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Murder She Wrote is Television at Its Finest

Updated on February 9, 2019

My coworkers were talking about Netflix and the many shows they had available to watch. After a while I decided to give it a try. It is then that I ran into a treasure trove of shows I had always loved to watch. One of the shows I had forgotten about was Murder She Wrote. Once I watched the show again it began to pull me back.

Murder She Wrote is funny, serious, mysterious, and it had super star Angela Lansbury to give it heart and soul.

What is it about this series that made it loved by millions of viewers and had it last for twelve seasons?

The show started in 1984 on CBS and lasted until 1996. CBS saw that British television had great success with Miss Marple. They produced a movie with Miss Marple entitled A Caribbean Mystery and it was a hit. CBS decided to create a television series about a female mystery writer who solved mysteries. Jean Stapleton was first offered the role, but she declined and it went to Angela Lansbury. Angela stated she would do the role if it didn’t contain an over amount of violence or car crashes.

The location of the series began in a quaint town called Cabot’s Cove in Maine. Though the show was set in Maine the real location of the house Jessica Fletcher lived was in Mendocino, California. The house was a Victorian Bed and Breakfast Inn. The inn is named Blair house. The show brought in two million dollars to the local economy. The town looked beautiful and a place to go for a relaxing vacation.

Watching the show again I find it amazing to see so many familiar faces. Guest stars packed the show. Stars of movies like Ernest Borgnine, Kim Hunter, George Clooney, television stars like Jerry Stiller, Loretta Swit, and the list goes on and on. The show Murder She Wrote drew at times 23 million viewers, so to guest star on this show got you major publicity. In a Los Angeles Times article from 1989 it stated,

"The older stars love to come on the show because they get to work with old friends without any responsibility: If you're a guest you just have a good time. Nobody's looking to you to carry the show."

Viewers love to see their favorite actors of yesteryear and often write in suggestions. Sometimes they're acted upon, sometimes not.

The article also stated that, Every guest is paid a top fee, in the low four figures, and all guests are billed alphabetically. This arrangement didn't sit well with Dale Robertson, who didn't want to have any billing.

Award Nominations

Angela Lansbury was nominated for 10 Golden Globe Awards and won 4 times, and she was nominated for 12 Emmy Awards and that is very impressive for an actor or actress or television show.

Jessica Fletcher and Angela Lansbury two of a kind

Angela Lansbury was 59 years old when she started the show. She had never done much television and once the filming began Angela wasn’t sure she could do it. There was 8 days on the set and 18 hour days. When she was stating her concerns to the producer at a restaurant people were approaching her with their menus. It was then she realized this could be a great show to do. Then on the other hand she thought I am being recognized and I do my own shopping for groceries.

The character traits that Jessica and Angela share are:

A sense of fun. You can see the twinkle in the eye and a sense of humor that make them both likeable.

There is a poise and a star quality. Jessica on the show is a mystery writer with fans all over the world and Angela is a movie star and television star that is also known around the world.

There is a toughness to the character and in the actress. It was said that once you start to know the person in real life playing the part you begin to add that to the character and in the case of Jessica Fletcher she was very much the same personality as Angela Lansbury.

What Angela Lansbury and the producers and writers insisted before taking the role of Jessica Fletcher

CBS, as was mentioned earlier, wanted a show with a Miss Marple like character. The producers didn’t want the woman to be old. Angela Lansbury when interviewed for the LA times stated,

To play her younger than Miss Marple was "very much the idea of writer and co-executive producer Peter Fischer," Lansbury said. "He played up the fact that physically, Jessica was a very active woman--she rode a bicycle, she jogged, she looked after herself. She did not drive a car; I don't quite know why.

The producer and Angela didn’t want the character to drive a car. The main reason was it gave the character Jessica a chance to interact with the other characters on the show.

Angela insisted that Jessica not be considered elderly in the LA Times article from 1994 she said,

"I used to battle a lot with the old executive producer to keep (Jessica) current," Angela Lansbury said. "I said, 'Don't let her become an old fuddy-duddy and fall back on her own generational stuff and attitudes. And what I found is that people love her energy and ability to keep up, to realize that the future can be as exciting as the past. This championing of that generation has really paid off."

Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur
Angela Lansbury and Bea Arthur

Murder She Wrote Trivia

Jessica’s middle name on the show is Beatrice. Angela’s best friend was Beatrice Arthur and that was a tribute to her. Jessica’s late husband was named Frank, and again that is a nod to Beatrice Arthur whose birth name was Bernice Frankel

A recurring character on the show was Michael Hagarty played by Len Cariou. He was her co star in the Broadway version of Sweeney Todd.

Angela was the fourth choice to play the part of Jessica. It was offered to Jean Stapleton and to Doris Day first.

The word murder appears in the title of 48 episodes which isn’t too bad considering how many episodes were filmed during the run of the show.

Why should the viewer watch Murder She Wrote?

It is a class act show with the best feature being the star Angela Lansbury. She brings the character of Jessica Fletcher to life. She gives Jessica charm, humor, worldliness, intelligence, and she made the viewer want to come back week after week for 12 years without ever becoming bored with her. The show had an endless list of stars , and you find yourself saying look who is on the show and how did they afford to get that person on there? It is a bit like finding Waldo when you spot a star appearing in the scene. It makes the show even more watchable.

The case of the murder itself. The viewer travels along with Jessica and tries to unravel the mystery and guess who it is.

The show has everything you can ask for. The quaintness of Cabot Cove (when the show started there), the humor that is laced throughout the show, high caliber writing, wonderful acting, and most of all it is superb entertainment. It is great to have rediscovered a show, and find that what you loved about it then still holds true today.


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