Columbo Information

Columbo is an American detective mystery television film series, starring Peter Falk as Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. The character and television show were created by William Link and Richard Levinson. The show popularized the inverted detective story format. Almost every episode began by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator. The series has no "whodunit" element. The plot mainly revolves around how the perpetrator, whose identity is already known to the audience, will finally be caught and exposed. In other words this is a "howcatch'em" format.

The character is a friendly, verbose, disheveled-looking police detective (of Italian descent) who is consistently underestimated by his suspects. Most people are initially reassured and distracted by his circumstantial speech, then increasingly irritated by his pestering behavior. Despite his unprepossessing appearance and apparent absentmindedness, he shrewdly solves all of his cases and secures all evidence needed for indictment. His formidable eye for detail and meticulously dedicated approach, though apparent to the viewer, often become clear to the killer only late in the storyline.

The episodes are all movie-length, between 73 and 100 minutes long. The series was once broadcast on over 80 networks, spanning 44 countries. In 1997, "Murder by the Book" was ranked No. 16 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time. and in 1999, the magazine ranked Lt. Columbo No. 7 on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list. In 2012, the program was chosen as the third best cop or legal show on Best in TV: The Greatest TV Shows of Our Time. In 2013 TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time.

Series format

The series reversed the format of the standard whodunit mystery and in almost all of the episodes of Columbo, the audience sees the crime unfold at the beginning and knows the identity of the culprit. The objective is to observe the way Columbo finds/follows the clues that will lead him to the solution, and to enjoy the tricks he will use to obtain a confession. This allows the story to unfold simultaneously from the point of view of Columbo and the murderer as they play cat and mouse. Describing the character, Variety columnist Howard Prouty wrote that "The joy of all this is watching Columbo disassemble the fiendishly clever cover stories of the loathsome rats who consider themselves his better."

In some episodes, such as the original film Prescription: Murder, Columbo does not appear until halfway through the episode. A Columbo mystery tends to be driven by the characters. The audience observes the criminal's reaction to the ongoing investigation, and to the increasingly intrusive presence of Columbo. As a distraction, Columbo is generally polite to the suspects as the investigation proceeds.

Class tension is often apparent between Columbo " with his seemingly humble, working class origins " and the killer, who is usually affluent, well-positioned and condescending. The killer's arrogance and dismissive attitude help Columbo with his investigation, as he manipulates his suspects into self-incrimination. With the final arrest, the killer always goes quietly.

In some instances, such as Ruth Gordon's avenging mystery writer in "Try and Catch Me", Janet Leigh's terminally ill actress in "Forgotten Lady", or Donald Pleasence's vintner in "Any Old Port in a Storm", the killer is more sympathetic than the victim or victims. In others, such as "Murder, Smoke and Mirrors", while the murderer is unsympathetic, the victim nonetheless leaves him no other options.

Development and actors who played Columbo

The character of Columbo was created by William Link, who said that Columbo was partially inspired by Crime and Punishment character Porfiry Petrovich as well as G. K. Chesterton's humble cleric-detective Father Brown. Other sources claim Columbo's character is also influenced by Inspector Fichet from the 1955 French suspense-thriller Les Diaboliques.

The character first appeared in a 1960 episode of the television-anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, which was itself partly derived from a short story by Levinson and Link, originally published in an issue of the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine as "Dear Corpus Delicti". Levinson and Link adapted the TV drama into the stage play Prescription: Murder, and a TV-movie based on the play was broadcast in 1968. The series began on a Wednesday presentation of the "NBC Mystery Movie" rotation: McCloud, McMillan & Wife, and other whodunits. According to TV Guide, the original plan was that a new Columbo episode would air every week, but Peter Falk refused to commit to such an arduous schedule, which would have meant shooting an episode every 5 days. The high quality of Columbo and McMillan & Wife was partly due to the extra time they could spend on each episode. After one season, the series moved as a group to Sundays. Columbo aired regularly from 1971"78 on NBC, and then less frequently on ABC beginning in 1989. The final episode was broadcast in 2003.

The first actor to portray Columbo, Bert Freed, was a stocky character actor with a thatch of grey hair. The teleplay in which he starred, Enough Rope, was adapted by Levinson and Link from their short story "May I Come In" (been published as "Dear Corpus Delicti" and which had no Columbo character ). Freed wore a rumpled suit and smoked a cigar to play Columbo, but played the part with few of the familiar Columbo mannerisms. However, the character is still recognizably Columbo, and uses some of the same methods of misdirecting/distracting his suspects. During the course of the show, the increasingly frightened murderer brings pressure from the district attorney's office to have Columbo taken off the case, but the detective fights back with his own contacts. Although Freed received third billing, he wound up with almost as much screen time as the killer. Columbo appeared immediately after the first commercial. This teleplay is available for viewing in the archives of the Paley Center for Media in New York City and Los Angeles.

"Enough Rope" was adapted into a stage play called Prescription: Murder and was first performed at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco on January 2, 1962, with character actor Thomas Mitchell in the role of Columbo. Mitchell was 70 years old at the time. The stage production starred Joseph Cotten as the murderer and Agnes Moorehead as the victim. Mitchell died of cancer while the play was touring in out-of-town tryouts; Columbo was his last role.

