a partner at a London-based consultancy firm and squeezes in as much Columbo as he can in his free-time. Alex tweets at @ajcdeane
Jenny Hammerton – An obsessive collector of the favourite recipes of film and TV stars of yesteryear, London-based Jenny is a cooking sensation and voracious blogger at Silver Screen Suppers. She has published a number of recipe books based on her collection – including Cooking with Columbo, which was released to global acclaim in 2018.
Paul Hughes – A writer based in Southern California, Paul is a devout Columbo aficionado and author of The Columbo Case Files – a complete guide to all seven Columbo seasons from the 1970s. Paul tweets at @PoetAndPriest.
Dean Matthews – Man of the people Dean is based on the UK’s south coast and has a love for Columbo like few others, creating a series of rib-tickling homage videos in the 2010s and being interviewed about his fandom on radio and in the print press. He tweets as @DastardlyDeano.
Theo Solorio – Our millennial voice, 22-year-old Theo is a cartoonist from California, a 70s/80s general retro enthusiast and a keen cosplayer. Amongst other things, Theo created the “Peter Fox as Columbo” toon universe and she’s been an ardent Columbo fan since childhood. Better known as @Kosperry online, catch Theo on Twitter and Instagram.
David van den Bosch – A Dutch writer, storyteller and drama teacher, David was the first city poet of Amersfoort and is the author of the Connla Quinn mystery novels, the third of which is due to be published in 2020. He is also one half of international storytelling duo Dá Fhili and in 2010 created the play The Versatile Death of Mr Martens for Theatre Company Kanalje, playing homicide detective Peter de Valk as a tribute to Columbo.
Rich Weill – A practising lawyer and former prosecutor in the US, Rich is a life-long Columbo devotee who has contributed several articles to this blog and recently created two scripts for a Columbo prequel series set in 1957 New York. Rich is also a playwright and author, and one of the most knowledgeable commentators on Columbo that I’ve ever encountered.
Jenn Zuko – Alphabetically last but definitely not least, Colorado resident Jenn is an English and theatre professor, and also (excitingly) a fight director for stage combat. A super-fan of both Sherlock Holmes and Lieutenant Columbo, Jen tweets as @bonzuko.
How it’ll work
I’d long harboured ambitions of creating a list of Columbo’s 100 greatest moments and was initially going to do it all by my lonesome. However, having encountered so many knowledgeable fans over the years via social media, it made sense to spread the net and seek additional opinions to make sure I could better gauge the most critically acclaimed scenes.
We all have our own prejudices and favourites, after all, and left to my own devices I’d likely have packed the list with scenes from The Bye-Bye Sky High IQ Murder Case that the majority of viewers might (crazily) find less compelling than I do.
So I asked my fellow experts simply to produce a list of up to 20 of their very favourite Columbo moments. These could be iconic scenes known to every fan, or fleeting moments special to them; they could be humorous asides, character insights, personality clashes, meetings of minds, or examples of Columbo’s mental acuity. Whatever ticked their boxes was worthy of consideration.
I added these to my own provisional list of 100 great moments and ended up with a directory of more than 150 amazing moments all vying for inclusion – and I can assure you that whittling the list down to just 100 has led to much hand-wringing, gnashing of teeth and fevered dreams of wronged fans booing me from my front garden.
A number of scenes shared almost universal acknowledgement, making it relatively easy to rank the top echelons of the leader board. It was much more difficult to evaluate what should go where in positions 50-100 given the huge variety of ideas put forward. I haven’t been able to include every scene suggested by the panelists – just as I haven’t been able to include every scene that is personally important to me.
Nevertheless, the list is now complete and will be delivered in a classic countdown style over several instalments on the blog over the (northern hemisphere) summer months. Hopefully it’ll stimulate plenty of friendly debate amongst the fan base.
Of course there are bound to be disappointments, so readers should steel themselves for the possibility that their own favourite moments might not make the list. As an indicator (and light spoiler), below are just some of the awesome moments I couldn’t squeeze in:
- Columbo the tourist in London
- Tommy Brown’s live rendition of I Saw the Light
- The cocker spaniel discussion in Negative Reaction
- Roger Stanford necking at the nightclub in Short Fuse
- The confused geniuses offer their opinions on the crime in Bye-Bye Sky High
As is also to be expected, some episodes will have numerous inclusions in the top 100. Others will have none at all. C’est la vie…
The articles will come complete with video snippets of the moments in question to help jog memories and ensure we can all share in the debate without having to dig out the DVDs or forlornly wait in hope for the right episodes to be screened on TV. It’s taken an AGE (and much fury) to edit and upload all the clips, but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.
Look out for the articles from June onwards! In the meantime, please feel free to hazard some guesses about which scenes you’d hope/expect to see in the list – and what omissions would make you howl with rage.
Before all that, you can expect to see a review of Columbo Season 8 finale Grand Deceptions on the blog next week. Until then, keep outta trouble!