Episode Guide / Opinion / Season 10 and beyond

Episode review: Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star opening titles

Squillionaire lawyer Hugh Creighton doesn’t know what it’s like to be beaten in a legal tussle – but then, he never had to face Lieutenant Columbo until deciding to murder his cheating lover.

So, what will happen when Creighton’s irresistible force meets the immovable object that is Columbo? Let’s set our clocks back to April 29, 1991 – the night the intriguingly titled Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star first aired – to find out…

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star cast

Dramatis personae

Lieutenant Columbo: Peter Falk
Hugh Creighton: Dabney Coleman
Trish Fairbanks: Shera Danese
Sergeant Habach: Sondra Currie
Marcy Edwards: Cheryl Paris
Neddy Malcolm: Julian Stone
Little Richard: As himself
George: Steven Gilborn
Sam Marlowe: John Martin
Chief Corbett: John Finnegan
Ando Miaki: Tad Horino
Darlene Glinski: Susie Singer
Directed by: Alan J. Levi
Written by: William Read Woodfield
Score by: Steve Dorff

Shooting Columbo book

Episode summary

Unbeatable defence lawyer Hugh Creighton plans to ditch his lover of four years (former rock singer Marcy Edwards) after a Private Eye produces video tape evidence that she’s been romping behind his back with bad boy drummer Neddy Malcolm. The cheating chanteuse has other ideas, though. Unless Creighton agrees to pay her $5 million within 2 months, she’ll blab to the press about his dodgy habit of paying off cops and judges – quite a hindrance to the career to the alleged “most famous lawyer” in America. Until that time, they’re to continue to live together as if nothing were amiss. THAT’S AMORE, 1991 stylee!

Creighton agrees to play along, but instead sets a grisly plan into action. Sneaking into the beach house where Marcy and Neddy enjoy their steamy sessions, he injects a sedative through the cork into a bottle of Champagne. The next morning, he spikes her tea with a mystery powder and jallops away after putting on a show of leaving their troubles behind him.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star Hugh Creighton
Oooh, I love it when you play dirty, Hugh…

The fiendish lawyer ain’t off for a day at the office, though. He’s really off for a day’s slaying, which commences by his pinching the truck of the Japanese gardener who services the beach house, and driving to said location disguised as said gardener to disturb Marcy and her wimpy lover as they cavort in the sack. Neddy conveniently gulps enough of the sedated Champagne to drop into a slumber, while Creighton sneaks into the house and switches the cork and wrapping from the opened bottle with replacements he procured from a bottle in his own office.

With Neddy now out for the count, Creighton makes his presence known to Marcy. She’s under the impression he’s there to hurt her unconscious lover, but of course she’s the victim whom he throttles off-screen before manipulating the crime scene, planting Neddy’s prints on the bottles and vamoosing in the gardening truck. He drives this back to where he’d parked his own ride, leaving Neddy to wake several hours later to find a dead Marcy in bed beside him and no idea what happened. Rather than make an emergency call, the cowardly custard screeches off into the night on his motorbike.

Come the morrow and our man Lieutenant Columbo emerges to investigate. True to form, he’s soon bewildered by little things not adding up. The raking of the garden sand is inconsistent. Why were two bottles of Champagne opened in the kitchen but drunk in the bedroom? He also notices that one of the corks has one blue star on its underside, while the other has two. Both bottles, meanwhile, have one single star on their labels. What could it all mean?

Columbo is duty bound to report Marcy’s death to her emergency contact – and he’s surprised to learn it’s Hugh Creighton, “the lawyer who’s never lost a murder case”. Interrupting him during his closing comments of his latest case, Columbo breaks the bad news and whisks him off to identify the body. The detective then enrages the lawyer by refusing to share details of the autopsy with him, citing department policy. Their relationship is off to a very edgy start.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
Trish cracks the case far quicker than Columbo

While Columbo is yet to make any major deductions, Creighton’s junior colleague Trish Fairbanks has already cracked the case! Although she doesn’t share all the details with the viewer, she references an incident that took place the day before around the time of the murder where Creighton borrowed her car and sent her off on an unspecified “research assignment”. This potentially makes her an accessory to murder, but she’ll keep her mouth shut if Creighton makes her a full partner and agrees to marry her within six months. He reluctantly accepts her terms.

Doubtless stinging from this immediate reversal of fortunes, Creighton invites Columbo out for a feed to discuss the case having first spoken to the Police Chief, who orders the Lieutenant to share all the case files with the lawyer. Over dinner, Creighton feigns amazement at the notion that Marcy could have been in a long-term relationship behind his back – despite eye-witness reports suggesting a motorcycle was seen with her car at the beach house three times per week.

The autopsy has also shown traces of disulfiram in Marcy’s bloodstream – a drug used to treat alcohol dependency, which we saw Creighton add to Marcy’s tea on the morning of her killing. This puzzles Columbo because there were two bottles of Champagne and two glasses in evidence at the crime scene. Why would Marcy have taken such a drug prior to a booze-fuelled rendezvous? Creighton’s feeble suggestion that Marcy might have mistaken one of his own disulfiram pills for one of her vitamins doesn’t seem to entirely convince the good Lieutenant.

The following day, Columbo (wearing a NEEDLESSLY STUPID hat) returns to the beach house to nosy around, dealing with the surliest housekeeper since Mrs Peck in 1973 in the process. He cracks open a bottle of fizz from the fridge and notes the underside of the cork features one blue star. That other cork with two stars is looking increasingly suspicious. He also learns from the housekeeper that the gardener only comes to the house on Tuesdays – so who raked the grounds on Wednesday?

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star NFI hat
Columbo’s bid to charge exorbitant fees for Non-Fungible ITEMS was decades ahead of its time

Further snooping in the bedroom also reveals plaster powder on the framed discs on Marcy’s wall. This leads him to the air vent, which appears to have been recently removed. We know that’s because the PI had secreted a video camera in there, although at this stage there’s nothing for Columbo to glean from this. He does receive the good news, though, that our mate Neddy’s fingerprints have been traced and an APB is out for his arrest.

The APB soon bears fruit. Neddy has been spotted at a crumby apartment block, but he eludes Columbo and Sergeant Habach by smashing through a window and leaping off a balcony into a swimming pool before making good his escape. Paperwork shows that the apartment is rented by one Darlene Glinski, who works in some dive bar in Burbank, so that’s where Columbo heads next.

Darlene has what can only be described as the worst entertainment job in the history of LA (and therefore the world), which is to dangle from wires in a dank cell behind a large fish tank and turn somersaults while wearing a mermaid suit. Despite some dubious career choices, she is, at least, able to point Columbo in the direction of Neddy’s likely location at the LA Rock Box. “Ask for Little Richard,” she enigmatically explains.

Well folks, turns out that this Little Richard is the Little Richard of Good Golly Miss Molly fame, who is setting the ivories aflame as Columbo rocks up (and briefly ROCKS OUT) at the Rock Box. After a few moments of boogie-woogieing, Little Richard’s set is over and Columbo trails him to his dressing room to ask about Neddy’s whereabouts. Neddy conveniently saves us all some time by showing up there and then, and Columbo whips him down town for questioning before you can trill ‘a wop bom a loo bop a lop bom bom‘. There Neddy comes clean about his passing out and waking up to find Marcy dead, but denies murder.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star mermaid
Get a better job, Darlene!

The next turn of his investigative wheel leads Columbo to 1930s throwback Sam Marlowe, Creighton’s Private Eye who has been tailing Marcy and Neddy. It only takes the Lieutenant a hot minute to deduce this after seeing traces of paint on a video camera lens that he rightly concludes came from the air duct grill in Marcy’s bedroom. And if Marlowe knows about the affair, it’s a sure bet that Creighton was in on it as well. Columbo confronts Creighton with this suggestion, and the lawyer mumbles something about being too ashamed to admit he knew that his true love was knocking about with a reprobate like Neddy. Again, he’s far from convincing.

Still, there are plenty of loose ends that need tying up and it’s not long before Columbo is careering across town again – this time to grill Creighton’s Japanese gardener. The lovable old Easterner confirms that he was not at the beach house on the day of the killing. In fact, he was working in an entirely different neighbourhood. In his stilted English, however, he is able to provide a vital piece of new evidence. On the day of the killing, his truck was moved two blocks by person or persons unknown, and was found parked underneath a tree that deposited a rare type of berry all over it.

“Creighton is suitably rattled to try to get the District Attorney to force Columbo off his back.”

A good day gets better when Columbo is able to demonstrate how the stars on the Champagne corks could implicate Creighton himself. All the bottles at the beach house feature corks with one star on the underside, but the ones on the more expensive brand that Creighton himself stocks in a fridge at his office have two stars! It certainly looks like the slippery lawyer could have committed murder.

Creighton is suitably rattled to try to get the District Attorney to force Columbo off his back. A hot-tempered meeting between the three parties hinges on Creighton being able to provide an alibi. He claims to have been driving to and from Pasadena around the time of the murder, but has no eyewitnesses. As if by magic, dear Trish produces a photo of Creighton in his car snapped by an automatic speed camera in Pasadena right when Marcy was murdered. Pasadena is suitably far from the beach to make Columbo’s hunch look dead in the water.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star speed camera
Would you send a man to death row on this evidence?

