I love a mystery – and certainly my young self benefitted from the NBC Mystery Movies series, which brought many actors and shows to my attention each week.
Launched in 1971, NBC Mystery Movies was an umbrella show – rotating shows through one time slot. The original three series were McCloud, Columbo and McMillan and Wife.
McCloud was a New Mexican lawman, portrayed by Dennis Weaver, who has been reassigned to work with the NYPD solving crimes. Columbo is the irascible Los Angeles detective played by Peter Falk, created from a made for tv movie, Prescription: Murder. McMillan and Wife starred Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, a police commissioner and his wife solving crimes in San Francisco.
In its first year NBC Mystery Movies hit the top 20 in ratings and Columbo was nominated for eight Emmys and won four awards. For the second season, NBC added Hec Ramsey, starring Richard Boone as a gunfighter turned detective in the Old West and moved the successful series to Sunday night until 1974.
Starting in 1972 on Wednesday nights, NBC aired three new shows – Banacek starring George Peppard as a freelance insurance investigator, Cool Million with James Farentino as a private investigator and Madigan, starring Richard Widmark as NYC police detective. The following season, Cool Million and Madigan were cancelled, replaced with Faraday & Company starring Dan Dailey as a private investigator, Tenafly with James MacEachin as a private detective, and The Snoop Sisters with Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as two elderly sisters who solve mysteries.
The mid week series was cancelled – despite critics praise, but viewers stuck with the Sunday nights series of Columbo, MacMillan and Wife and McCloud. A fourth show which changed each year was added from 1974-1977: Amy Prentice, McCoy, Quincy M.E. and Lanigan’s Rabbi. Quincy, M.E. was spun off into its own series in 1977 after the NBC Mystery Movie series was cancelled.
By the time I saw this series, it aired on weekend afternoons – and was one of my favourite series while I played with my toys to have on in the background. Murder, mystery, police and private investigators – all were welcome to be my soundtrack as I played with my dolls and toys in my basement tv room.
I liked seeing McCloud show up on his horse in the big city, Colombo pretend to be stupid or MacMillan always trying to protect his wife, who was generally smarter than most of the men. I liked the wise cracks from Banacek and Quincy and laughed at The Snoop Sisters, who were always regarded as silly old ladies, instead of the imaginative and creative women they were.
So although all these shows were on for short periods of time, with varying success and impact, they’re influence is still seen today in television series and many of their character or actors well-known to many.