In 1968, the play was made into the two-hour television movie that aired on NBC. The writers suggested Lee J. Cobb and Bing Crosby for the role of Columbo, but Cobb was unavailable and Crosby turned it down because he felt it would have taken too much time away from his golf game. Director Richard Irving convinced Levinson and Link that Falk, who wanted the role, could pull it off even though he was much younger than the writers had in mind.

Originally a one-off TV-Movie-of-the-Week, 1968's "Prescription: Murder" has Falk's Columbo pitted against a psychiatrist (Gene Barry). Due to the success of this film, NBC requested that a pilot for a potential series be made to see if the character could be sustained on a regular basis, leading to the 1971 hour and a half film, Ransom For a Dead Man, with Lee Grant playing the killer.

The popularity of the second film prompted the creation of a regular series on NBC, that premiered in the fall of 1971 as part of the wheel series NBC Mystery Movie. The network arranged for the Columbo segments to air once a month on Wednesday nights. Columbo was an immediate hit in the Nielsen ratings and Falk won an Emmy Award for his role in the show's first season. In its second year the Mystery Movie series was moved to Sunday nights, where it then remained during its seven-season run. The show became the anchor of NBC's Sunday night line up. After its cancellation by NBC in 1978 Columbo was revived on ABC between 1989 and 2003 in several new seasons and a few made-for-TV movie "specials".

Columbo's wardrobe was provided by Peter Falk himself; they were his own clothes, including the shabby raincoat which made its first appearance in "Prescription: Murder". Falk would often ad lib "Columbo-isms" (fumbling through his pockets for a piece of evidence and discovering a grocery list, asking to borrow a pencil, becoming distracted by something irrelevant in the room at a dramatic point in a conversation with a suspect, etc.), inserting these into his performance as a way to keep his fellow actors off-balance. He felt it helped to make their confused and impatient reactions to Columbo's antics more genuine.

A few years prior to his death, Peter Falk had expressed interest in returning to the role, announcing in 2007 that he had chosen a script for one last Columbo episode, Columbo: Hear No Evil. The script was renamed Columbo's Last Case. ABC declined the project. In response, producers for the series announced that they were attempting to shop the project to foreign production companies. However, Falk was diagnosed with dementia in late 2007. During a 2009 court trial over Falk's care, Dr Stephen Read stated that the actor's condition had deteriorated so badly that Falk could no longer remember playing a character named Columbo, nor could he identify who Columbo was. Falk died on June 23, 2011, aged 83.

Character profile


(The following details of Columbo's life are gleaned from statements that the character made on the show. This information cannot always be considered to be completely reliable, because Columbo sometimes deliberately misinforms a suspect in order to better manipulate him or her.)

Columbo's boyhood hero was Joe DiMaggio, and he also liked gangster pictures. Columbo broke street lamps and played too much pinball (he expressed a wish to have a pinball machine at home). The trick of putting a potato in a car exhaust " which purportedly prevents the car from starting without causing permanent damage " served well on one of his cases. He jokes that he became a cop in part to make up for these juvenile pranks.

In "The Bye-Bye Sky High I.Q. Murder Case", in a conversation with the suspect, Columbo revealed: "All my life I kept running into smart people. I don't just mean smart like you and the people in this house. You know what I mean..." He added, "I could tell right away that it wasn't gonna be easy making detective as long as they were around", but he determined that he could even the odds "by working harder than any of them, reading all of the required books and paying attention to every detail."

His trademark costume (rumpled raincoat over a suit-and-tie) never varies from case to case or year to year " with one exception: when he gets a new raincoat as a birthday gift from his wife in the episode "Now You See Him". Because he "can't think" in this coat, Columbo is desperately trying to lose it. Finally he is able to retrieve his beloved original raincoat.

He sometimes wears his trademark costume while on vacation. In the episode "Troubled Waters", Columbo takes a Mexican cruise with his wife. He boards the cruise ship in his usual attire. Upon meeting Columbo dressed in the raincoat, the Captain of the ship quips "Oh, tell me Lieutenant, do you expect inclement weather in the Mexican waters?" In this episode Columbo does actually wear a Hawaiian shirt later on in the film, during a party.

Although not socially polished, Columbo is polite, addressing everyone to do with the case as "sir", "madam" or "miss". He rarely displays anger toward his prime suspect, though he sometimes becomes frustrated with other characters. In an impromptu speech to a ladies' club meeting hosted by Ruth Gordon's character, at which he shows up uninvited, he admits that over the course of many of his investigations he grew to like and respect the suspects.