That’s a tough nut to crack, but using the observational skillz he honed as far back as Playback in 1975, Columbo is able to study a blown-up image of the driving Creighton and find a vital chink in his armour. The shadows on Creighton’s face don’t match those of other drivers who got tickets within a few minutes of him. It’s as if he has a two-dimensional face!

After running a brief experiment of his own past the same speed camera, Columbo is confident enough to challenge Creighton fo’ real. Interrupting the lawyer and Ms Fairbanks as they prepare to head out to a swanky ‘do’, Columbo lays out the photo evidence that suggests for all the world that someone was masquerading – literally – as Creighton by wearing a mask of the lawyer as they drove his car at excess speed past a speed camera.

Although he scoffs at it, Creighton is laughing on the other side of his face when Columbo invites him outside to unveil a cheeky little stunt of his own. Shining a flashlight onto his own car windscreen, who should be staring back but the Lieutenant himself! At least that’s what it looks like. It’s really Sergeant Habach wearing a flat, photographic mask of the good Lieutenant – just like Creighton’s accomplice must have been wearing when the man himself was out killing his no-good lover.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
Why, Sarge – you’ve never looked better!

If that alone isn’t enough to prove opportunity, the piece de resistance is those rogue berries that had fallen all over the gardener’s truck after Creighton parked it right behind Ms Fairbanks’ car that he’d driven on the day of the murder. The only place in West LA that those berries grow is on the street where the car and the truck were parked. And when Columbo grabs a handful of the berries from the windshield wiper well of Ms Fairbanks’ car, the writing is on the wall for the previously unbeatable Hugh Creighton, who is reads his rights as credits roll…

Columbo t-shirts

My memories of Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star

This is an episode I’ve seen only seldom and not for an eternity, so very little of it stuck in my head beyond the rapport between suspect and detective, and the rather random appearance of rock legend Little Richard.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star Little Richard
Good golly!

I was never convinced by the gotcha scene and remember the overall plot seeming somewhat convoluted, but that aside it’s pretty much a blank slate and I went into viewing prepared to believe my lukewarm opinion of it could be heated up a degree or two.

Episode analysis

I’m of the opinion that Columbo’s stellar arrest record, which encompasses numerous household names in spheres of politics, sport and the arts, would make it a certainty that every LA lawyer would know him by name, appearance and reputation.

Yet Hugh Creighton, who we’re told is the most famous lawyer in America, and is a man who has never lost a homicide defence case, doesn’t know Columbo from Adam? Give me a break! Such an incongruity might seem inconsequential to some viewers, but to me it’s the sort of plot hole that tighter writing could easily sidestep and, sadly, Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star is rife with them.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star Hugh Creighton
“Hi, I’m Lieutenant Columbo. You may remember me from such high-profile murder arrests as Ken Franklin, Nelson Hayward, Nora Chandler and Alex Brady…”

This isn’t merely a great shame, it’s deeply frustrating. There are decent moments in Rock Star, but the apparent lack of quality control across its whole story renders it something approaching a nonsensical mess. And before anyone accuses me of being a killjoy, please consider the following major examples of implausible storytelling that do Rock Star a great disservice: –

  • As mentioned above, Creighton not knowing who Columbo is is absolute balderdash! Why have him cast as a homicide defence lawyer at all? Why not have his special skill be helping rich and famous folk get away with fraud and tax evasion, for example? That would give an excuse to not know who Columbo is.
  • Creighton’s lack of care over whether the Champagne corks at the crime scene correctly matched the bottles is troublesome. Admittedly it’s a plausible oversight for most people, but he’s supposed to be the best defence lawyer in the country!
  • What logical reason could Creighton have for not replacing the gardener’s truck in the exact same spot he took it from? Leaving it two blocks away from its starting point is so idiotic as to be inconceivable. It serves the story, but is as ludicrous a move as Dr Cahill leaving an unnecessary burnt match at the crime scene in 1973’s Mind Over Mayhem.
  • Why the devil would Trish Fairbanks have blindly accepted the off-screen mission given to her by Creighton to deliberately get a speeding ticket while wearing a cardboard cut-out of his face? She’s not an office intern for Pete’s sake, she’s an experienced practising lawyer! Why did she not appear to have asked him any questions about his motives?

Of these, the latter two do the most damage to the credibility of the episode and I suspect for most viewers the black hole at the heart of Trish Fairbanks’ involvement in the crime is the single most damning aspect of Rock Star.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star Shera Danese
Trish’s involvement in the crime is the episode’s murkiest pond

It’s not until Rock Star’s 38th minute that we hear that Trish had been sent on a ‘research assignment’ by Creighton at the time of the murder. We don’t see this happen and never get official confirmation that this mission had been for her to wear a mask of Creighton’s face while obtaining the alibi-setting speed ticket, although Columbo does suggest as such in the 91st minute of the episode. Disguising the nature of her involvement seems like a bit of a cheat by the production team, while leaving it so late to clarify it to the viewer muddies the waters of what was a pretty convoluted mystery anyway.

From what we are shown on-screen, we are led to believe that Trish simply acquiesced to Creighton’s ridiculous request – but no lawyer worth their salt would ever do this without receiving a watertight explanation as to why it was necessary. It smashes the credibility of the Fairbanks character, while simultaneously revealing Creighton to be an absolute halfwit in the field of judging a person’s character. Did he not think she’d smell a rat after hearing about Marcy’s death? It’s unbelievable, in the truest sense of the word.

Regardless of all this hoo-hah, the mask evidence is incredibly flimsy in its own right. Columbo makes a big play of highlighting the lack of shadow under Creighton’s nose compared to photos of other drivers ticketed around the same time. The simple defence would be that his face was at a sufficiently different angle to cause this. There would have to be doubt in a sane juror’s mind about the driver’s identity.

So while the mask evidence is fragile, it is what most viewers will remember as the clincher. Not so. The crucial clue for Columbo is the presence of car berries on the Trish’s car windscreen and the gardener’s truck. These prove that someone had parked under that tree in Trish’s car, and that someone (likely the same person) had moved the gardener’s truck to under the same tree. That could have provided an opportunity for someone to use the truck to skedaddle to the beach house to commit murder. But nothing proves that this someone was Hugh Creighton!

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star Dabney Coleman
Hugh Creighton will have a field day in court with the scant evidence against him!

Columbo has no eyewitnesses who can place Creighton at the scene. He does link the glove marks on Marcy’s throat to glove marks in the gardener’s truck, but, again, that proves nothing against the lawyer. Nor does Columbo provide any evidence that Creighton was ever driving Trish’s car. It’s all a total let-down. What the gotcha scene needed was Trish to be present to corroborate some of the Lieutenant’s deductions. In fact, the scene is screaming out for it – yet it didn’t happen. Why? Well, thanks to David Koenig’s excellent new book Shooting Columbo, we now know the reason.

The original script saw Trish present throughout the entirety of the gotcha scene. However, due to a blazing row between Peter Falk and wife Shera Danese (playing Trish), she is alleged to have stormed off set and refused to return to re-film it the following day – instead going shopping. The scene had to be re-written and moved outdoors to suggest Trish had stayed inside, while Danese’s lines were given to other cast members, presumably mostly to Sergeant Habach. If true (and this anecdote came from episode director Alan J. Levi) the lack of professionalism shown by Danese is breath-taking.

“Shera Danese simply cannot be trusted with roles requiring range, gravitas and intelligence.”

Indeed, now’s probably the time to address how miscast she is in this. I’m not a Shera hater per se, but it’s increasingly hard to justify her meaty roles in the show given her paucity of talent. She’s fine in small roles (indeed was excellent as Eve Plummer in Murder Under Glass 12 years earlier) but simply cannot be trusted with roles requiring range, gravitas and intelligence e.g. a lawyer. She was similarly poor in Murder A Self Portrait two years prior.

Interestingly, Danese wasn’t the only ‘significant other’ to be cast in this episode with director Levi’s own wife, Sondra Currie, playing Sergeant Habach. Again according to Shooting Columbo, both Falk and Levi were reluctant to agree to the other’s wife appearing, despite both wanting their own wives cast. They agreed to compromise: if Shera was cast as Trish, Sondra could appear as Habach. Universal was said to be very nervous about the arrangement – and it’s not hard to see why given how things worked out with Danese. She ought never to have been cast in Columbo again, regardless of her relationship with its lead man. She would, however, appear twice more in the years ahead. Oy vey

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star Trish Fairbanks
Waddup, fishwife? Why the furious face?

Had she been present at his downfall, I’d like to think that Trish’s duplicitous nature would have seen her thoroughly shove Creighton under the bus. At the very least she would have had a deserved comeuppance of her own. As things stand, though, the episode fizzles out with a whimper and Creighton has a tonne of room to manoeuvre in any subsequent legal case.

