This show ran for twelve seasons, albeit the last season was pretty crook. Guest stars and friends of Angela Lansbury in the industry from the silver screen would often appear as victims, friends and even the killer throughout the 264 episodes that aired on CBS.
Angela Lansbury, a long time pin-up queen for Disney movies and the like, was the right choice to play television's leading lady of the endless 'who-done-it' mysteries. She plays a kind woman, an unlikely character who would find themselves in the countless situations she got herself into, and someone we didn't mind having in our living room at least once a week.
Funny as it sounds, this show was suitable for the whole family to watch. A show about 'murder' is suitable for the 'family' you ask? It was tasteful in the way it presented the various different deaths of its victims throughout its long run. People died in just about any and every imaginable manner you could think of on MURDER SHE WROTE. The most desirable choice was via a gunshot - but there were certainly plenty of more elaborate set-ups. The poisonings.. the hangings.. the stabbings.. yet, it was about as 'family' as you could get with the different shows that were on at the same time it was aired.
Early in its run, MURDER SHE WROTE had a smart ensemble cast including Tom Bosley who played Sheriff Amos Tupper. The setting was usually Cabot Cove of Maine, a quiet coastal fishing town - the ideal place to raise a family... or so you would think, every other week when a murder didn't take place there! When Tom Bosley left to portray a leading role in FATHER DOWLING MYSTERIES, Jessica Fletcher would often travel to different locations across America, and yes, the world. It is quite amusing to wonder why it never seemed funny to Jessica Fletcher that wherever she went, a murder would occur. Although in one episode, she does refer to herself as the 'Typhoid Mary of Murders', a joke within itself.
A great line-up of guest stars from both the film and television industry would play different characters in each episode. Nearly every episode had at least one 'known' celebrity. The most amazing thing was seeing past-Oscar winners playing various characters. From Martin Landau to Van Johnson. From June Allyson to Jose Ferrer. Stewart Granger, Cyd Charisse, Lurene Tuttle, Glynnis Johns, Claire Trevor, Cornel Wilde, Dorothy Lamour, Ann Blythe, Eleanor Parker, Ernest Borgnine... the list goes on. This show probably sported more famous guest stars than 'THE LOVE BOAT'.
Of course, for every Jean Simmons, June Havoc and James Coburn, there was Charlene Tilton, Barbie Benton and Michael McKean to tickle your fancy.
Unknown stars at the time such as Billy Zane, Courtney Cox, Paul Rudd, Megan Mullally and Bill Maher used this show as a stepping stone to get to where they are now.
Several stars and most likely close friends of Angela Lansbury such as David Ogden Stiers, Fritz Weaver, Pat Hingle, Vera Miles and Larry Wilcox appeared more than three or four times throughout the show's entire run, each time playing a different character.
As 'MURDER SHE WROTE' slowly grinded to a halt during its 12th season in 1996, you couldn't help but notice that the show had lost probably more than half of its original spark. Angela Lansbury herself never looked better, but the story lines were getting a bit tired, and seriously, just how many murders in the last season seemed a little bit 'familiar' to the other episodes earlier in the show's run? The guest actors that were being scraped together was pretty much 'bottom-of-the-barrel' selection - Gerald McRaney, Rosalind Chao and Bo Svenson were about the biggest names during the 12th season that could be scrounged up. On top of that, audiences across the world were getting hooked on newer fare such as 'E.R.', 'FRIENDS' and 'LAW & ORDER'. Who had time for 'MURDER SHE WROTE' anymore?
So when the axe finally fell, it came as no surprise, and Angela Lansbury, or should I say, Jessica Fletcher, made a graceful exit to re-appear in isolated MURDER SHE WROTE telemovie projects that would be produced on an almost yearly annual basis after the series was canceled. Although I do remember that she put up quite a fight to keep her show on the air for one more season, I think it came as a blessing in disguise when the show left the broadcast airwaves.
Angela Lansbury was what made this show work. Her character was inspirational. She wasn't some young attractive lady, or a hot-shot lawyer who was solving all the mysteries. She was a retired English teacher, now writing best-selling novels who was the heroine we came to adore. I used to love it when during the last 15 minutes of each episode, someone would mention a keyword like, "Creosote", or a clue-giving caption like "Hmm, my watch seems to have stopped" which would give her the final piece of the puzzle to solve the murder mystery and her eyes would light up as the pieces clicked together in her head.
It's been years since she left our television sets, but she will forever live on in syndicated re-runs, a blessing in disguise perhaps, but something for the younger generation to surely appreciate.