Columbo (1971–2003)
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Murder by the Book 

When one member of a mystery writing team wants to break from his less talented partner, he becomes the victim in a real-life murder mystery.



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Episode complete credited cast:
Ken Franklin
Joanna Ferris
Jim Ferris
Lilly La Sanka
Lynette Mettey ...
Gloria Jr. (as Lynnette Mettey)
Bernie Kuby ...
Mike Tucker
Woman (credit only)
Haven Earle Haley ...
2nd Reporter


Ken Franklin is a rich socialite living in a luxurious coastal mansion bought from his years in connection to a series of popular crime and mystery books written entirely by his business partner. He turns his one and only original idea for fiction into reality as he murders his exiting partner to maintain his lifestyle and then desperately tries to cover up his crime due to a blackmailing witness. Columbo arrives on the scene to begin pestering his suspect with questions about the murder. Mr. Franklin soon realizes that no murder is perfect, and his own clever plot may return to haunt him. Written by Scott Dawson <> / revised by statmanjeff

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Release Date:

15 September 1971 (USA)  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:



Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


In an interview with film critic Judith Crist, Steven Spielberg revealed that, through his directorial efforts on this TV pilot, he went on to land the same role on Duel (1971). See more »


When Ken and Lilly are having champagne, they clink their glasses twice, but both times, the clinking noise comes before the glasses actually touch. See more »


[first lines]
[Jim works in his office]
Jim Ferris: [knock on the door] Who is it?
[another knock on the door]
Jim Ferris: [He opens the door - Ken is aiming a gun at his face. Jim laughs]
Ken Franklin: Oh, you're not intimidated.
Jim Ferris: Oh, come on, Ken. You're forgetting that I'm one-half of the world's greatest mystery-writing team? You, ah, don't have gloves on, your finger's not on the trigger, and there are no bullets in the cylinder.
Ken Franklin: [smiling] You're right. I'm a lousy practical joker.
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Love Theme from 'Red Sky At Morning'
Composed by Billy Goldenberg
Heard during the bar scene
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User Reviews

Falk, Cassidy and Spielberg do their job very well but there are problems with Stephen Bocho's script
19 April 2002 | by (Port Talbot, South Wales,UK) – See all my reviews

This was the first televised episode of the Columbo series (although it was filmed after "Death Lends a Hand")and it heralded one of the most successful TV series in history.

Jack Cassidy (who played the murderer in the series three times) enthuses smugness, arrogance and self-assuredness in equal measure here, as Ken Franklin, one half of a mystery writing team who hatches an elaborate plot to kill off his partner, Jim Ferris (played by Martin Milner) who decides to terminate their professional relationship, leaving Franklin exposed as merely a good publicist rather than a prolific writer.

The initial murder set-up is fantastic and Cassidy's performance facilitates an arguable accolade that he was the best Columbo murderer in the series.

Peter Falk is wonderfully understated in his role as Columbo and the character's inherent traits and oddities, which are underlined by a seeming slowness and absent-mindedness, contrast particularly well with Cassidy's character's extreme smugness: one of their early scenes together where Ken Franklin fabricates a motive for the killing through Jim Ferris's non-existent expo-see of identifying hit-men operating in the underworld exemplifies this very well. Franklin hints to Columbo this potential motive and Columbo (purposely or ignorantly) fails to latch on, forcing Franklin to express his disappointment in a markedly patronising manner and compare him unfavourably with the detective in the books, Mrs. Melville.

Also, noteworthy is the early directorial contribution of 24 year old Steven Spielberg. Notwithstanding, some elementary inclusions of cameras shadowing the actors and actresses, he adds some stylish and elaborate touches to uphold the general professionalism of the episode. One particularly stark image is of Jim Feriss's dead body lying on the settee, almost dark in the foreground, as Ken Franklin raises a glass to him in the background after he finishes answering a phone call to Ferris's distraught wife. I have no doubt that working to a restrictive 10-14 day schedule, Spieberg's efforts should not be underestimated.

Unfortunately, the event of the second murder, necessitated by a blackmailing scheme which is plotted by a female friend of Franklin's (and ironically referred to as "sloppy" by Columbo in his climatic summing up) takes the steam out of the whole thing. The cutting edge of the plot is compromised and the screen-time between Falk and Cassidy inexcusably lessens at this point to perhaps help the script-writer (Stephen Bocho) out of a tight corner, since he cannot singularly develop the story without another murder.

The climax is the most disappointing aspect of this episode. The initial banter and exchange of words between Falk and Cassidy is strongly and effectively executed, but it merely advertises the fact that it should have happened more in the episode. The main aggravation lies with the sealing clue (if it can be called a clue): Cassidy's character's hitherto smugness and arrogance is amazingly expelled by a clue that really does little to imply his guilt; and once this is mentioned, he capitulates in a rather unspectacular and uncharacteristic fashion.

All in all, a bold opening to the series, which inevitably advertises and foretells all that is good about Columbo, and, conversely, the problems associated with such ingenuity, i.e maintaining the high standards and particularly, creating a credible and suitably intelligent ending.

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