He could even blame Trish, claiming that she was jealous of his relationship with Marcy, so had killed her while he was away in Pasadena. Trish had access to the Champagne from the office fridge, plus it was her car that had the incriminating berries in its windshield well. As it is, Columbo has nominally proven motive, method and opportunity against Creighton, but I’d wager that the super lawyer’s unbeaten record in court will continue.

The person who suffers most from the yawning plot holes and clumsy writing in Rock Star is Dabney Coleman, because he’s generally very good in this – certainly one of the better murderers of Columbo’s new era. The episode is at its best when he shares the screen with his good pal Falk, and his arrogant, sarcastic asides at the detective’s expense when his alibi is revealed are quite delicious. He convinces as a man with a complete lack of scruples.

He is given some daft moments that do grate, though; notably his performance in court, when he interrupts the prosecution lawyer during his closing remarks with comedy coughing and noisy slurping from a glass of water. This sort of drivel might sit OK in a pseudo-comedy like Ally McBeal, but it should be far too juvenile for Columbo. At times like this I think fondly back to Ransom for a Dead Man in 1971, when the production team felt absolutely no need to portray Leslie Williams in comedic terms, maintaining the integrity of the character in the process.

Columbo NFI hat
I’ve NO FRIGGIN’ IDEA what NFI is supposed to stand for…

As has become the norm for ‘new Columbo‘ episodes, Rock Star contains a liberal smattering of silliness that serves little purpose. Sam Marlowe, for example, is every cliché of a 1930s’ film noir private eye rolled into one annoying, fedora-wearing whole. Trish’s childish antics when ordering the office to be redecorated are pure pantomime, while Columbo’s decision to order a fortune’s worth of food at his dinner outing with Creighton sees him essentially raising two fingers to a man he has been ordered by his superiors to afford every respect to. It’s hugely out of character.

Elsewhere, an otherwise enjoyable scene with Columbo annoying a tightly wound housekeeper is marred by the questionable decision to have Columbo carrying on while wearing a stupid cap with NFI emblazoned over it. Word on the street is that Falk simply borrowed the cap from a bystander and decided to wear it for sh*ts and giggles. Would he have done this in the show’s golden age? Not a chance! So why do it now? And why weren’t people telling him not to?

It doesn’t end there, either. Columbo baselessly tells a speed camera technician that he’s never had the top down on his car prior to this very episode. Who does this line serve? Die-hard fans remember the top being down in classic outings including Lady in Waiting, Last Salute to the Commodore and The Most Dangerous Match. Newcomers to the series won’t care either way. Was this supposed to be a joke? Who knows. And while it’s not a big deal in its own right, it speaks again to that lack of consistent quality control in the storytelling.

What is a big deal, however, is the ghastly scene at The Aquarium bar when Columbo encounters the mermaid behind the giant fish tank. Obviously included only to help the episode reach the 90-minute running time, it’s two excruciating minutes of TV as the Lieutenant grills a busty blonde in a mermaid suit, who is twirling on wires to the presumed delight of the barflies. The crowning turd on the scene is the infantile flapping of the toothless drunk at the bar, who appears to not believe his own eyes as detective and mermaid give him a wave through the tank. It’s 15 of the worst TV seconds I’ve ever seen and it enrages me every time. If you can’t remember it, here it is in all its frightfulness…

Another downside to Rock Star is its recycling of some familiar aspects of classic episodes from the 70s. Columbo scouring through images of speed camera drivers harks back to both Playback and Identity Crisis. Champagne corks played a roll in heightening his suspicions of Ken Franklin having murdered Lily La Sanka in Murder by the Book. Most blatant is Creighton injecting a substance into a bottle of wine through its cork, first seen in Murder Under Glass. A golden opportunity for Columbo to reference this case to Creighton (delighting long-term fans in the process) went begging.

Even if Rock Star isn’t Columbo at its best, it’s not a complete train wreck. If you can overlook the faults there’s some fun viewing and some decent performances amongst the large ensemble cast. Of particular note, series stalwart John Finnegan makes his eighth overall appearance in the show, and his second as Columbo’s chief of police in the 1990s. Elsewhere, and in a first for the show, Columbo has a significant female sidekick in the form of Sondra Currie’s Sergeant Habach, who even finds herself involved in one of the series’ ultra-rare action scenes when wantaway drummer Neddy Malcolm escapes the police via leaps through a window and off a balcony.

Murder of a Rock Star falls way short of making Columbo’s greatest hits album.”

Falk himself is on good form and pretty restrained by 90s standards. We are given three nice examples of the cop Columbo really is behind his own mask of shambling servility as he tough talks both drummer Neddy and 30s throwback Sam Marlowe. He’s also very blunt during the showdown with the DA openly stating that he knows Creighton did it, despite a lack of damning evidence. As always, these situations make for good viewing as they shed at least a little light on the enigmatic Lieutenant’s true personality.

The closing credits also round things out on a pleasing note. A running ‘gag’ throughout the episode has been Columbo’s interest in procuring a ghetto blaster for his nephew. As credits roll, we see that he has indeed secured the coveted item and is using it as he speeds down the highway, blasting out and singing along to poor dead Marcy’s best-known hit as a tribute to her memory.

Columbo Little Richard
The man sure knew how to belt out a tune!

No review of Murder of a Rock Star would be complete without referencing the episode’s only actual rock star: Little Richard, who makes a show-stopping cameo around the hour mark. Given his negligible relevance to the plot, it could be said his appearance was a little gratuitous – perhaps even a ruse to use in previews to make audiences think the rubber-faced crooner was to be the episode’s victim. Nevertheless, his high-octane musical interlude certainly injects some energy into proceedings, and judging by Columbo’s head bobbing to the music, Peter Falk was no small fan of the rock icon.

Overall, though, if we’re looking for a musical analogy to sum up Murder of a Rock Star, I’d have to say it falls way short of making Columbo’s greatest hits album. The excellence of Dabney Coleman aside, this is B-Side material with the quality and unfolding of the narrative ultimately rendering it all a bit of a dud.

Did you know?

The episode’s oft-heard title track was actually sung by none other than Shera Danese, whose singing abilities certainly seem to exceed her acting skills here. In other news, Dabney Coleman is one of only three actors to play both a murderer and police officer in Columbo after previously appearing as a detective sergeant in 1973’s Double Shock.

Columbo Dabney Coleman
Dabney’s 1973 ‘stash game was absolutely on point *chef’s kiss*

The other two actors to share this distinction are Ed Begley Jr (a canine control officer in 1978’s How to Dial a Murder and a double killer in Undercover in 1994); and Fred Draper (murderer Swanny in Last Salute in 1975 and a police forensics guy in Negative Reaction a year earlier).

How I rate ’em

Despite being a fun watch, Murder of a Rock Star falls short too often to be considered a smash hit. A detective drama has to have more than just fun. It needs to set out a plausible crime, committed by plausible characters in plausible ways. Rock Star doesn’t manage that nearly well enough to make this anything more than a passable entry in the series. Shame for Dabney Coleman, who put his all into a patchily written character.

If you missed any of my earlier ‘new Columbo‘ reviews, access them via the links below.

  1. Columbo Goes to College
  2. Agenda for Murder
  3. Columbo Cries Wolf
  4. Rest in Peace, Mrs Columbo
  5. Columbo Goes to the Guillotine
  6. Sex & The Married Detective
  7. Caution: Murder Can Be Hazardous to Your Health
  8. Murder, A Self Portrait
  9. Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
  10. Murder, Smoke & Shadows
  11. Uneasy Lies the Crown
  12. Grand Deceptions
  13. Murder in Malibu

I haven’t yet started to slot the new episodes in amongst the classics in an overall rankings list, but you can see how I rate the 70s’ run of episodes right here.

Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
Is 1990s’ Columbo hurtling towards oblivion?

Now it’s over to you. I’m of the opinion that Murder of a Rock Star is a relatively popular outing amongst fans, so would be most interested to hear your views. How damaging are the plot holes to your enjoyment of the episode? Are there any other highlights / lowlights I haven’t mentioned that you believe warrant further exploration? Hit us up in the comments section below.

Next up on our Columbo saga is Death Hits the Jackpot, starring the late Rip Torn as a murderous uncle who bumps off his lovable nephew in order to fiddle him out of a massive lottery win. A proverbial jackpot win for fans, or another disappointment? Tune in soon to find out…

On a personal note, I’m delighted to report that my dear daughter received the all clear from cancer on Christmas Eve and is looking forward to a much more stress-free year as she recovers her full health. Thanks again to all those who sent their best wishes to her throughout 2021. She’s a real little trooper!

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Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star
Eesay ouyay aterlay!
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100 thoughts on “Episode review: Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star

  1. This episode could have been a lot shorter. I can’t help thinking between 51-52 minutes in, when Trish was ordering redecorations to the office, that Creighton should have written out a full confession and handed it to Columbo there and then. 30 years of porridge would appear preferable to being married to her!

    And (this bit might make sense only to Brits) I always thought that Anne Widdecombe was neither use nor ornament, but she was really suited as Marcy’s cleaner!

