Peter Falk’s portrayal of the seemingly hapless LAPD homicide detective Lieutenant Columbo has become one of the most popular character performances in television history. With its genre-breaking format – the audience know the identity of the killer from the outset – the show became hugely popular during the 1970s although the pilot episode was shot as far back as 1968. In fact the character of Columbo dates from much earlier, having appeared in a one-off TV drama in 1960, written by creators Richard Levinson and William Link. In that live broadcast Columbo was played by Bert Freed.
Although it had a unique approach to the cop show format, the makers of Columbo were not averse to the world of cliché and the programme built up its own repertoire over the years, much to the delight of fans and aficionados. Enthusiasts revel in hearing Lt. Columbo utter his catchphrases ‘just one more thing’ or ‘about that alibi of yours’, watching him trying to find somewhere to stub out his cigar or parking his battered old Peugeot really badly.
The original 70s series featured a cornucopia of special guest stars including William Shatner, Robert Culp, Johnny Cash and Leonard Nimoy but was also a breeding ground for significant talent behind the screens as well – John Cassavetes, Jonathan Demme and Stephen Speilberg all directed episodes.
Now a staple of weekday afternoon television, Columbo continues to find new audiences every year and its appeal looks likely to go on for many more years to come.