Columbo is one of the most beloved crime dramas in television history. It ran from February 1960 to January 2003, spanning 35 years and 69 episodes (including not one but two pilots). It has been broadcast in 44 countries

From 1971 to 1978, the show ran as part of the NBC Mystery Movie (wheel) and then, following an 11 year hiatus, returned as part of the ABC Mystery Movie from 1989 to 2003, its last episode airing as part of ABC Thursday Night at the Movies.

The show was created by writers Richard Levinson and William Link. The (first) series pilot, Prescription: Murder, was based on their stage play of the same name.

Two other actors portrayed Columbo before Peter Falk made the character his own. Bert Freed was the first actor to play the part in a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show. Two years later, Oscar-winner Thomas Mitchell played Columbo in the stage version of Prescription: Murder.

Eight years later when Levinson and Link were looking to cast the role for the small screen, the first actors considered for the part were Lee J. Cobb (star of The Virginian) and Bing Crosby (who passed because he feared the commitment would interfere with his golf game).

The role eventually went to actor Peter Falk who would go on to win four Emmy Awards for his portrayal of lovable, disarming, rumpled detective.

Falk provided his own wardrobe for the show which included the famed trademark disheveled raincoat he had bought in New York for $15.

Falk was a perfectionist, insisting on repeated takes to ensure the performances were their best. His attitude earned him the respect of his guest stars, and the animosity of studio executives who had to swallow the cost overruns.

Occasionally, Falk would ad-lib during his performances – searching his pockets, becoming distracted – to keep his fellow actors on their toes and, in the case of murder suspects, palpably frustrated.

Unlike the Whodunit, Columbo was a Howdunit, with the murderer revealed in the opening and our Columbo himself not making an appearance until after the first act. It was a format the network initially hated…but grew to love.

The show was an immediate hit and became a worldwide sensation. According to Falk, at one point during the show’s run, he was asked by the State Department to record a reassuring message for Romanian fans who had threatened to riot, suspecting their government was holding back on new episodes.

Early contributors to the show’s success included a young Steven Spielberg who directed seasons 1’s “Murder by the Book” and Hill Street Blues creator Steven Bochco who scripted several episodes including the aforementioned.

Columbo’s catch-phrase, “One more thing…”, is as quintessentially Columbo as his raincoat, but it wasn’t originally scripted.

According to Levinson “we had a scene that was too short, and we had already had Columbo make his exit. We were too lazy to retype the scene, so we had him come back and say, ‘Oh, just one more thing.’ It was never planned.”

Columbo’s first name was never revealed and his wife, who often referenced, was never seen. His dog, a basset hound named Dog, who has the distinction of being the most featured recurring guest star with 23 appearances.

Numerous actors made multiple appearances on the show and a handful returned to play several murderers.

Patrick McGoohan played 5 different murders over the franchise run, Jack Cassidy and Robert Culp 3 a piece, while George Hamilton and William Shatner each played two murderers. Shatner’s killers were especially deliciously devious.

In 2007, Universal shopped just one more Columbo episode to the networks. Titled “Columbo’s Last Case”, it would have been the rumpled detective 70th and final outing. But it never came to be as the networks passed on the 80-year-old Falk’s swan song.

In 2014, Columbo and his dog, Dog, were commemorated with a statue in Budapest, Hungary.

For a deeper dive into Columbo, check out –

Shooting Columbo by David Koenig

The Columbo Phile by Mark Dawidziak

The Columbo Companion by @columbophile

Or visit:

A great article on Columbo’s enduring legacy:

Tomorrow: Mrs. Columbo – A Brief History

6 thoughts on “Columbo – A Brief History

  1. That was very interesting! I didn’t know Columbo was on the air for so long. Peter Faulk is the only actor I knew in that role. You make me want to look Columbo up for a re-watch. Thanks!

    How are things in Toronto? Here: Hot but that’s normal for August in Memphis.

  2. I had no idea Columbo was so incredibly popular or beloved. Or that there were so many famed people attached to it. I was never much into police or detective shows in my youth.
    I think I only watched a couple episodes of Columbo when it was on the air in NY from 1971-78. I remember watching a couple episodes of Dragnet with Joe Friday in late 60s and a few years later a couple episodes of Mod Squad and Streets of San Francisco. But don’t recall much about any of them other than they had actors I admired.
    And naturally I had to watch at least one episode of Barretta to delight in Fred The Cockatoo. Albeit, I do recall enjoying some things such as the original Murder On The Orient Express movie in early 70s and the original 1950’s Black Widow and Hollywood Story movies. And of course I later loved Falk in Princess Bride.

    Guess I’ll have to go see if i can hunt down season one of Columbo now
    to see what all the fuss was about.

  3. First off, “What a Great post!” I loved to watch Columbo all those years. Has anyone watched Poker Face on Peacock with Natasha Lyonne/Charlie Cale? As the season progresses she does an homage to Detective Columbo. If you never saw Peter Falk as Columbo, you would say “What a ditsy chick”. But knowing the inside joke, it was a wonderful treat and you knew that she knew who the killer was and was busy ferreting him/her out. Thoroughly enjoyed season 1 and looking forward to season 2. Oh, and one more thing, I wonder if it is a coincidence that this occurs on an NBC related channel?

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