    Actually I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. I can’t get into whether the evidence would stand up in court and many of the other weaknesses that occur in many Columbo plots, the thing about Columbo is the battle between the two protagonists.

  2. Out of all the Columbo episodes, I feel like this one had the most “far-fetched gotcha.” Not believable at all.
    It ruined the entire episode for me.

    • Adding to my comment:
      1- I am so glad to hear the great news about your daughter, CP!
      2- I feel so stupid. I didn’t realize that it was Trish wearing the mask…..and I’ve seen this episode three times! Could it be precisely because of what CP was talking about in the review, about Trish not being in the final “gotcha” scene, muddying the waters? Or maybe it just flew over my head. Regardless, still didn’t like the mask business.
      Also, speaking of the mask gotcha, I don’t think the production team made the shadows vs. no-shadows clear enough for the audience to see a difference. But it could be just me.
      Looking forward to the “Jackpot” review. As I mentioned a year or two ago, Columbo doesn’t meet the killer (Rip Torn) until very late in the episode. And we don’t see Falk until very late in the episode. (I timed it once, but don’t have the numbers in front of me)
      I think “Jackpot” will be one of the most popular “new” episodes, as the plot I found interesting.

  3. Dear Columbophile, I’m extremely glad the Holiday Season was a cheerful one in your household for the best of reasons.

    As for the episode, I believe its main asset lies in the entertainment level the story manages to achieve despite the all flaws a closer scrutiny like yours ends up revealing.

  4. “He could even blame Trish,
    claiming that she was jealous
    of his relationship with Marcy, so had killed her
    while he was away in Pasadena.”

    I hate to nitpick over an episode have I have yet
    to watch, but are you suggesting that Creighton
    would be allowed to introduce this alternate theory
    at his trial? If so, then you are wrong. The defence
    would never be allowed to.

    P.S. I’m both elated and relieved to hear the news
    about your daughter’s recovery. No doubt you are

  5. I think the “Columbo” reboot was a mistake. Whatever (or whoever) gave the 1970s episodes their appeal was missing.

  6. I learned an important life lesson from Leslie Nielsen in “Lady In Waiting” where he’s getting exasperated with Columbo talking about his wife. “I’m sure that your wife is a very nice woman, but . . .” in other words, never be rude about another man’s wife.

  7. Like several of the later years episodes, this is a fun watch, but not much more. The story and gotcha are a little weak, and the acting other than Falk and Coleman is campy. Also agree the scene with the bar mermaid is just plain stupid. I had no sympathy for the victim, she was quite unlikable. Despite all this it’s still fairly enjoyable but i wish Coleman would have been a murderer in a 70’s episode when the writing was so much better. Happy New Year to all and always enjoy reading these comments.

  8. I think that the reason a lot of Columbo fans don’t like Shera Danese is that she usually plays the same unlikable character, regardless of what name she has in the various episodes she appears in.

    It doesn’t matter if she’s part of the murder plot, an innocent bystander, or whatever, she’s just not likable as a screen character, and isn’t meant to be. At least in the “new” Columbo’s.

    In the ‘70’s episode “Fade In To Murder” she’s basically a nice girl, but little more than an attractive alibi for the framed husband. It’s only really in “Murder Under Glass” a year later that she ever comes across as playing a likable character.

    • Shera may have been a lousy actress but she was still very attractive. She looked especially gorgeous in the episode with co-villian David Rasche. She definitely knew how to wet her lips and flash her legs when the time was right!

    • Nah. Unlikeable characters are the backbone of “Columbo,” if that were enough to make us not like a performer we’d not be watching this show.

      Personally I really want to like Danese. Honestly, I do. And I enjoy her in the two episodes you mention, but that’s because they’re tiny roles. When she has more than two sentences to say her delivery, tone of voice and body language all become so very much first-time-larper it’s honestly sad.

      • I take your point about “unlikable characters being the backbone of the show”, but they are usually the murderers (no matter how much we might like the actor). But in the ’90’s episodes Shera always played the same unlikable character, despite her role in the story.

        The second wife in “Murder: a Self Portrait” has nothing to do with any crime, but she comes across as unlikable. And in most episodes, the characters other than the murderer (or possibly the victim) are usually likable.

        • That’s absolutely true, but I meant that we, as viewers, are manifestly capable of getting our teeth into unlikeable characters without bearing a grudge against the actors. So I don’t think it’s necessarily that.

          You’re right in that she usually plays the *same* character, though, and it just so happens it’s not a role she’s good at playing. So that’s probably that.

          • Hi Aine. I think we are pretty much on the same wavelength here with regards to “unlikable characters”. For example, I think that we all share Lt Columbo’s intense dislike of Milo Janus in “An Exercise in Fatality”, but can appreciate Robert Conrad’s fine performance.

            Where we disagree is that I think Shera was at least adequate in the Columbo roles she played, but she could only keep giving the same performance.

            Here’s a point; does anybody know if she appeared in non-Columbo roles, and if she was any good?

    • she’s straight up just not a very good actress and not smart enough to convincingly play someone intelligent

      • I think that Shera was smart enough to play intelligent women, but who got in over their heads and lost control of the situation by not being very good at lying to Columbo. The trouble is, that’s basically all that she ever played.

        On the other hand, even when he wasn’t playing Sgt Kramer, Bruce Kirby basically always played the same character in “Columbo” and nobody, including me, has a problem with that.

        (First time I saw “Make Me a Perfect Murder” I assumed that Kramer had left the force and opened a TV repair shop).

    • Sorry, but not even Dabney could save this ridiculous mess. CP’s awesome analysis is far more entertaining than the episode itself!

  9. I’m impressed that it was actually Shera Danese singing the theme song to this episode. I guess I always assumed that it was actually Cheryl Paris, but then we never actually see Marcy Edwards perform the song.

    The first time I saw this episode many years ago, I did wonder why on Earth Trish should just happen to have been wearing a Dabney Coleman photo mask when she accidentally triggered a speed camera.

    On repeated viewings I noticed that there is some dialogue that establishes it was supposedly a test to see if it would work as a possible alibi. Of course if it does work, it could be used to frame innocent motorists on speeding charges!

  10. Ah, I was hoping that this review meant that there was good news about your daughter. Thanks for letting us know, and wishing her all the best for a stress free 2022.

  11. Wonderful news about your daughter, CP! And great to see another review from you as well. Shame that it had to be for such a weak episode, though I know there are still some stronger ones to come.

  12. I haven’t made it through the classics yet but glad to see a new review. And over the moon to hear the news about your daughter!!!!

  13. [This is a continuation of a thread begun below. Apologies for the length]:
    David, thank you for the kind words….they are much appreciated! I should clarify that I am not totally resistant to character development, as long as it serves the character in a positive way. My issue is with random changes in personality or demeanor that only serve the writer looking to make a cheap joke or get the plot quickly to the finish line.

    It’s interesting that we’re even discussing character development in a fictional creation. Is there any “character development” in other popular sleuths like Theo Kojak, Jim Rockford, or Jessica Fletcher? I suspect that such talk comes up when we/the viewer experiences an incongruity created by careless writers, and for someone as beloved and almost-real as Columbo, we might find it easier to wrap our heads around this by attributing it to “character development”, not sloppy work from the show’s creators. Columbo now enjoys helicopter rides? Gee, I guess he got over his (long-stated and deep-rooted) fear of heights.

    I approve of at least one positive character change of the Classic years, when Columbo actively took charge of more cases rather than stumble sleepily into a crime scene with fellow officers eye-rolling. Respect from his peers serves the character well, and that seed was planted early in the show’s run during “The Greenhouse Jungle” by Sgt. Wilson.

    The sudden gourmet tastes of “Murder under Glass” get under my skin because it actively changes the psychological dynamic between hero and villain. When Columbo has encountered killers who are expert/famous in their field, he has a genuine curiosity about their expertise – art, wines, advertising, horticulture, etc. No matter that some of this may well be exaggerated by Columbo. When he looks to the killer for advice, Columbo is in the deferential position, and the killer has the psychological advantage in that interplay – well, that’s what Columbo wants the killer to think. Columbo expertly uses this interplay to lull the murderer into a false sense of superiority, and before you know it, there’s “just one more thing” on the way to the Gotcha.

    Imagine how much more satisfying it would have been to have Paul Gerard school blue-collar Columbo in food delicacies, with Columbo’s questions drawing out the care that’s needed to create some dishes. That might lead to a slip by Gerard, perhaps about Japanese blowfish, and Columbo can put the puzzle pieces together through his inquiries and psychological maneuvering. As it is, Columbo pushes himself into a dinner party where Gerard happens to be serving – how fortunate – poisonous fugu. Case solved, yay!

    Interestingly, there was no “character development” in Columbo learning to use technology, where such development would make the most sense for, you know, a police detective. As it is, Columbo magically solves the very tech-based murder of “Goes To College” without the writers giving us a hint of how the solution was arrived at.