Columbo rarely carries a gun, and is never shown to exercise much physical force; in some episodes he allows himself to be placed in a predicament in which the killer believes he or she will be able to kill Columbo and escape. In the 1975 episode "Forgotten Lady" it is revealed that he doesn't carry his gun, explaining that he keeps it "downtown". Columbo has failed to attend his required semi-annual evaluation at the department's firing range. When an Internal Affairs sergeant threatens to ask for his badge because of this, Columbo pays a colleague to take the test for him. He does carry a gun for his work in 1992's "No Time to Die" and 1994's "Undercover" (even threatening someone with it in the latter), both of which are based on Ed McBain novels. It is suggested that Columbo has the required skill with firearms, but prefers to hide the fact.

"Murder Under Glass" reveals Columbo to be an accomplished cook, having learned a recipe for veal scaloppine from his Italian father (though in "Murder by the Book" he claims he can cook only a certain type of omelet, which he cooks for the victim's wife).

As per Season 5 episode "Identity Crisis", Columbo clearly speaks fluent Italian, which he demonstrates again later on in "Murder Under Glass".

Columbo is a simple man, mainly because of hard work and not necessarily by choice. As his homicide investigations are almost always amongst the rich and famous of Los Angeles rather than gangland shootings, mafia killings or psychopaths, he regularly finds time during cases to take advantage of the suspect's social circle (e.g. the cuisine on tap in "Murder Under Glass").

As a distraction tactic, Columbo regularly asks to sit behind the wheel of a suspect's luxury car. He asks suspects who are authors to sign copies of their books, suspects who are actors to give him free tickets to their next performance, and so on. He has good enough taste to fully appreciate all the fine perks he obtains from his suspects, but he often seems to be (or pretends to be) in awe of their wealthy lifestyles. He sometimes comments on the absurdity of spending thousands of dollars on a bottle of wine or a couch, when he himself lives on an income of $11,000 a year.

He also possesses an encyclopedic knowledge, which he usually hides. He has explained to colleagues that his wife believes there is "something wrong" with him. His other trademark is the ever-present (but not always lit) cigar. More than once he attempts to quit smoking. Columbo has explained that he smokes cigars although his wife wishes he would smoke a pipe, which Columbo refuses to try "because there's too much stuff to carry around." His shoe size is referred to as "10 1/2 or 11" in "By Dawn's Early Light".

Columbo appears to be prone to airsickness and seasickness, and he cannot swim, though he has been known to row a boat. In "Dead Weight", when General Hollister (Eddie Albert) comments on Columbo's seasickness by asking why someone with the name "Columbo" would not be at home on a boat, the detective responds, "It must have been another branch of the family." In other episodes, Columbo does claim that his family has a tradition of being descended from Columbus.

He is (or pretends to be) squeamish, and does not like hospitals or autopsies. He finds it distasteful to look at photographs of autopsies while eating ("Dagger of the Mind"). He demonstrates an aversion to viewing surgical procedures and an apparent fear of needles. In "A Stitch in Crime", Columbo says he "faints" merely by being in a hospital, but this is all an obvious ruse to distract Dr. Mayfield (Leonard Nimoy). At the end of "A Stitch in Crime" it is obvious Columbo has no fear of hospitals, surgical procedures or any such thing. He claims to be afraid of heights, once remarking to an FAA investigator who offered him a job, "I don't even like being this tall" ("Swan Song", 1974). Columbo claims he is always nervous when he is in the passenger seat rather than driving, and in fact is extremely nervous during certain investigations.

In "A Stitch in Crime", Columbo grumbles throughout the episode about being sleep-deprived and working too hard. (Columbo suffers from severe allergies "every spring", although when we first see him suffering symptoms in this episode, he does not know what they are. He says he will not take allergy medicine because of the side effects.) This is also the one and only time - at least in the NBC decade - Columbo challenges his suspect with physical violence (by slamming a water carafe on Dr. Mayfield's desk with great force before directly accusing Mayfield of murder). In "Double Shock", Columbo is genuinely alarmed and upset by the housekeeper's dislike of him. He confronts her to ask why she must behave in so hostile a fashion; finally he convinces her that he is simply doing his job.

Columbo's unsettling, uneven-eyed stare was due to Falk's glass eye in the right eye socket. It remained a mystery for 25 years whether the character had one as well, until 1997's "Columbo: A Trace of Murder", whereupon asking another character to revisit the crime scene with him he jokes: "You know, three eyes are better than one."

In almost every episode of the later ABC series, Columbo is heard whistling the children's song "This Old Man". It often appears as a motif in the musical score. However, in many of the first season films, it is clear Columbo loves classical music, and has a high level of knowledge about it.

""?tude In Black" (1972) marked the first appearance of the lieutenant's Basset Hound, named "Dog". "Dog" came to be an occasional regular character in the films. Columbo considered names like "Fido", "Munch" and "Beethoven" but ultimately settled on "Dog".

In 'Sex and the Married Detective', Columbo is put on the spot when he is asked to play the Tuba. Reluctantly he agrees, only to demonstrate great proficiency. He subsequently claimed that at school, the tuba was the only instrument left.

First name

Columbo's first name is never explicitly mentioned during the series. Even the opening credits just simply read, "Peter Falk as Columbo". When asked, Columbo always emphatically answers "Lieutenant". In the episode "By Dawn's Early Light", when he is asked if he has a first name, he replies that the only person who "calls" him "that" is his wife.

