Sunday, June 20, 2010

This week's poll: Which of the original "NBC Mystery Movie" detectives was your favorite?

The NBC Mystery Movie was a "wheel" TV series which ran from 1971-77, though some of its installments survived much longer (e.g., Columbo, Quincy, M.E.). The "wheel" format meant that several TV series rotated in the same time spot under the umbrella title of The NBC Mystery Movie. The original three series were Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan & Wife. The Western detective series Hec Ramsey was added in the second season.

The Mystery Movie was so popular that it eventually expanded to twice weekly: The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie (the original) and The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie (which featured all new detective series). There were a plethora of rotating shows that came and went during the seven-year run: McCoy (Tony Curtis), Amy Prentiss (Jessica Walter), Lanigan's Rabbi (Art Carney), The Snoop Sisters (Helen Hayes & Mildred Natwick), Tenafly (James MacEachin), Banacek (George Peppard), Cool Million (James Farantino), Faraday & Company (Dan Dailey), Madigan (Richard Widmark), and Quincy, M.E. (Jack Klugman).

To keep this week's poll to a manageable size, our nominees include only the original three plus Hec Ramsey, which joined the rotation for the second and third seasons.

Lieutenant Columbo - With his crumpled raincoat and apparent absentmindedness, it's no wonder that a number of wily murederers underestimated L.A. police detective Columbo--but that was their mistake. Created by William Link and Richard Levinson, Columbo was first played by Bert Freed in a 1960 episode of The Chevy Mystery Show. That episode formed the basis of the stage play and TV-movie Prescription: Murder. The latter starred Peter Falk as Columbo; the actor and character would be forever linked. Ironically, Link and Levinson originally thought Bing Crosby would make the ideal Columbo. The series, which lasted the longest of the Mystery Movie originals, boasted an unusual format: Viewers watched the culprit commit murder in the opening scenes; the appeal of the show then became watching the crafty Columbo catch the often over-confident murderer.

Sam McCloud - Dennis Weaver played McCloud, a New Mexico marshal who traveled to New York City and stayed there to solve crimes. The series was inspired the Clint Eastwood movie Coogan's Bluff and, especially in the early episodes, played up the "cowboy in the big city" theme. The McCloud series originated on Four in One, a rotating series that lasted a single season. When it folded, McCloud moved over the new NBC Mystery Movie and enjoyed a long run.

McMillan & Wife - Rock Hudson moved from the big screen to the small screen to play San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan. Susan St. James played his much younger, more free-spirited wife Sally. Together, the McMillans solved crimes with assistance from police detective Sergeant Enright (John Schuck). Nancy Walker provided comic relief as the McMillans' housekeeper Mildred. When a contract dispute with St. James couldn't be resolved, Sally McMillan died in a plane crash in the fifth season. The show carried on for one more year as McMillan.

Hec Ramsey - During the second season of The NBC Mystery Movie, Richard Boone starred as a former gunslinging lawman in the final days of the Old West, who had become interested in forsenic investigative methods. Dr. Amos Coogan (Harry Morgan) accompanied Ramsey on most of his cases. Despite good critical notices, Hec Ramsey only lasted two seasons.

If you want to vote, please select your choice in the green sidebar on the right!


  1. Nice to see "Hec Ramsey" included here. It was an interesting show and Richard Boone was great as always. I thought the plots had to be stretched to fill the 90 min. That was a problem with most of these shows.

  2. Love this idea for a poll. I know exactly which one I want to vote for, but I'm not tellin'!

  3. My favorite Mystery Movie segment of all time is Jack Klugman's Quincy, M.E.--but of the "original" segments I voted for McCloud. There's something about the way J.D. Cannon used to yell the character's name ("McCloud!") that always cracked me up.

  4. I always liked J.D. Cannon. He was pretty funny in a recurring role on ALIAS SMITH AND JONES.

  5. Rick, I am quite certain that when these movies aired I was still in my "I don't care for Westerns or war movies" phase. It wasn't until much later that I discovered how excellent Richard Boone was in "Have Gun - Will Travel." So I ignored the Hec Ramsey and McCloud entries entirely which makes my choice much easier today.

  6. Liked McMillan and Wife best when I was younger, but truthfully Columbo and McCloud hold up better. Sadly, I find McMillan a bit dated now.