    And finally, I know that I sound like I’m yelling “Get off my lawn!” when it comes to New Columbo. But I actually try to be selective in my critiques, and for some 90s episodes, I won’t even react in the blog. I totally respect that there are many fans who have different Columbo experiences than myself and grew up with the 90s era first, not the other way around. Our preferences may be different, but not our love for Columbo.

    • Thanks, Glenn, for your elaborate answer, one that I probably won’t be able to match in length or quality.
      I’m not sure if Columbo’s aquired culinary skills could be put down to sloppiness of the writers, but Columbo being cured of vertigo definitely is – that’s something that really bothers me too. In Murder, Smoke and Shadows there’s this aweful scene, you know the one, where he joins his suspect in a flying director’s chair without issue.
      But then, to Murder under Glass, having thought about it some more. I like Columbo’s knowledge of cooking there and I’ll tell you why: Paul Gerard and Columbo are rivals here, trying to best each other in the other’s specialist field: Columbo by devising a trap while cooking a meal together and Gerard by devising a very clever crime. Knowing about the poisonous fish is one thing, but how the poison got into the victim, that was close to brilliance. Columbo is in fact adjusting.
      Added to that I’d think it very human to see Columbo not being able to hide his cookery knowledge, being appaled by his opponent’s arrogance as he definitely was, by his own acknowledgement.
      And to get into a very just question you put about character development: I don’t know Rockford, Kojak and Fletcher well enough to be able to judge theirs, but I do know even Sherlock Holmes gets kinder, more human when he gets older and even less judgemental about women. And you mention Columbo and technicology, but isn’t it true that he is usually troubled by the “newer” technics, like a fax machine and a computer? Like he has always been steadily behind but never getting worse?
      Columbo wearing a gun, however, or needing the mafia to catch a killer, I think is appaling. Not just sloppy, they are deliberate choices really damaging the character.
      So, to conclude, when at some point Columbo would be looking forward to eating the best steak in town and finds his dinner partner won’t pick anything but a salad, I can like that and not see Columbo crumbling in any way.

      And just two more things: ‘Our preferences may be different, but not our love for Columbo.’ Couldn’t agree more, that’s why we can discuss things the way we do.

      The last thing is about your reference to Columbo goes to College: there is one great and definite hint as to how the murder was performed, namely the tv signal that was picked up and broadcasted, which indicated that some form of transmitter must have been involved.

      • Hi David –
        About “College”: Yes, Columbo knows theres a broadcast signal, but at the end, Columbo has divined how the murder was done, involving gadgets and gizmos that our old-school lieutenant has never been particularly proficient with in other eps…..that is, unless and until we see him LEARN about these electronics and then APPLY what he learns to the crime. That’s some of the fun of the Classics, and that just doesn’t happen in “College”. He gets the (self-admitted) lucky break of the filming of the kill, and knows the shell casing was found in the street, but otherwise, where are pieces to the puzzle that allow the viewer to vicariously follow Columbo’s train of thought? We see his “Aha” moment, but we don’t see clues along the way that are picked up to get there. Does Columbo know that the killers have advanced electronics knowledge? Does Columbo ask for any help to learn about remote-control triggers? (Remember, he asks for help in learning about magic to use against The Great Santini). The reveal of the “College” murder contraption comes almost out of thin air.

        I swear, I’m working on cutting down the length of my comments, but sometimes it all needs to be laid out in plain sight!

        • Hi Glenn. We do see Columbo discover the existence of miniature TV cameras when he talks to the helpful young man in the corridor at the TV station. And I think we can assume that he asked the “technical guys from the department” about the remote control trigger mechanism, as they are the ones that recreate it for him.

          • Sorry, I think the corridor scene is what you meant by the “Aha” moment, but I think it’s this discovery that gives him the idea to talk to the technical guys at the department.

            And this is a stretch, but Columbo was in the boys dorm room, where he might have seen their remote control toy robot, with TV camera?

        • Chris, I’ll just quickly wrap by noting that you’re very kind to 90s Columbo by filling in their plot holes with things that us viewers should “assume”. We definitely differ on that point.

          • Agreed, Glenn. I assume they thought we could figure out some things for ourselves, instead of having it all spelled out for us.

            BTW, I do think that, overall, ’70’s Columbo was better than ’90’s Columbo, but I like both era’s. (A bit like “classic” Doctor Who and the modern series).

  14. Great review as always CP. And absolutely wonderful to hear a positive update on the family front.

    Thank you for sharing Mr. Koenig’s production backstory, which certainly illuminates a vexingly incongruous climax.

    I have a bigger problem with Trish beyond her agreeing to run a foolish errand, which I am willing to pass off as her feeling subordinate to a powerful boss. What makes ZERO sense is her forcing Creighton, a man who just killed his ex-lover in cold blood, to MARRY her. Blackmailing him for a partner position is risky enough, but why on earth would you want to live the rest of your days with a sociopath? And this isn’t an “in name only” marriage for money, one scene later, there she is chilling half-dressed at his pad.

    Yes, yes, perhaps only marriage guarantees her access to all of Creighton’s wealth, blah blah blah. We’re talking about a woman who makes a good living as a lawyer and is set to make a ton more as a partner — how is a little extra dough worth being murdered in your sleep or, hell, even worth being tied to a dude you aren’t in love with? Maybe we are supposed to believe that the amoral ambitious Trish had the hots for jerk Creighton all along, but why should we? We never see any redeeming qualities of Creighton, and even if Trish is a nihilistic kindred spirit of sorts, it doesn’t serve her interest to be with someone as selfish as she is.

    Once again a 90s Columbo script feels like a relic from an earlier time, when women had to marry for security. If Trish was a secretary, not an accomplished lawyer, I might buy that she sees Creighton as her meal ticket. So, did Shera just walk on set and say: “I’m tired of playing secretaries, make me a lawyer this time.”?

    As CP so rightly notes, the quality control of these episodes is flat out abysmal.

    • Yes! Trish wanting Creighton to marry her bugged me, too. A lot, and for exactly the reasons you list. It feels like a weird echo of Karen, the secretary from “Any Old Port,” but Karen was a quiet, lonely, repressed secretary. Trish, as second in command to great lawstar Creighton, should have a line of young law hopefuls clamouring for her attention and no interest in the boss apart from the monetary, which she can satisfy much better by becoming a partner in the firm – which she demands, anyway!

      I suppose they wanted to spring a surprise on the viewers with Trish’s “assignment,” which resulted in that senselessly vague conversation they had about her car. I can sort of understand that, even though many viewers seem to feel it was not a good idea, but hey, it was a little deviation from the standard total transparency of a Columbo murder plot.
      But if they’re doing that, and using the smart, unscrupulous lawyer lady as an accomplice, as opposed to a besotted naive fool, then why on earth would they show us the blackmail scene at all?
      Think about it – that whole scene would work so much better if Trish didn’t actually put the squeeze on Creighton at all. YET. She’s smart, she’s secure, she understood it perfectly well all along, and when Creighton tries to talk to her about it, she just smiles in a cocky, patronising way, pats him on the shoulder, says “assignment? What assignment? Why, you never sent me anywhere, Hugh!” He gets nervous and asks what does she want, she says “Nothing, as yet. Let’s just say you owe me a favour. A BIG favour. I’m sure something will pop up one day.” And she leaves. That way you can have a super-vague conversation that mentions no details, and it makes sense that it mentions no details. And you don’t have an unscrupulous smart lawyer lady suddenly go “wanna ring.”

      • Hi Aine. It would have been better if there had been some oblique reference to Trish’s “assignment” before the murder took place, but I think the problem with your theory is that “something would have been arranged” for Trish if she hadn’t taken certain precautions that would have made her sudden death look very suspicious.

        • But that’s a risk Trish runs anyway. Whether she explicitly blackmails Creighton or not. So it doesn’t really matter as far as the “making their conversation make sense without mentioning details” problem is concerned, which is how I’m looking at the scene now: trying to make it work as a scene for a TV movie.

          And that way Trish would have less to say and therefore Shera Danese would have less to mess up. Let’s be honest, girl can’t act. It’s not wrong to say she can’t act when she can’t act.

          • Well, I do see what you’re getting at, that Creighton could still do away with Trish, even if she was his wife and/or business partner. But losing two “wives” in quick succession would surely arouse suspicion? Especially as the first at least would definitely be known to be a murder?

            But I take your point about making the scene work. As to whether the girl can act, well I prefer to think that Shera is playing Trish as someone out of her depth, but just ploughing on regardless.

            I thought she was quite good in “Murder Under Glass”, where she plays a character quite unlike any of her ‘90’s parts.

          • There’s already been ample Shera bashing on this thread so I tried to focus my complaints on the character … still, Aine ain’t wrong. I will grant that Mrs. Columbo’s acting is better in some episodes than others, but certainly among us geeky diehard fans who this website humors, we can agree that more qualified actresses should have been cast more frequently.

            Again, though, my slight jab at Shera here is only in speculating that she may have had undue influence on script/production decisions. My real objection is Trish’s character arc.