However, the name "Frank" is often seen relatively clearly on his police ID. In the 1971 episode "Dead Weight", when Columbo introduces himself to General Hollister, the audience is shown a brief close-up of Columbo's badge and police ID; the signature reads "Frank Columbo". The signature "Frank Columbo" is most clearly visible in the episode "A Matter of Honor", in which it is also seen that Columbo's badge number is 416. This later appears on the address of a neighbor of the local police comisario (played by Pedro Armendáriz Jr.). Universal Studios, in the box set of seasons 1"4 under their Playback label, included a picture of Columbo's police badge on the back of the box, with signature "Frank Columbo" and "Lt. Frank Columbo" in type. This appears to be a different badge from the one seen in "Dead Weight", with a different signature (a common occurrence with props). The name "Frank" is also clearly seen in the episode from 1991 called "Death Hits The Jackpot" when Lt. Columbo shows how shiny his badge is when explaining to Rip Torn's character how he was able to figure out how he was in the victim's apartment at the time of the murder. When Columbo holds his badge up, the name Frank is clearly typed on his LAPD I.D. card at the top.

Several sources cite the lieutenant's name as "Philip Columbo". Columbo's first name Philip was conceived by Fred L. Worth. In Worth's book, The Trivia Encyclopedia, the fictitious entry about Columbo's first name was actually a "copyright trap" " a deliberately false statement intended to reveal subsequent copyright infringement. When his false information was later included as one of the questions in the board game Trivial Pursuit, he filed a $300 million lawsuit. The publishers of Trivial Pursuit did acknowledge that Worth's books were among their sources, but argued that this was not improper, and that facts are not protected by copyright. In addition, they used multiple resources to compile the questions for their game instead of plagiarizing just one source. The district court judge agreed, ruling in favor of the Trivial Pursuit publishers. The decision was appealed, and in September 1987 the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the ruling. Worth asked the Supreme Court of the United States to review the case, but the Court declined, denying certiorari in March 1988.


After serving in the army during the Korean War ("mostly KP", as he says), Columbo joined the New York City Police Department and was assigned to the 12th precinct. He trained under Sergeant Gilhooley, a genial Irishman who mentored him and taught him a great deal about police work. Columbo reminisces about Gilhooley and mentions him often. Columbo moved to Los Angeles in 1958, at the behest of his cousin Fred who convinced him he'd prefer it to New York.

In Falk's first appearance as Columbo in the 1968 TV-movie, Prescription Murder, the character had the rank of police lieutenant. In Prescription Murder, Columbo speaks of a colleague, Lieutenant Silver, who was supposed to be assigned to the case but was thought to be "too young and inexperienced" compared to Columbo. In mentioning Lt. Silver, Columbo begins a tradition that will return often, of the rejection of lesser officers from his investigations. However, he also often involves younger detectives in his investigations and usually finds some reason to praise them. This in turn allows the other common motif of suspects attempting to have Columbo removed from investigating, because they fear him. Despite solving numerous murders over the next few decades, in Falk's last appearance as Columbo in the 2003 cable-TV movie Columbo Likes the Nightlife, the detective is still a lieutenant.

A very common motif is that Columbo enjoys and lives for his work. He is happy being a lieutenant with the homicide department, and often makes statements about his lack of ambition. He is precisely where he has always wanted to be, and he will remain there. The attempts to remove him from cases never work because Columbo "is something of a legend", and thus has a powerful position with the police force. In fact, in Falk's pilot episode, Prescription Murder, he mentions to a suspected accessory that somebody has attempted to have him removed from the case, but he says:

"Just to clear things up on one point, Miss Hudson: I am on the case. Somebody was pulling a few strings, all right. But my superior doesn't like that. Gets him thinking. So he says to me, ?Columbo, you must be touching a sore spot somewhere. Keep at it.' Very intelligent man, my superior."

It is a big help to him that his commanding officer is a native New Yorker; he and Columbo see each other socially.


Columbo was born and raised in New York City in a neighborhood near Chinatown. In the episode "Murder Under Glass", he says that he ate more egg rolls than cannelloni during his childhood. He is Italian on both sides. The Columbo household included his grandfather, parents, five brothers (one named George), and a sister (Rose). His father wore glasses and did the cooking when his mother was in the hospital having another baby. His grandfather "was a tailgunner on a beer truck during Prohibition" and let him stomp the grapes when they made wine in the cellar. His father, who never earned more than $5,000 a year and bought only one new car in his life, taught him how to play pool, at which Columbo excels.

While visiting London, Columbo remarks at the Scotland Yard officers' gentlemans club that his "father was an Elk until my mother stopped him" ("Dagger of the Mind").

Columbo frequently mentions his wife. During the first few seasons of the series it was widely believed in Hollywood that the character actually had no wife. However, in "A Stitch in Crime" (1972) Columbo tells only his fellow officers, when he first arrives on the scene, that his wife has some kind of flu. He explains he had been up all night caring for her and also has the flu as a result. In the episode "Troubled Waters" (1975) other characters describe meeting and speaking to Mrs. Columbo, although she remains unseen.

