Classic Episodes: Columbo – Murder By The Book

“‘Uh, sir? There’s only one more thing I’m not clear about.’ ‘Uh, ma’am, I’m making a pest of myself, but.…'”

These words were like nails on a chalkboard or, more to the point, nails in the coffin for Lieutenant Columbo’s suspects, murderers who constantly made the mistake of overestimating their smarts and underestimating his.

Behind the scenes of “Murder by the Book,” the first Columbo episode of the regular series (two earlier mysteries starring the disheveled detective were made-for-TV movies), star Peter Falk almost underestimated the talent of his young director (whose scant credits included an installment of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery).

He was some kid named, uh…uh…Steven Spielberg. But Falk gave him a chance and reaped the reward: Spielberg turned out a sleek, stylishly shot, and suspenseful thriller.

The masterful script, written by another kid named Steven Bochco, centers on a smarmy coauthor of best-selling mysteries who kills his more-talented partner to prevent him from going solo. The cunning cat-and-mouse interplay between Falk and Jack Cassidy set the tone for the entire series. Cassidy went on to be the culprit in two other Columbos. As for Spielberg and Bochco — well, where are they now?

Original Airdate: September 15, 1971 on NBC

Alastair James is the editor in chief for Memorable TV. He has been involved in media since his university days. Alastair is passionate about television, and some of his favourite shows include Line of Duty, Luther and Traitors. He is always on the lookout for hot new shows, and is always keen to share his knowledge with others.