Columbo and Mrs. Columbo/Kate Columbo/Kate The Detective/Kate Loves A Mystery

Columbo (1971-1993)
Mrs. Columbo/Kate Columbo/Kate The Detective/Kate Loves A Mystery (1979)
Type: Spin Off... and then not a Spin Off

   Columbo was a show that's very premise demanded clever intelligent plots. It is therefore rather baffling that there should be such a lack of smarts in the way it's spin off Kate Columbo was handled.

   Columbo was the cockeyed and disheveled detective made famous by Peter Falk. Columbo was not in fact a weekly series. It was rather a series of TV movies that aired every couple of weeks as part of ABC's Mystery Movie program in the 70's. When ABC revived the Mystery Movie in the late 80's, they revived Columbo as well. ABC also has just aired Columbo movies as self standing TV movies.

   The show was built on a clever conceit. Most mystery shows would have the hero/heroine working the whole show to crack the case. For the whole story the audience would be kept guessing whodunnit it and how. Then in the end, the hero/heroine would solve the case and explain everything to the viewers at home. That's standard mystery format. Not for Columbo. Columbo would show the viewers the crime up front. You'd see Johnny whack old Uncle Dudley, dump his body in the river and carefully cover up the evidence. Then Columbo would show up - the ultimate non-hero. With his rumpled trench coat and messed up hair, he seemed barely able to keep track of the day let alone solve a crime. But in fact, Columbo was as sharp as they come. That being the case, the guilty party would let down his guard believing Columbo to be an idiot and start making mistakes that allowed Columbo put them away.

    Detective Columbo would often talk about his wife but she never actually turned up in the movies. In 1979, NBC decided to start a mystery show starring Kate Mulgrew. In an attempt to grab some of Columbo's audience, they made Kate Mulgrew's character, who was also named Kate, Columbo's long unseen wife. They called the show Mrs. Columbo and then changed it to Kate Columbo. Apparently the tie in didn't work because next the Columbo angle was ditched altogether. Kate became Kate Callahan and the show became Kate The Detective and then Kate Loves A Mystery. Then it became cancelled.

   The logic involved in what happened with Kate Columbo eludes me. Okay, you start with a spin off of Columbo hoping to get an audience. Only fifty people tune in. "Uh oh," you say, "Its not working. We need to fix it." So you change the name of the show and without explanation alter the very reality of the show. She was Mrs. Columbo and now she just isn't. I don't see why this would get more people to tune in. But I can see the already existing audience getting very confused and annoyed. "Kate The Detective? Wasn't it Kate Columbo? Or was it Mrs. Columbo? Is this the same show? Why isn't she Mrs. Columbo anymore? Forget this, what's on CBS?" So now you have an audience of twenty-five people. What to do? Change the name again! "Kate Loves A Mystery? "What? But wasn't it called... is this the same...? Oh hell what's on PBS?" You now have an audience that consists of a terrier who accidentally sat on the remote control and turned the TV on. Keep in mind, this show went through all these changes in under a year. A note to programmers: when "fixing" a show no major changes so drastic that they confuse the audience. Make minor corrections only and give people time to find the show. No big mystery.

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