In three other episodes ("An Exercise in Fatality", "Any Old Port in a Storm" and "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo"), Columbo is seen talking on the telephone with his wife. In "Identity Crisis", murderer Nelson Brenner (Patrick McGoohan) bugs Columbo's home and learns Mrs. Columbo's favorite piece of music is Madama Butterfly from Giacomo Puccini. Columbo tells Brenner he is glad his wife does not know about the bugging. In "A Matter of Honor", Columbo tells his Mexican colleague (Pedro Armendáriz Jr.) that his wife has left Mexico in order to attend the 10th anniversary celebration of Columbo's cousin, Vito. Columbo explains that his wife is very sensitive about such things, and implies that she is deeply caring about family.

In the episode "Rest in Peace, Mrs. Columbo", Columbo's wife is targeted by a killer (Helen Shaver). During the investigation Columbo states that his wife loves Chopin and describes her as being busy with church, volunteering at the hospital, watching her sister's children and walking the dog five times a day. He mentions that she has a sister named Ruth and later while talking with his wife on the phone he refers also to her having another sister, Rita. This episode teases the audience as to whether or not Mrs. Columbo has actually been murdered and by featuring prominently displayed photographs of Mrs. Columbo, apparently finally disclosing her appearance to viewers. However, the photos are revealed to be of someone else, as he informs the killer at the end of the episode.

Columbo has children but no details were ever disclosed about them. In "Any Old Port in a Storm", he refers to the difficulty of getting a babysitter. He also mentions in that episode taking his wife and "child" on a picnic and alludes to this child in "The Most Crucial Game". In "Mind over Mayhem" he mentions that his "wife and kids" are in Fresno visiting his mother-in-law. However, in "Rest In Peace, Mrs. Columbo", he claims he and his wife never had any children.

In "No Time to Die" he attends the wedding of his nephew, who is also a police officer. In "Short Fuse", he states that his wife's younger brother is a photography buff and in "Blueprint for Murder" he says he has a brother-in-law who is an attorney. At the end of "Dead Weight", he states that he has a niece named Cynthia, who is the daughter of his wife's sister. In "Requiem for a Falling Star", he tells the murderer he has a brother-in-law named George and has her speak to him over the phone. In "Lovely But Lethal" Columbo speaks of his nephew who is a dermatologist and researcher at the university. Columbo often explains that he has an immense family and speaks of several siblings. Two brothers figure quite often: George and Fred (the brother who convinced Columbo to move to California from New York). Columbo sometimes refers to a cousin, also named Fred.

Investigative style

Columbo is polite. He has a keen intellect and good taste which he hides very well. Though a bit dated, his clothes are high quality. Not only modest, but also a bit shy, Columbo never divulges his first name. His absent-minded approach to cases, his distracted outbursts and constant pestering of suspects is his modus operandi. He is gifted at lulling anyone guilty into a false sense of security. Often he would pursue a line of question that brings about minimal information, not pressing enough to cause the suspect any alarm. Columbo would thank the suspect, and turn to leave - only to turn back at the last second, claiming to suddenly have remembered something (stating, "Oh, uh, one more thing..." or some variant thereof), and present the suspect with a far more serious and vital question, catching the suspect off guard. This is referred to as "the false exit".

The classical mold for a Columbo case involves a murder (occasionally unintentional and thus manslaughter) committed by someone powerful, intelligent, well-connected and often rich. That Columbo is seen as a working-class, dim-witted civil servant is to his advantage, though several of his suspects are able to see right through this facade. Columbo is often accused by suspects of having a "bag of tricks" such as humility, his raincoat and the muttering forgetfulness. One murderer (Series 2, Episode 2) describes Columbo as "rumpled raincoat, rumpled face".

Columbo always manages to catch the killer or killers in spite of some close calls. Often Columbo understands and even likes his suspects. There are times he shows regret after they have been arrested; however, usually Columbo expresses happiness at that point. In spite of being ungainly and disheveled, Columbo claims to be a "people person" and describes himself as "liking people".

His police procedure is to develop the theory that best fits what he perceives in the original evidence; he then doggedly pursues the general line until he obtains some proof. After obtaining this, Columbo allows it to lead him further along to the solution. In "Old-fashioned Murder" Columbo sits with the killer and brainstorms a bit, to allow the killer to assist him with the facts. This is most unusual as compared to Columbo's usual M.O.

As a result of his pestering, seemingly incompetent manner, Columbo is frequently threatened by his suspects with complaints and job loss, but is never criticized by his fellow officers or superiors. In fact, Columbo is recognized "as something of a legend" in the police sphere.


While on duty, Columbo does not drive an official LAPD car; he prefers to drive his own car, a French automobile, a late 1950s/early 1960s Peugeot 403 convertible which is equipped with a police radio. In the earlier series, the car used was clearly royal blue at one time although faded and sun-damaged. In the later series the car seems to be "primer"-colored. Columbo says he parks his car in the shade because the sun ruins the paint. The California license plate is damaged, and could read either "044 APD" or "044 ARD".