            • It’s too bad Shera never got the chance to play a victim as I’m sure she could have pulled it off. But alas, Falk didn’t want to see his real-life wife murdered so it never happened. Such a shame considering how much she took over during the 90s run of the series.

              • SPOILER ALERT! You obviously haven’t seen every Shera Danese episode. Hence my use of “whatever” . . .

  15. I pretty much agree with your take right down the line. I call this a “goofy” episode whose only redeeming value is Dabney Coleman, who never fails to entertain. Every episode with Shera Danese annoys me, as I’m sure she’s only there because she’s Falk’s wife; she has no real acting ability. And I never got the bit about Creighton’s cowboy-hatted, buckskin-jacket-wearing “lawyer” from Montana – or Idaho, or wherever – what the heck is the point? Unless he’s licensed to practice in California, he’s useless. As you say so much more eloquently than I, lots of sloppiness that shows disdain for the viewer.

    Please allow me to add my “hurrah!!” on the wonderful news about your daughter!! So awesome!!

  16. I am so happy to hear the new about your daughter. I have been meaning to send well wishes, but of course these last two years have been tough on everybody. So good luck and Happy New Year!
    As for this episode ofColumbo I really enjoyed this one, plotholes aside. I like Shera Danese’s acting, but I heard her say that she really wanted to play the lover who is killed by Dabney Coleman, but Peter Falk would not let her play that part. So that may have been part of the friction. She is very funny and self deprecating. Loved Dabney Coleman in this. And it was cool having Little Richard show up.
    So again, the news about your daughter is great.

  17. When this episode comes on I only start watching when they come up with that silly ticket thing. Then Columbo gets to work. It’s the only part I watch.

    Otherwise I want to forget I saw every part of this. I agree with all said about Shera…the more I read the more I’m unsympathetic towards her. So much for being a professional, running off the set. Yeah, the bar scene is in my Top 5 Stupidest Cringy Columbo Scenes Of All Time.

    I’m very happy for you and your daughter. Bless you and your travails, and thank you for making us all happy.

    Now…get on with my FAVORITE GUILTY PLEASURE, “Death Hits The Jackpot”, and the crazy, nonsensical, plot, actors, and the delicious guilty-as-Hell Rip Torn, in my Top 3 of Latter-era Columbos!!

    • “Death Hits The Jackpot” and “Columbo Goes To College” are the only 90s Columbo episodes I don’t mind. The rest were nothing but squirrel chili gone bad…

    • I think lottery fraud makes a great plot – especially when you’ve just been wiped out by the ’87 crash. But more on this next week I guess !

      • Even tho I can’t stand the 90s Columbo, I can’t wait to read CP’s take on Rip Torn and his King George persona in “Death Hits The Jackpot”. Get the popcorn ready!

  18. I feel the same way you do about this episode. You were on the mark with all your observations. The hat? Kind of a silly inside joke and the murder itself was pretty careless in so many regards. The best part of your post other than always being so entertaining was that very personal info! I’m so so glad that your daughter is healthy and recovering! What a blessing and one that all of your readers have been praying for, including myself!

  19. Dear CP,

    I know I speak for all of your readers when I say that the highlight of your review was the news about your daughter’s health! That’s wonderful! And so was your detailed and on-the-mark review! Happy to have you and your daughter back to a better situation and to be reading your outstanding summaries and opinions of Columbo!


  20. Enjoy your reviews so much, CP, and it’s wonderful news about your daughter’s return to good health. Blessings to your family!

  21. So glad to hear the good news about your daughter. Those of us who have struggled with family members suffering from cancer know how tough it can be.

    As far as whether Creighton should have been depicted as a homicide lawyer or a high-profile fraud lawyer, those of us who watched this show in Texas could not help but be reminded of Richard “Racehorse” Haynes, a flamboyant criminal defense attorney from Houston who was most famous for getting the Fort Worth oilman millionaire T. Cullen Davis acquitted of murder in a celebrated case most of us considered a slam dunk for the district attorney. That was in the late 1970’s but I can’t help but think that Haynes inspired this character. Haynes did not try just murder cases but he had that reputation of never losing a case no matter how dead-to-rights guilty his client may have appeared. And it seems that if we didn’t get the idea, the Texas duds worn by Creighton’s attorney in the district attorney’s office should have been the clincher to drive the point home to us. Who couldn’t resist the idea of such a character being taken down by our heroic lieutenant. It would certainly play here in Texas. And who better to play the role of such a sleazeball than Dabney Coleman. And if Columbo is going to take down a sleaze lawyer like this, then it would have to be a lawyer who tried only murder cases, wouldn’t it? Just too delicious an idea to resist even if not put together with a good story…

  22. Wonderful to hear your good news, CP. And thanks for another great review.

    Both this and the Rip Torn episode upcoming are so frustrating for the waste of really excellent killer casting. That Shera is the vocalist on the hilarious ‘Shadow On A Hungry Street’ is the best Columbo factoid we’ll hear all year.

  23. So glad for your dear daughter!!!
    Yes, it’s hard to believe Creighton wouldn’t know who Columbo was. He calls him Columbus by mistake.

    • I totally agree.

      Another Hugh Creighton aspect that CP dislikes the coughing and noisy slurping by the lawyer, I think these are not here for comedy. These help to show the viewer the true, unscrupulous personality of our antagonist.

      PS.: Good to see Hungarian names in the comment section. As we have the best Columbo statue in Budapest. 🙂

  24. Completely agree with your review here. Too many holes, too much ‘new Columbo’ daffiness and unseriousness, and Danese is just way out of her depth, as usual.

    Glad to see you’re doing the Rip Torn ep next. I’ve always put these two eps in the same boat: two well-cast murderers who surpass their material and should have been given better episodes.

  25. This is typical 90s Columbo, very superficial and just kind of coasting on what came before it. It was made bearable by Dabney Coleman and Falk. Even adding Little Richard into the mix made it very 90’s as he was enjoying somewhat of a come back then. The mermaid scene was pretty terrible. I wonder if that was taken from real life. It seems like a pretty big stretch for a screenwriter to just come up with from out of the blue. I mean I can see it working with a series of mirrors and such but yes, very terrible for the performer in many ways.

  26. #1: Great news about your “Sgt. Wilson”, CP!

    #2: David Koenig’s book shines a huge, glaring spotlight on something that many long-time Columbo fans like myself only suspected. Peter Falk was the controlling influence of New Columbo, and he either didn’t make the effort to maintain quality control, didn’t understand it’s importance – or didn’t want to hire creative decision-makers who did. “Murder of a Washed-Up Rock Star” highlights this fault perfectly, and CP has checked off all the boxes that make this a slipshod episode.

    Richard, skilled counselor that you are, I suspected that you’d beat me to the punch about Creighton’s phantom lawyering “skills”. And it’s even worse than that! Columbo has entered and passed along a message to the judge that Creighton’s girlfriend has been killed. This, of course, has no relation to the case being argued. But naturally, the judge declines to wait for Creighton to wrap things up, and she immediately invites a mistrial by shutting down his closing argument so he can get the news.

    Look, we know that Link and Levinson have said that Columbo was never meant to be “realistic”. But the 70s version at least worked hard to make it plausible and not ridiculous (and as Richard says below, “faithful to [its] own reality”). Classic Columbo’s writing generally had great respect for its audience. For the show to truly resonate with fans over multiple decades, it would have to treat its viewers with the same intelligence as Columbo himself and the killers he encountered. Way too often, New Columbo refused to respect the intelligence of its audience, dumbing it down to the lowest common denominator of viewer. It speaks volumes that everyone involved – writer, director, producers and Falk – let pass Creighton’s cornball, cloying, cliched tripe without even a cursory stab at credibility.

    This dovetails with a nagging suspicion I’ve had since first viewing 1990’s “Columbo Cries Wolf”. The point seems minor, but if we’ve learned anything at all from watching Columbo, it’s that the minor discrepancies matter. It bugged me immediately – Columbo lifting off for a helicopter ride, smoking his stogie and calmly surveying the L.A. landscape. Later, he further compounds this by climbing a shaky ladder on a high roof to directly stare down a chimney.

    This is an obvious, immediately noticeable out-of-character change for our Lieutenant. Does it impact the plot in this case? No. But it does impact the character. Columbo’s human frailties make him endearing to the viewer and underestimated by the killers. It matters when Columbo has a glaring character inconsistency. It especially matters when it could have been easily avoided, and it matters most when Peter Falk himself doesn’t seem to notice – or worse, care about – the problem. But attention to details never really seemed a concern during the ABC years. Sadly, this was New Columbo.

    • On the subject of respect for the audience, I recently saw a quote from James Stewart, “Always treat your audience as partners and not customers”. Having said that, I actually find Creighton quite a memorable and interesting character.

      • An apt comment, as Stewart
        once played a detective who
        suffered from fear of heights in “Vertigo.”

        Columbo it would appear, is over his own
        nervousness of heights. Perhaps it was
        ABC that insisted on the character changes.
        Or perhaps Falk himself was anxious for a
        Columbo make-over.

