Monday, August 28, 2006


'Columbo' was cited twice in TV series this past week, which in the old days would be a Zonk, as the rumpled detective (Isn't he always described that way?) should exist in the same TV dimension as the characters in those shows.

First up on 'Rescue Me', Tommy Gavin mentioned the show when he pointed out that if his life had been an episode of 'Columbo', he'd be soiling his underwear by that point.

And then on the season finale of 'Psych', Shawn Spencer referred to his partner Burton Guster as the "Chocolate Columbo" when Gus crowed that he knew where they could find a missing teenager.

Because both of the references were based on detective skills, the other characters in those scenes must have understood the mention of 'Columbo' to be about a detective as well. So we have to concede that the Toobworld version must be about a police detective and not, say, an Italiano vintner, for example.

But just because the references work for us in the Trueniverse as tributes to the show starring Peter Falk, that doesn't necessarily mean the TV viewers within TV Land are watching that same show. For them, 'Columbo' could star other actors in the title role aside from Falk.

And their 'Columbo' doesn't even have to be a dramatization of the life of that particular Lt. Columbo (even though on other shows, we've seen TV characters adopt the same mannerisms as Peter Falk's version.)

That's because Toobworld has two other Lt. Columbos' who served in the L.A. police department. Perhaps the show is about one of them.

The first one was on the case back in the 1950s, and he investigated a murder case very much like the one solved by the second 'Columbo' in the first pilot for the eventual series. In it, the murder was committed by psychiatrist Dr. Ray Flemming who killed his wife with the help of his actress mistress.

That Lt. Columbo was a big, burly man and not the type to really instill a false sense of superiority in his suspects. And there wasn't much about him that suggested he was a Columbo of Italian descent; rather, that he may have had an Irish heritage in his background instead.

(This suggests that this 'Columbo' was more in line with the original who could be found in the creative universe based on the theatre, as Messrs. Levinson and Linke originally created the character for the stage. Thomas Mitchell played an older, Irish-American Columbo in a lead-up to a Broadway run, but I think he died while on the road with "Prescription: Murder".

When the piece was being developed for Television, I think they were keeping that Irish flavor alive by approaching Bing Crosby to take on the role. Eventually Peter Falk got the part and made him more of a son of Sicily, perhaps of Tuscany, rather than of the old sod.)

The third 'Columbo' was never seen in Toobworld, but he existed, all right! Sadly, he existed......

After Peter Falk announced his intention to leave the series back in the late 1970s, NBC and Universal decided to keep the heart of the series alive by creating a show revolving around his never-seen-before wife and their daughter as well.

After voicing their reluctance to see their creation be brought back at all, Levinson and Linke at least offered to create the character to be actually seen. And they even suggested an actress to fill that function - Sada Thomspon. Based on the descriptions over the years, she best fit the look needed for Mrs. C.

However, the network overruled them and hired Kate Mulgrew instead. She's a fine actress, don't get me wrong, but she negated the whole idea that Columbo and the Mrs. went to high school together back in New York.

Instead, nobody could buy the idea that this was 'Mrs. Columbo', at least not the one married to the Peter Falk character. Eventually, she divorced him and went back to her maiden name of "Callahan".

Ayyyyy, Mrs. C!

So we have to assume her husband was yet another L.A. detective by the name of 'Columbo'. That police department is pretty big; it doesn't seem so unlikely a possibility to have three lieutenants named Columbo .....

Either one of those other two guys could have been the topic of a TV show called 'Columbo' which would have been seen by Tommy Gavin and Shawn Spencer during the last quarter century.

By the way, that crack about "Chocolate Columbo" might prove to be a reference someday to yet another Lt. Columbo, who would be found in the alternate TV dimension of Earth Prime-Time/BET. There, all of the classic TV characters we knew growing up would be black.

Those that we've seen so far have been Kojak, Felix & Oscar, and 'The Honeymooners' (albeit in a theatrical movie). There was also a black Sheriff Andy Taylor, but he was in the main Toobworld and living in Home, Pennsylvania, not Mayberry, North Carolina. And the black Gallifreyan Time Lord was found in the TV dimension of comedy sketches, which I've dubbed "Skitlandia".

Lt. Columbo might be found there in Earth Prime-Time/BET as a black man, along with a black Mary Hartman, a black Bret Maverick, and a black Gilligan. Beaver Cleaver's first name might be "Eldridge" over there, rather than Theodore.

And conversely, that JJ Walker would be white.....



Shows cited for this essay:

'Rescue Me'
'Suspense' - "Prescription: Murder"
'Mrs. Columbo'/'Kate Columbo'/'Kate Loves A Mystery'
'The Odd Couple'
'The Honeymooners'
'Leave It To Beaver'
'Doctor Who'
'Maverick'/'Bret Maverick'
'Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman'
'Gilligan's Island'
'The X-Files'
'The Andy Griffith Show'
'The Lenny Henry Show'
'Good Times'


Hugh said...

Okay, who's the black Andy Taylor?

Also, what are the ST: DS9 episodes with the Crockett saga?


Toby said...

Sheriff Andy Taylor was in the episode "Home" of 'The X-Files'.

That's the one about the family of in-bred mutants which I don't think has ever been repeated, nor included in the syndication package.