Peter Falk selected the car personally, after seeing it in a parking lot at Universal Studios. In season 5 episoe "Identity crisis"., Columbo boasts that the car is a rare automobile, "only three like it in the States". From June 1956 to July 1961 only 2,050 were produced, and only 504 were produced for model year 1959. Columbo's car frequently has mechanical problems.

When the series returned on ABC, James and Connie Delaney of Findlay, Ohio owned the car but were unwilling to sell it, though they lent it to Universal for filming.

Seasons and broadcast history

After two pilot episodes, the show originally aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978 as one of the rotating programs of the NBC Mystery Movie. Columbo then aired more infrequently on ABC beginning in 1989. The last film was broadcast in 2003. See List of Columbo episodes for more details.

The table below details the original broadcasts of the series in the United States.

Season Number of episodes From/on To Network
Pilots 2 February 20, 1968
March 1, 1971
1 7 September 15, 1971 February 9, 1972
2 8 September 17, 1972 March 25, 1973
3 8 September 23, 1973 May 5, 1974
4 6 September 15, 1974 April 27, 1975
5 6 September 14, 1975 May 2, 1976
6 3 October 10, 1976 May 22, 1977
7 5 November 21, 1977 May 13, 1978
8 4 February 6, 1989 May 1, 1989 ABC
9 6 November 25, 1989 May 14, 1990
10 3 December 9, 1990 April 29, 1991
Specials 3 December 15, 1991
March 15, 1992
November 22, 1992
11 3 October 31, 1993 May 2, 1994
Specials 5 May 8, 1995
May 15, 1997
October 8, 1998
May 12, 2000
January 30, 2003


Directors and writers

The first season premiere "Murder by the Book" was written by Steven Bochco and directed by Steven Spielberg. Jonathan Demme directed the seventh season episode "Murder Under Glass". Jonathan Latimer was also a writer. Actor Ben Gazzara, a friend of Falk, directed the episodes "A Friend in Deed" (1974) and "Troubled Waters" (1975).

Falk himself directed the last episode of the first season, "Blueprint For Murder". Actor Nicholas Colasanto, best known for playing Coach on Cheers, directed two episodes, "Swan Song" with Johnny Cash, and ""?tude in Black".

Patrick McGoohan directed five episodes (including three of the four in which he played the murderer) and wrote and produced two (including one of these). Vincent McEveety was a frequent director, and homage was paid to him by a humorous mention of a character with his surname in the episode "Undercover" (which he directed).

Two episodes, "No Time to Die" and "Undercover", were based on the 87th Precinct novels by Ed McBain, and thus do not strictly follow the standard Columbo/inverted detective story format.

Guest stars


Patrick McGoohan appeared in a record four episodes of Columbo. Robert Culp and Jack Cassidy both appeared three times as murderers. Culp appeared a fourth time as the father of a killer. Ray Milland, George Hamilton, William Shatner, Robert Vaughn, Joyce Van Patten, Patrick O'Neal, Dabney Coleman, and Ed Begley, Jr. all appeared in two episodes. Hamilton and Shatner played the killer both times. Vaughn played both a killer and a victim. Milland played both killer and the husband of a victim. Van Patten played the killer in one episode and a nun who mistakes Columbo for a homeless person while he is interviewing a homeless person in Negative Reaction in a soup kitchen. Begley played both an animal control officer (innocent third party) and a killer. Coleman appeared as a murderer and in an earlier episode as a cop working on a case with Columbo. Greg Evigan plays a would-be murderer and also a victim in the same episode.

Actors who have played murderers on the show include:


Ida Lupino appeared twice, once as victim and once as the spouse of a victim. John Dehner appeared twice, once as victim and once as a third party. Tim O'Connor appeared twice, once as a shady lawyer and once as victim. Leslie Nielsen appeared twice, once as victim and once as the boyfriend of the murderer. Dean Stockwell appeared twice, once as victim and once as a third party. Robert Vaughn appeared twice, playing a killer and a victim. John Chandler and Don Gordon played dupes who assisted the primary murderer and were themselves murdered later. Greg Evigan plays a would-be murderer and also a victim in the same episode. Steve Forrest plays an intended victim who is coincidentally killed in an accident, but the car bomb intended for him kills another person. Pippa Scott played someone who was accidentally killed instead of the intended victim. Will Geer is an intended victim whose life Columbo saves. Barbara Colby played a victim, albeit not the intended victim, but rather a potential blackmailer who is killed for that reason. Sian Barbara Allen, Poupée Bocar and Chuck McCann's characters were likewise killed (in different episodes) for attempting blackmail. Both Sal Mineo and Barbara Colby were murder victims on Columbo as well as in real life.