  27. Very happy to hear that things are going well with your daughter!

    Regarding the “plot-hole” that the lawyer doesn’t know who Columbo is despite the lieutenant’s amazing track record, I think it’s pretty clear that the writers never wanted to change the formula that calls for Columbo to always first appear like a clueless idiot to the suspects. The only exception I can think of (I’m sure there are a few others) is the episode “A Matter of Honor” where we learn that apparently Columbo remained somewhat famous in Mexico after the “Troubled water” incident. I guess he’s like one of these celebrities that’s only famous abroad.

    It’s too bad that the writers didn’t dare shake up the formula a bit, and I agree that it would’ve been the perfect episode for it. Have the lawyer understand who he’s dealing with and usher a battle of wits “Double Exposure”-style. That would’ve been so much more interesting.

    >I’m not a Shera hater per se, but it’s increasingly hard to justify her meaty roles in the show given her paucity of talent.


    >What logical reason could Creighton have for not replacing the gardener’s truck in the exact same spot he took it from?

    So this one didn’t bother me too much: by the time the truck was returned the gardener would probably have noticed its absence and it’s possible that cops could be here or he could still be around waiting for somebody to pick him up etc… Bringing the truck back to its original location and parking it would run the very plausible risk of being caught in the act (and either be recognized, or somebody remembering what his getaway car looks like or even its license plate.

    By parking it a few streets away he reduces this likelihood massively, ensures that the truck will be found quickly, and possibly the cops wouldn’t look too deeply into it if they just assume that the (foreign and not fully anglophone) gardener just forgot where the truck was parked.

    Maybe it should’ve been explained in more details in the show, but I didn’t think it was too out of place.

    • > By parking it a few streets away he reduces this likelihood massively, ensures that the truck will be found quickly, and possibly the cops wouldn’t look too deeply into it

      Interesting. This has been one of the things that really annoyed me about this plot – like CP says, there’s no way an intelligent lawyer’d make such a stupid mistake – but you raise a decent point. Not that I think it ever came to the writers’ minds, I’m pretty sure they just intended this to be a slip-up, but it didn’t necessarily have to be.

      However, while your idea does mean it may have be a deliberate decision rather than stupidity on Creighton’s part, it’s still… well, a bad decision in the circumstances. Masquerading as the gardener is only ever a good idea here if, and only if, no one suspects anything and no attention is drawn to the gardener at all. The moment there’s any suspicious circumstance pertaining to the gardener, you’re actually worse off than if you’d chosen any random anonymous car and trench coat, because for someone to have masqueraded as the gardener shows they knew the gardener, knew where to find him and his truck today, what would he be wearing and so on. Basically, if there’s any chance of the gardener noticing his truck is missing and kicking up a fuss about it, Creighton is better off not touching the truck at all, rather than leaving it close by and hoping for the best. And he should be aware of this.

      If it were up to me, I’d have done it the other way around: I’d have Creighton put the truck back in the exact same spot, hell, I’d give him a polaroid to take a bloody picture so he’d park it exactly the same bloody way, with the same bloody tilt on the tyres and everything. And then have the revealing detail be something that should have been on the car, but wasn’t – I dunno, maybe a splash from the street sweeper (though they probably go around at night), maybe a flyer from a local activist, something like that. Something that would have been on the car if the car had been standing where it should.
      Still doesn’t really point at Creighton personally, but at least it doesn’t make him look as stupid.

      • I agree, it’s still a rather clumsy plan even if you accept this particular bit, I won’t argue otherwise. Especially since there are a bunch of Columbo gotchas involving cars that are vastly more satisfying and less clunky.

  28. Despite its numerous faults and gaping plot holes, I always find Rock Star quite watchable – and this is mainly due to the performance of Dabney Coleman. The basic plot/motivation and primary characters are in fact quite believable. By comparison, there are several “new” (ABC) Columbos I simply can’t/won’t watch at all, ( eg. Too Many Notes, Married Detective, Smoke and Shadows).
    The only scene I really dislike is the Marlowe 30’s detective nonsense – ridiculous pastiche which just serves to remind the viewer they are watching mediocrity in the first place. I always enjoy the Dining Club scene – where Coleman and Carl the waiter both deadpan while a “not very hungry” Columbo orders a huge steak dinner. Then the moment in his office, where Coleman finally but coolly drops any cordial pretence that he isn’t the number one suspect – (“why don’t you take your corks and get the hell out of here”), is really beautifully played.
    Looking forward to the review of “Jackpot” – which in fact is my favourite of the new Columbos.

    • I’ve always found Columbo’s evolution from a simple chili-eatin’ Everyman to gourmet glutton rather annoying. It was “Murder Under Glass” that really got that ball rolling, and it strains credibility. Sure, people can change over the years, but wild swings of eating habits? Details matter (re: my post above).

      • In Publish or Perish, the reason Columbo memorably goes for the chilli at the Brown Derby is that he wants “something with a bit more body” than the recommended trout almondine (trout with almonds). At Creighton’s exclusive dining club, the mammoth steak would seem in keeping with Columbo’s character (assuming he hadn’t already eaten). He could also be sending a message to Creighton – okay, you can just have the soup to show fake remorse – but I’m happily having the steak because I know you did it !

        • I agree with Mark here. Besides, who could resist the best steak in town? His own chef tecommended it!
          Moreover, in Murder under Glass, Columbo is visibly overwhelmed by all the food he gets served. In the finale, with Columbo cooking the veal, he is in his comfort zone, cooking a family receipe, which didn’t start him off as a ‘gourmet glutton’.

        • But it wasn’t just the steak. It was that and everything else he
          “comically” piled onto the order. It was all for the joke – Creighton orders soup, Columbo orders a huge gourmet meal. It was the writer screwing with Columbo’s character to make a cheap gag.

          And in “Murder Under Glass”, he demonstrates heretofore never-seen advanced culinary knowledge and skills way before his veal dish at the finale. Not even a half hour into the episode, Columbo correctly identifies Duck Galantine with truffles, knows bechamel sauce is used in Champignon Farci Au Crabbe, and recognizes an eggs in aspic dish that he wants to garnish “to get the feel”. It would have been much more in-character to have Gerard actually teach Columbo about the finer foods through the episode, much like Carsini helped him learn about wine. But by Year 7, the (new) producer and writers were already fiddling around with what made the Columbo character special.

          • Yes, I can see where you’re coming from. Columbo’s culinary skills in Murder under Glass never bothered me, because he articulates his delight in tasting and ‘having it right’ still in his own modest way. But maybe you’re right and it was a bit too much, then.
            However, there is still something like character development and experience, coming with age, and in this episode Columbo is definitely not a tenderfoot anymore (I really like CP’s observation noting that Creighton NEVER even heard of Columbo, which struck me too as incredible).
            What I mean is: Columbo has been investigating murders in the upperclass for decades by now, and if he’s still as ignorant of the upperclass manners and preferences and some of their culinary tastes as he used to be, I’d have found that much harder to believe. Take only all the culinary shows on tv mrs. Columbo must have watched by now, he must have picked up something!
            Besides, didn’t dr Kepple in Double Exposure notice that Columbo is the one doing the shopping in the family? He must have been picking all the ingredients for mrs. Columbo’s (sometimes experimental) dishes for years…
            I always like reading your assesments and views, as much as I like to read Richard’s, because you are thorough and know how to write and expand your views. Here I think you are looking for, and loving, a certain consistancy that would be impossible to find in any human being, not in any fictional character who is simply ageing and gaining experience.
            Having said this, I do mind some of Columbo’s character development in his later years, but not this part.
            By the way, the only fictional character I ever encountered who never, ever altered in any way in 40 plus years, is literary detective Nero Wolfe. He is 56 years of age in 1938 and still 56 in 1970, even when meeting characters from 20 years earlier who do have aged. But this is not the case with Columbo.

          • There’s no doubt that post about 1975, quality Columbos were in very short supply. Part of the problem was also Peter Falk – his acting becomes increasingly mannered/tedious, with exaggeratedly slow speech.

          • (I’m going to continue this thread by starting a new one above, as viewing a long string of comments on an android device can be very annoying).

    • I pretty much agree — it’s not at all a well-written episode, but I enjoy Dabney Coleman in it.

  29. Thoughts on Rock Star clearly take second place to the marvelous news regarding your daughter. A fine start to Xmas and 2022.

    As I posted on Insta regarding this episode, it’s inexplicably great fun which makes it sit slightly higher in my regard than the weak plot means it should.

    The main protagonist commands the screen well and it’s a shame he’s not served by a tighter plot.

    Other plot holes not mentioned are the fact that there was no guarantee that the right bottle of Champagne would be picked or even of one or both of them would actually want a drink.

    Not the worst episode by a long stretch but definitely not up with the best of either era.

  30. Happy New Year! I know that the great news about your daughter makes it much happier. Wonderful news!

    Regarding the episode, I couldn’t agree more. Several cringe-worthy moments– among them the time travel to the 1930s for the private eye scene. I wonder if it stems from a fascination with the genre that Falk may have cultivated when he did the thinly veiled Humphrey Bogart impression in “The Cheap Detective.”

