20+ Facts About “Columbo” Which Started the Epoch of Offbeat Detective TV Series 50 Years Ago
It was over 50 years ago when the Columbo TV series was first seen on screen and it was quite an unusual detective series for that time. This older, clumsy policeman, who no one took seriously and who bad guys considered an easy opponent, would quickly unravel the most complex crimes. Initially, even the creators of the series didn’t believe that the viewers would like this character. Nevertheless, it became extremely popular and started an epoch of offbeat detective series.
We at Bright Side adore Columbo and felt pretty curious about how this series, which was nominated for (and won) a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award many times, was created.
The presentation, plot, and atmosphere were different from other detective shows, but at the same time evoked nostalgia.
A calm and somber atmosphere, dimmed tones, the absence of dynamism — all of these things looked like a classic detective series. But the trick with the inverted detective story format was rarely used during those times. The episodes started with a crime, where the viewer knows from the very beginning who the killer is, and starts to watch how Columbo is going to bring the murderer to light.
“The main character” was actually the intellectual duel between the crime and the homicide detective.
Columbo actually appeared on television even before getting his own show.
The character of Columbo was derived a lot from literary figures, like Porfiry Petrovich from Crime and Punishment and G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown character.
Before getting his own show, Columbo had to pay his dues: he first appeared on an episode of the television anthology series The Chevy Mystery Show, which was later adapted into a play, and which itself became a TV movie on NBC. The popularity of The Chevy Mystery Show inspired NBC to give the Columbo character his own show.
Originally, Columbo was supposed to be a clean-shaven and neatly-dressed detective and the plan was to get Bing Crosby to fill this role. The actor refused the role, explaining that it would interfere with his true passion — playing golf. Instead, Peter Falk managed to win everyone over with his relaxed manners, but of course, there were some doubts as to whether viewers would see the charm in him at all.
Many features of the TV series are Peter Falk’s personal ideas.
At first, the show was meant to air once a week, but Peter Falk wanted to be available for film roles, so the network arranged for the series to air once a month, as part of a group of rotating programs on The NBC Mystery Movie.
Some of Columbo’s belongings are clothes from Falk’s wardrobe, including his famous rumpled raincoat. The garment was rumored to be 25 years old at the time of filming.
After the first season, the NBC channel insisted on getting an assistant for Columbo. The executives gave the task to scriptwriters and they started to think, which took them quite a while. Eventually, Falk saw a sluggish and lazy basset hound and understood that he would be the ideal assistant for his character, “Alright, come on, Dog... — Hey, you’ve got no name for him yet. — No, I was thinking of watching him and giving him a name that would fit him, but all he does is sleep and drool.”
It’s hard to not notice Columbo’s main features: he always returns to ask and clarify something and pretends to be thinking very slowly. And he always mentions his wife. Peter Falk invented all of these by himself, as well as other character features and biographical details about the lieutenant — he was improvising.
Funny facts and bloopers
- According to the script, Columbo has no name. But once, due to a wardrobe department mistake, viewers saw that he had a sign with the name “Frank” on him. Interestingly, a Canadian game show once claimed his name was Phillip. Still, the creators of the TV series insisted that Columbo had no name — he was just, “Lieutenant Columbo,” which meant that the sign was a mistake. “Do you have a first name I can call you by?” “Yeah. Lieutenant.”
- Many famous actors could often be seen on this TV series: Leslie Nielsen, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kim Cattrall. Moreover, the third episode was directed by a young Steven Spielberg, while Falk would say to everyone that he noticed this director’s unusual approach to directing at that time.
- It’s Peter Falk’s artificial eye that Columbo should be thankful for when it comes to his unique eye squint. The actor lost it in his youth, because of an oncological disease that he successfully fought. There is a hint to this fact in one of the episodes where Columbo says to his acquaintance, “3 eyes are better than one..”
- In some episodes, Columbo mentions that he is a father. For example, in the Columbo: Any Old Port in a Storm episode (1973), he says, “If we find a babysitter, I’ll take my wife too.” In other episodes, he directly claims that he and his wife never had kids.
- Peter Falk’s wife in real life, actress Shera Danese, was filmed in the TV series too. She played 6 different roles, in 6 different episodes. The most surprising thing is that the couple met each other during the filming of the TV series, when Danese was playing her first role in it.
- Peter Falk appeared in character as Columbo at The Dean Martin Celebrity Roast of Frank Sinatra in 1978. During the appearance, his wife was given the name “Rose,” the only time this character was ever given a name.
The first appearance of Shera Danese in the Columbo TV series
What Peter Falk’s life was like
- The actor started in his profession pretty late in life — at the age of 29. Prior to that, he worked as an analyst, and it was his meeting with British actress, Eva Le Gallienne, that influenced the choice of his life’s work. In order to take acting lessons from her, he traveled to another city every day after work.
- Even after proving himself by getting early work on stage, Peter Falk’s agents used to tell him that he wouldn’t be able to get any work as an actor, especially in films, because of his artificial eye.
- Despite his late start, Falk was nominated for various awards several times throughout his career. He won a Golden Globe for “Best Actor in a Television Series Drama” for his work on Columbo in 1973. He also won 4 Primetime Emmy awards for his work on the series, having previously won one for his work on The Dick Powell Theatre.
- He was married to his second wife, Shera Danese, until he died.
- In 2008, Peter Falk was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his health deteriorated rapidly. He started to forget about everything and, of course, he forgot who “this Columbo” was. The actor died in 2011.
- A statue of Peter Falk as Columbo with his dog can be seen on Falk Miksa Street in Budapest, Hungary. Interestingly, Falk had Hungarian ancestry.
Have you seen the Columbo TV series? What is it that you like about it the most?