Actors who have appeared as victims include:

  • Lola Albright
  • Sian Barbara Allen
  • Richard Anderson
  • Lew Ayres
  • Sorrell Booke
  • Antoinette Bower
  • John Chandler
  • Barbara Colby
  • Anjanette Comer
  • Pat Crowley
  • John Dehner
  • Bradford Dillman
  • Stephen Elliott
  • Greg Evigan
  • Laurence Luckinbill
  • Ida Lupino
  • Janet Margolin
  • Chuck McCann
  • Rue McClanahan
  • Martin Milner
  • Sal Mineo
  • Rosemary Murphy
  • Leslie Nielsen
  • Tim O'Connor
  • Albert Paulsen
  • Nehemiah Persoff
  • Martha Scott
  • Pippa Scott

Repeat appearances/recurring characters

Actors who played recurring characters: Steven Gilborn (4 times), J. P. Finnegan (6 times), Vito Scotti (6 appearances as 6 different characters: a maitre d,' Chadwick the clothier, Mr. Grindell, Thomas Dolan, Salvatore Defonte, and Vito), Bruce Kirby (8 appearances, 4 of them as Sergeant Kramer), Bob Dishy (as Sergeant Wilson in two episodes), Dr. Benson (Columbo's regular veterinarian, played by Michael Fox in two episodes) and Burt (the short order cook at Columbo's favorite greasy spoon, played by Timothy Carey).

Score composers

Columbo episodes contain a variety of music that contributes to the uniqueness of each. The score becomes of particular importance during turning points of the plots. "The Mystery Movie Theme" by Henry Mancini written for the NBC Mystery Movie was used extensively in the whole of 38 episodes, from 1971 to 1977. Unlike the other elements of the Mystery Movie wheel, Columbo never had an official theme as such, although some composers did write their own signature pieces (such as Dick DeBenedictis and Gil Mellé). Several composers created original music for the series, that was often used along with "The Mystery Movie Theme":

  • Dick DeBenedictis (23 episodes, 1972"2000)
  • Patrick Williams (9 episodes, 1977"1992)
  • Bernardo Segall (10 episodes, 1974"1976)
  • Billy Goldenberg (7 episodes, 1971"1974)
  • Gil Mellé (4 episodes, 1971"1972)
  • Jeff Alexander (1 episode, 1975)
  • Oliver Nelson (1 episode, 1972)
  • Dave Grusin (1 episode, 1968)
  • Bob Prince (1 episode, 1977)
  • Jonathan Tunick (1 episode, 1978)
  • John Cacavas (3 episodes, 1989"1991)
  • James Di Pasquale (2 episodes, 1990)
  • Steve Dorff (2 episodes, 1991)
  • Dennis Dreith (1 episode, 1990)
  • Richard Markowitz (1 episode, 1990)
  • David Michael Frank (1 episode, 1990)
  • Ken Jordan (1 episode, 2003)
  • Jim Latham (1 episode, 2003)

Series Music department included:

  • Henry Mancini "? composer: "Mystery Movie" theme / "Sunday Mystery Movie" theme (38 episodes, 1971"1977)
  • Hal Mooney "? music supervisor (27 episodes, 1972"1976)
  • Mike Post "? composer: "Mystery Movie" theme (9 episodes, 1989"1990)
Patrick Williams received two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series in 1978 (for "Try and Catch Me") and 1989 (for "Murder, Smoke and Shadows"). Billy Goldenberg was nominated in the same category in 1972 for "Lady in Waiting".

Columbo also featured an unofficial signature tune, the children's song "This Old Man". It was introduced in the episode "Any Old Port in a Storm" in 1973 and the detective can be heard humming or whistling it often in subsequent films. Peter Falk admitted that it was a melody he personally enjoyed and one day it became a part of his character. The tune was also used in various score arrangements throughout the three decades of the series, including opening and closing credits. A version of it, entitled "Columbo", was created by one of the show's composers, Patrick Williams.

Awards and nominations

Columbo received numerous awards and nominations from 1971 to 2005, including 13 Emmys, two Golden Globes, two Edgar Awards and a TV Land Award nomination in 2005 for Peter Falk.

Home video release

DVD release

As of January 10, 2012, Universal Studios Home Entertainment had released all 69 episodes of Columbo on DVD. The episodes are released in the same chronological order as they were originally broadcast. On October 16, 2012, Universal released Columbo - The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.

Because the Columbo episodes from 1989 to 2003 were aired very infrequently, different DVD sets have been released around the world. In many Region 2 and Region 4 countries, all episodes have now been released as ten seasons, with the tenth season covering the last 14 shows from "Columbo Goes to College" (1990) to the most recent "Columbo Likes the Nightlife" (2003). However in France, and The Netherlands (also Region 2), the DVDs were grouped differently and released as twelve seasons.

In Region 1, all episodes from seasons 8 are grouped differently; all the episodes that are originally aired on ABC were released under the title COLUMBO: The Mystery Movie Collection. Many other sites such as IMDb, had grouped the Columbo episodes into 13 seasons. To avoid confusion, all episodes here will be arranged as it is in the R2/R4 release and only episode name will be referred in this article.

