50 Years of the NBC Mystery Movie

Having written about many (though not all) of the shows that aired on the program, I have long wanted to do an omnibus post about the NBC Mystery Movie. When to time the post however was not exactly straightforward. Two of the rotating series on the NBC Mystery Movie actually predated their bundling in this “wheel” series. Columbo with Peter Falk had been presented as two stand-alone TV movies in 1968 and 1970. And McCloud with Dennis Weaver had premiered as a pilot followed by its own stand-alone season in 1970. Finally, in September, 1971, those two shows plus McMillan & Wife were branded under the same umbrella and marketed as a package. And it worked! To this day I associate those three shows and some others that joined the party later with each other. The first to air with the new branding was Columbo, September 15, 1971 — 50 years ago today.

My parents were huge fans of the show, Columbo above all, and so I watched it with them religiously. (Although in the early years I seem to recall being put to bed when it came on. I have wonderful memories of lying there in the dark with that sound of that eerie, wonderful Henry Mancini theme song playing downstairs).

Starting in the second season, the producers added a fourth show, Hec Ramsey with Richard Boone. This “fourth slot” always seemed to be cursed. The only that caught on properly was Quincy, M.E. which was spun off into its own series. The others tended to be unpopular, sometimes laughably so. Other fourth slot shows included: Banacek with George Peppard, The Snoop Sisters with Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick (a kind of Miss Marple in stereo), McCoy with Tony Curtis, Lanigan’s Rabbi with Art Carney and Bruce Solomon, Madigan with Richard Widmark, the Ironside spinoff Amy Prentiss with Jessica Walter, Cool Million with James Farentino, Farraday & Company with Dan Dailey, and Tenafly with James McEachin (which was the character’s name, not the city in New Jersey, and sounded probably not coincidentally a little like Superfly). Some of these shows ran in Sundays, some on Wednesdays.

There were later attempts to revive the series. The original one ended in 1977.