    For me, the only reason to watch this is the interplay between Coleman and Falk. I think they are both brilliant in their scenes together, just in terms of playing off each other. And I don’t even mind the courtroom scene. One could question the inclusion of the water glass antics by the writer(s), but once they wrote it, who could have brought it off as well as Dabney Coleman. Nobody plays a sarcastic a-hole better than him.

  31. Soooooo happy to hear about your daughter. I believe that children who have to deal with CA are superheroes in their own right.

    Um, about the episode. I liked Dabney Coleman’s water pouring and drinking scene. We need to look at poor gardeners being used and abused in Columbo episodes. At least he wasn’t blown up like Bird in the Hand. Poor guy not being able to find his truck thinking he had list it. Geesh!

    I LOL’d about the worst job in Hollywood comment. That mermaid scene was too trippy for me and I’ll never forget the look on my sister’s face when she saw it.

    Just wanted to mention that Sondra Currie is the older sister of Cherie Currie from The Runaways rock band that included none other than Joan Jett & Lita Ford.

    I really don’t terribly mind this episode, plot holes and all.

  32. Thanks for the review and agree, this had never been one of my favorites either.

    But absolutely great news about your daughter!

  33. CP, what great news about your daughter! I presumed as much when your CATMOARS review appeared this morning, but was overjoyed to see my deduction confirmed in your concluding paragraph.

    As to the episode itself, are we supposed to take this story seriously? Come on. Hugh Creighton (Dabney Coleman) is the greatest criminal defense attorney in the country? Did you watch him in the courtroom? That scene is a joke. Creighton is a clown. Idiotic tricks, followed by the weakest summation you could imagine. This is how they portray a lawyer who’s never lost a case? There are shelves of great courtroom dramas with brilliant moments. Borrow one. Or find a trial lawyer to suggest one. This scene was embarrassing. (And no police chief is that intimidated by a defense attorney, no matter who it is.)

    And the ridiculous scene where Trish (Shera Danese) puts the screws to Hugh — the “you used me to help you” scene — isn’t merely a “cheat” (as CP correctly observes), it’s idiotic. She never asked previously why he was sending her to Pasadena in his car, wearing a mask with his face on it, and told her when to speed past a traffic camera?

    Then — why, exactly, did we flash back to 1940 for the scene in the private eye’s office? Private eye Sam Marlowe — as in Sam Spade fused with Philip Marlowe. Wearing his 1940’s style suit and private eye hat (while at his desk), with the camera shooting through a ceiling fan. Why the wrinkle in time?

    And are there really trees that only grow on one street? I could buy the localized poison ivy in “Lovely But Lethal,” but this takes forensic botany one step too far.

    With each successive episode, the ‘90’s Columbos further erode the mythic reality of the ‘70’s Columbos. The classic Columbos weren’t pure realism, but they were faithful to their own reality — with credible murderers committing credible crimes for credible reasons, that were solved by credible means. You could believe what you were watching. I don’t believe this story for a second.

    I wrote some years ago that: “In my view, Dagger of the Mind was never intended to be taken seriously.” https://columbophile.com/2017/03/19/columbo-dagger-of-the-mind-a-second-opinion/. But compared to “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” “Dagger” is a documentary.

    One final note. The drugs-injected-through-the-cork bit actually predates “Murder Under Glass.” Riley Greenleaf used it against Eddie Kane in “Publish or Perish.”

  34. CP, what great news about your daughter! I presumed as much when your CATMOARS review appeared this morning, but was overjoyed to see my deduction confirmed in your concluding paragraph.

    As to the episode itself, are we supposed to take this story seriously? Come on. Hugh Creighton (Dabney Coleman) is the greatest criminal defense attorney in the country? Did you watch him in the courtroom? That scene is a joke. Creighton is a clown. Idiotic tricks, followed by the weakest summation you could imagine. This is how they portray a lawyer who’s never lost a case? There are shelves of great courtroom dramas with brilliant moments. Borrow one. Or find a trial lawyer to suggest one. This scene was embarrassing. (And no police chief is that intimidated by a defense attorney, no matter who it is.)

    And what about the ridiculous scene where Trish (Shera Danese) puts the screws to Hugh. The “you used me to help you” scene. What’s with: “You borrowed my car and sent me on that research assignment” and “I’ve been trying to figure out why”? Aren’t you leaving something out, Trish? Isn’t it: “Now I know why you sent me to Pasadena in your car wearing a mask with your face on it, and told me when to speed past a traffic camera”? In retrospect, this scene isn’t merely a “cheat” (as CP correctly observes), it’s also idiotic.

    Then — why, exactly, did we flash back to 1940 for the scene in the private eye’s office? Private eye Sam Marlowe — as in Sam Spade fused with Philip Marlowe. Wearing his 1940’s style suit and private eye hat (while at his desk), with the camera shooting through a ceiling fan. Why the wrinkle in time?

    And are there really trees that only grow on one street? I could buy the localized poison ivy in “Lovely But Lethal,” but this takes forensic botany one step too far.

    With each successive episode, the ‘90’s Columbos further erode the mythic reality of the ‘70’s Columbos. The classic Columbos weren’t pure realism, but they were faithful to their own reality — with credible murderers committing credible crimes for credible reasons, that were solved by credible means. You could believe what you were watching. I don’t believe this story for a second.

    I wrote some years ago that: “In my view, Dagger of the Mind was never intended to be taken seriously.” https://columbophile.com/2017/03/19/columbo-dagger-of-the-mind-a-second-opinion/. But compared to “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” “Dagger” is a documentary.

    One final note. The drugs-injected-through-the-cork bit actually predates “Murder Under Glass.” Riley Greenleaf used it against Eddie Kane in “Publish or Perish.”

  35. WELCOME BACK! AND WONDERFUL NEWS ABOUT YOUR DAUGHTER! I agree with everything you say here, but I think the episode is even worse than you do. I’m convinced that the original script had nothing to do with a rock star at all because it has nothing to do with rock music. The rock star is RETIRED so they need do nothing to explore the premise. I think the rock star angle was retrofitted awkwardly in just to be able to give the episode a title that might attract more viewers. But this is a bait and switch. This also would explain why Little Richard is shoehorned into the story for no other purpose than, as you mentioned, to get one actual rock star into the show. BAIT AND SWITCH! A stinker that annoyed me to no end

    • So happy about the bit at the end + that your daughter is in the clear! Selfishly I am glad to see your reviews of the non-classic episodes.

    • This is one of the reasons why I’m so disappointed with this episode. I was quite wary of the ’90s Columbos, but “Murder of a Rock Star” sounded cool. However, having seen the episode, I think it was a terrible choice of a title and of a story element.

      As you say, the episode has nothing to do with rock music. The victim is an ex starlet, with no active career, turned trophy “wife” as a matter of fact. And there’s some dirt on her wall-mounted records. That’s it, that’s the closest they could get to a plot around a rock star. Oh, and the hit song they play is not rock at all. It’s pure pop.

      But there’s more. As a matter of fact, I think that the whole “rock star” shtick is not just irrelevant, it’s outright detrimental to the plot, for several reasons:

      1. The killer is supposed to have a first-class brain of a hotshot lawyer. He also has the looks of Homely Uncle Bob. Yet he is clearly expecting sexual fidelity from a far younger, kinda bratty starlet. That fact alone makes him seem rather pathetic and, more importantly, stupid. A very naive and poor judge of character, at least. And that’s not what a good Columbo villain should be.

      2. He kills her because she threatens to disclose his secrets. Secrets that he should never have let her find out in the first place! Ask the police, they will tell you that closest family members very often have absolutely no clue about their relatives’ criminal actions. And Creighton should know better than to let his flighty paramour catch even a whiff of any irregularity on his part. Hell, she should be supremely uninterested!

      3. The sleazy boyfriend, basically instant fall guy, just add drugs (dare I say, suitable for framing? [rimshot]) doesn’t really work in the “rock star” setting for me. This shouldn’t be the first time he’s blacked out, he should be quite aware of what he can or can’t do while black-out-drunk, hell, he should be able to smell a rat when he’s knocked off so easily with just a glass of champagne. And he shouldn’t just take fright and run like an idiot, he should be calling an ambulance, the cops, the whole shebang, volunteering for blood tests to show he was too incapacitated to do it, protesting his innocence loudly. If only for the notoriety. I’m not saying rocker-bohemians are necessarily inured to murder, but their lives are not as ruined by this sort of things as, say, brilliant lawyers’ lives.

      All in all, I think this episode would work much better if the victim was Creighton’s extremely classy, high-society wife. Throw out the whole “shady tactics” stuff, just give her a full-on, shameless, brazen affair, preferably with a hunky young lawyer on the make. Have her throw it in her husband’s face that she’ll keep on doing it, and if he doesn’t like it he can divorce her and she’ll take half of his estate and her high-class, well-connected name away with her. The heaps of expensive champagne would fit in better, too.


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