Season #Ep Year DVD Release
DVD name Ep# Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
Pilots 2 1968"1971 The Complete First Season 1~9 September 7, 2004 September 13, 2004 December 3, 2004
1 7 1971"1972
2 8 1972"1973 The Complete Second Season 10~17 March 8, 2005 July 18, 2005 July 13, 2005
3 8 1973"1974 The Complete Third Season 18~25 August 9, 2005 November 14, 2005 July 20, 2006
4 6 1974"1975 The Complete Fourth Season 26~31 March 14, 2006 September 18, 2006 September 19, 2006
5 6 1975"1976 The Complete Fifth Season 32~37 June 27, 2006 February 12, 2007 Unknown 2007
6 3 1976"1977 The Complete Sixth & Seventh Seasons 38~45 November 21, 2006 April 30, 2007 May 2, 2007
7 5 1977"1978
8 4 1989 The Complete Eighth Season (R2) 46~49 N/A March 31, 2008 N/A
9 6 1989"1990 The Complete Ninth Season (R2/R4) 50~55 N/A March 30, 2009 May 6, 2009
10 and
The Tenth Season " Volume 1 (R2/R4)
The Tenth Season " Volume 2 (R2/R4)
N/A June 15, 2009
July 27, 2009
July 28, 2009
Nov 28, 2009
Other DVD Release
DVD name Ep# Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The Mystery Movie Collection 1989(R1/R4) 46~50 April 24, 2007 N/A July 4, 2008
The Mystery Movie Collection 1990 51~56 February 3, 2009 N/A N/A
The Mystery Movie Collection 1991"1993
57~62 February 8, 2011 N/A N/A
The Mystery Movie Collection 1994"2003
63~69 January 10, 2012 N/A N/A
Columbo: The Complete Series 1~69 October 16, 2012 October 19, 2009 N/A
Columbo Season 6 and 7 ? N/A March 27, 2007 N/A
Columbo Season 8 and 9 ? N/A July 24, 2007 N/A
Columbo Season 10 and 11 ? N/A October 23, 2007 N/A
Columbo season 12 ? N/A December 4, 2009 N/A

Blu Ray release

To commemorate the death of Peter Falk, the complete series was released on Blu-ray in Japan as a ten-season set, taken from new HD masters and original 1.33:1 aspect ratio (1989-2003 episodes are presented in 1.78:1). The set contains 35 discs and is presented in a faux-wooden cigar box. It features a brochure with episode details, and a script for the Japanese version of Prescription: Murder. Special features include the original 75-minute version of "?tude In Black and the original NBC Mystery Movie title sequence. In addition, many episodes include isolated music and sound-effects tracks. Before the release of this set, only the episodes up to Murder, a Self-Portrait were released on DVD in Japan. Therefore this is the first complete Japanese release. Non-Japanese buyers should note that the episodes are entirely English-friendly, with no forced subtitles or region-coding.

Other appearances


The Columbo character first appeared on stage in 1962 in "Prescription: Murder" with Thomas Mitchell in the role of Columbo.

In 2010, Prescription: Murder, was revived for a tour of the United Kingdom with Dirk Benedict and later John Guerrasio as Columbo.


Falk appeared as Columbo in a faux episode of Alias produced for a 2003 TV special celebrating the 50th anniversary of ABC.

Falk appeared in character as Columbo in 1977 at The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Frank Sinatra.

The Columbo character is highlighted in volume 7 of the Case Closed manga edition of Gosho Aoyama's Mystery Library, a section of the graphic novels. Columbo was briefly mentioned in the Case Closed anime in the episode "The Forgotten Cellphone part 2" when Conan said one of Columbo's line: "You know, My wife says...".


A Columbo series of books was published by MCA Publishing in 1972 by authors Alfred Lawrence, Henry Clement and Lee Hays, mostly adapted from the TV series.

Columbo was also used as the protagonist for a series of novels published between 1994 and 1999 by Forge Books, an imprint of Tor Books. All of these books were written by William Harrington.

William Link, the co-creator of the series, has written a collection of Columbo short stories, entitled The Columbo Collection, which was published in May 2010 by Crippen & Landru, the specialty mystery publisher.

Mrs. Columbo spin-off

Mrs. Columbo, a spin-off TV series starring Kate Mulgrew, aired in 1979 and was canceled after only thirteen episodes. Lt. Columbo was never seen on Mrs. Columbo. Connections with the original Columbo series were made obvious: the glaring presence of Columbo's car in the driveway, Dog, and Mrs. Columbo emptying ashtrays containing the famous green cigar butts- all featured in the show's opening sequence. References were also made to Kate's husband being a police lieutenant. There were notable discrepancies between the two shows.

Due to the negative critical and public reaction to the show, the producers made changes to Mrs. Columbo. The spin-off was renamed Kate Columbo, followed by Kate the Detective, and finally Kate Loves a Mystery. The main character was likewise renamed "Kate Callahan"; all references to and ties with the original Columbo show were dropped. After this, a reference was made in the show to Kate's divorce: the character was no longer Mrs. Columbo nor was she meant to have any connection with him at all.

See also

  • Furuhata Ninzaburo

This webpage uses material from the Wikipedia article "Columbo" and is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Reality TV World is not responsible for any errors or omissions the Wikipedia article may contain.



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