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Friday, November 01, 2013

Murder, She Wrote

I can't believe we're into the month of November already. And, I can't believe that it is so windy outside! I swear to you, I don't even know if I'll be able to post this blog entry today because I worry that the wind will knock out the power. So, I'm feverishly typing this out today before that happens.

I have also realized that I kind of gypped you all out of one Halloween themed entry because there was one entry that I did that didn't have anything to do with Halloween at all.

(I'll let you figure out which one it is.)

At any rate, I'm going to do one more Halloween themed entry to kick off November, and to right this terrible wrong...even though the show itself isn't really all that scary.

But it does have to do with the subject of murder. Lots and lots of murders, to be exact.

Believe me, I have always loved a good murder mystery. One of the things on my bucket list is to attend one of those murder mystery dinner theatre performances (I wouldn't care if I was the victim or the killer). I am frequently reading murder mystery novels, and watching murder mysteries unfold on television. I just recently finished playing Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies on my Nintendo 3DS, which combines the world of law with five murders that you have to solve. To say that I am addicted to crime stories and figuring out motives and methods of murder...well, that would be a major understatement. It's a wonder that I didn't just pursue a career in law enforcement instead of wishing to be a writer.

Then again, for someone who is completely freaked out at the sight of blood, I suppose for a person like myself it's easier to write about murders than it is to investigate them.

So, here's a question that I ask of all of you. What sorts of people do you think make the best murder mystery solvers? And, I ask this expecting a whole lot of stereotypical answers here. I predict that most of you think that the best solvers of murder mysteries are big, burly, muscular men who are as intelligent as they are crafty. And, certainly that is one personality profile that could fit. But I also have the idea that anybody can solve a murder mystery if they really put their mind to it.

For instance, just going back to that Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies game that I just finished of the major cases in the game is solved by a perky eighteen-year-old girl! Shocking, right?

On shows like CSI, Criminal Minds, and NCIS, it's not just men who are getting all the glory for getting huge leads in breaking open criminal investigations. More and more women are getting into the profession as well. I mean, whenever I hear the names Catherine Willows, Penelope Garcia, or Ziva David, I will always associate them with being very influential ladies in the world of fictional crime scene investigations.

Heck, even Zack Morris from Saved By The Bell solved a murder mystery in an episode of the series...even though it was a staged murder mystery dinner theatre. Still, as a ten year old watching that episode, I was impressed.

But now here's the kicker. When you think of some of the greatest detectives in the course of the last fifty years of prime time television, would you even consider that one of the most astute, clever, and intelligent detectives to ever grace television screens was an elderly widow from a small town in Maine?

I probably wouldn't have believed it myself if I had been born a few years later than I was. But having my formative years fall right around the time that this show was airing on television, I can tell you that one such detective did exist!

Her name was Jessica Fletcher...and the show was “Murder, She Wrote”.

The star of “Murder, She Wrote” was Angela Lansbury, and for what it's worth, the show was one of CBS' longest running programs. It debuted on the network on September 30, 1984 and stayed on the air for a dozen seasons, wrapping up its run on May 16, 1996.

Or, if you want to put it into perspective of Angela Lansbury's age, she started the show when she was 59 years old, and when it wrapped up, she was 70!

Two hundred and sixty-four episodes were made, plus four television movies, plus a spin-off program entitled “The Law, & Harry McGraw” (which only ran a twelfth of the time of “Murder, She Wrote” between 1987 and 1988). I would call that series a huge success story, wouldn't you?

But wouldn't you know it? Had it not been for fate, the show might not have even been given the go-ahead to air on television? Say it ain't so!

Alas, it was a stroke of luck that caused “Murder, She Wrote” to earn a time slot on CBS's fall schedule for the 1984/1985 season...and then some. You see, years before the show's conception, executive producers Richard Levinson and William Link already had their hands full with another television project. The show was the detective series “Ellery Queen”. Have you heard of it? I know I certainly didn't, and with good reason. The show only lasted for one season, ending its run a full five years before I was born.

But although “Ellery Queen” turned out to be a failure on NBC's schedule, it was probably a good thing that it didn't take off (meaning absolutely no disrespect to the cast and crew of that series, who probably didn't like the idea of being unemployed). Because the team of Levinson and Link were still committed to the idea of having a novelist who moonlighted as a private investigator solving real crimes (the basic premise of “Ellery Queen”) as the main character of a show, the duo decided to take on a different approach.

What if they changed the character from a bumbling, young male protagonist to a kindly, elderly woman whose intellect and passion surpassed the average person? With assistance from “Colombo” writer/producer Peter S. Fischer, they made the changes accordingly, and CBS was immediately sold on the idea.

Interestingly enough, would you believe that Angela Lansbury was not the network's first choice for the role of Jessica Fletcher? If network executives had their way, they would have had Jean Stapleton of “All in the Family” playing the role? But when Stapleton was offered the part, she turned it down. She didn't want to commit herself to a potentially long-running show after spending nearly an entire decade playing Edith Bunker. It was rumoured that Doris Day was also offered the part as well before Angela Lansbury agreed to take on the role.

It was probably a good thing she did too, as I cannot picture anybody else in the role of Jessica Fletcher.

Another interesting rumour that was floating around was that the show was specifically developed as an Americanized version of the Agatha Christie character Miss Marple. Heck, the show's title was based on a Miss Marple film adaptation, “Murder, She Said”. But although there were lots of similarities between both projects, the show was never pitched as so.

The show took place in the fictional coastal town of Cabot Cove, Maine. Jessica Fletcher, a widowed fiftysomething retired English teacher has settled there after making a fortune writing a series of mystery novels. Although she has enough money to live the rest of her life comfortably and is well-known to everyone she comes in contact with, she has not let the thrills of success corrupt her in any way, even keeping in contact with her friends that she made over the years.

But unbeknownst to her fans and most of the world, Jessica Fletcher does more than just write about murders. She also solves real-life murder cases on her downtime.

In almost every single episode, a person ends up dead – usually before the first act of the show – and as luck would have it, Jessica Fletcher would always be there to investigate the crime, as well as figure out who the perpetrator was – all in the time frame of sixty minutes.

What was very unique about the television series was the fact that the writing was so good, it kept viewers really guessing over who the real murderer was. Part of it was the idea that the show often had high-profile guest stars who were frequently inserted into each and every promo for the television show. And, you never knew whether the special guests would be the killer, the victim, or the person in the background buying tomatoes from a grocery store who happened to witness the one moment in which someone ended up dying.

And, to Jessica Fletcher's credit, she made some really interesting arguments that convinced people to let her on board in the investigations. She would say the right things, or find the right piece of evidence, or just use her infectious warm personality to charm her way into the murder scene.

Really, the only part about the show that seemed to be a bit of a struggle to understand was just how anybody could ever live in a place like Cabot Cove in the first place. After all, it was estimated that at one time, the murder rate in Cabot Cove was higher than that of the country of Honduras (which has the highest murder rate per thousand of any nation in the world!)

But, other that that, it was a great show. In fact, let's watch an episode of it below to conclude this blog entry!


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    Great blog! Thanks

  2. I will definitely check this out! Thanks!