Arguably America’s most beloved mystery show, Murder, She Wrote was a hugely popular show in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. When you think of the greatest fictional detectives of our time, only a few names come to mind. Besides Sherlock Holmes, perhaps you think of Jessica Fletcher, who is the star of the show.
Murder, She Wrote is an American crime drama series that aired on CBS network from 1984 to 1996. It’s one of the most successful shows from CBS, as it stayed on the Top 15 in the Nielsen ratings for the first 11 seasons. Its 9th season was the highest-rated, and during that time, it was the fifth most-watched show in the US.
The premise of the show was about Jessica Fletcher (played by Angela Lansbury), a retired English teacher turned professional mystery writer and amateur investigator. The show revolved around the day-to-day life of Jessica, who was childless and widowed yet maintains her links with all her old friends. Jessica remains as a resident of Cabot Cove, a small coastal community in Maine, wherein murder occurred with such regularity that the term “Cabot Syndrome” was used to refer to constant appearances of dead bodies in remote locations. Jessica writes about the murder cases happening at Cabot Cove, and proves more perceptive than sheriffs, detectives and police officers, who often tend to arrest who is the most likely suspect. But Jessica carefully pierces the clues together and always manages to discover and trap the real killer.
During the time when shows like Magnum, P.I. and Miami Vice ruled the ratings, Murder, She Wrote became phenomenal.
Here are some few things you may not know about the show:
1. Angela Lansbury broke records for her role as Jessica Fletcher
Every year of the show’s 12-year run, Angela Lansbury earned an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series. That means she received 12 nominations, which is a record in that category. This just shows how great she is at performing the role for the whole run of the show. It’s also safe to say that we couldn’t imagine any other actress more fitting for the iconic role. However, Lansbury never won the award. She did, however win several Golden Globes award for the role.
Another fun fact: did you know that Lansbury was already 58 years old when the show debuted in 1984? She proved that it’s never too late to start a fame-boosting career, as most actresses her age only receive supporting roles, such as being the mother of the protagonist. Besides The Golden Girls, Lansbury was one of those older actresses who received monumental success in substantial roles.
2. Jessica Fletcher holds a Guinness World Record
Yes, we meant Jessica Fletcher, not Angela Lansbury. Usually, Guinness World Records are given to real-life people, but the organization has made exceptions for popular fictional characters. Jessica earned the honor of being the “Most Prolific Amateur Sleuth” during 1984.
3. Cabot Cove would have been the murder capital of the world
If the small and fictitious community of Cabot Cove in Maine were real, it could have been the murder capital of the world. With 3,560 people and an average of 5.3 murders per year, with a murder rate of 149 per 100,000 people, that’s 60% higher murder rate than the Honduras’ murder rate in 2012, which was 91 murders per 100,000 people. At that time, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world.
4. There’s a controversial fan theory that Jessica was a serial killer the whole time
It’s really intriguing why so many murder cases happen at a quiet, upper-class, New England coastal town of Cabot Cove. It’s not a busy or crowded town, but why does the murder rate rival a Scorsese movie? And why does this novelist and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher always seem to get herself mixed up in the juiciest murder cases? Why is she so obsessed with murder mysteries? One controversial fan theory is that there’s something really sinister about the number of cases Fletcher writes about in her books – it’s because she was the one initiating the killings all along.
This theory could have explained the coincidental nature of the show. It is because the killings weren’t exclusive to Cabot Cove; the murders seem to happen where she is, like on out-of-town trips, on book tours, or while writing a script to a VR video game for a company whose owner coincidentally gets murdered while Jessica was around. Could it be that she was a violent sociopath all those time, who perhaps wanted to murder people so she can write fresh, new ideas for her books? We’ll never know, but it can put the whole series into a different light.
5. The show took a shot at Friends
Murder, She Wrote was airing during Sunday nights at 8 ever since, but in 1995 – in its 12th and final season – moved it to Thursdays at 8 PM, going back-to -back against Friends and Mad About You at NBC. On a night dominated by younger viewers, the show was at loss. That time, Lansbury was also the executive producer of the show, so she made a bold move to make an episode that will take a few stabs at Friends, which was a rising sitcom at the time.
There was an episode entitled “Murder Among Friends,” wherein the fictitious of show called “Buds” was killed for trying to get rid of one of the characters in the series. It featured an eerily similar concept with Friends, as “Buds” featured six main characters from New York hanging out in a coffee shop. On the episode, Fletcher said to one of the “Buds” cast members, “Who would’ve thought a group of 20-something young people sitting around all day long discussing their sexuality would turn out to be a top TV show?”
Lansbury admitted that she considered the show’s move to Thursday to compete with Friends as a sabotage by CBS. Commenting on the timeslot change, she told Los Angeles Times in an interview, “I’m shattered… I just felt so disappointed that after all the years we had Sunday night at 8, suddenly it didn’t mean anything. It was like gone with the wind.”
6. Jean Stapleton was offered the role of Jessica
Lansbury was iconic for playing the role of Jessica Fletcher, but she wasn’t the network’s first choice for the role. They were considering Jean Stapleton, a.k.a. All in the Family’s Edith Bunker. But Stapleton wanted to take a break first from her prior series’ lengthy run. Also, the changes she wanted to make weren’t welcome. She eventually turned down the job and agreed that Lansbury was perfect for the part. Stapleton said that whenever she saw Lansbury those years, Lansbury always thanked her.
7. Jessica never drove a car
In case you haven’t noticed (given that you watched the show), Jessica Fletcher never drove a car. The mystery writer is either taking a cab, the train, rode a bike or hitched a ride with a friend. It was because the producers’ idea of a Fletcher is to be a younger version of Miss Marple, who was an old yet active woman who jogs and rides a bicycle. As it turns out, the choice was for the best, because if Jessica Fletcher drives a car, it precludes the need for car chases, as she was always on the roll for solving murder mysteries. Lansbury said that there are already enough shows that do very exciting car chases.
8. Fletcher thwarts 60 homicides
Fletcher solved 60 suspected deaths in the plot. There are about 5 killings there each year. A high and disturbing fatality rate for a community of 3000 people.
9. Every week, 25 million people watched it
During its heyday, this longest-running program averaged 25 million viewers per week. The show also received several significant achievement awards as a result of its success. Such as Best TV Series – Drama, Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series – Drama (Angela Lansbury), Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (John Addison), Outstanding Costume Design for a Series (Alfred E. Lehman), and Best Episode in a TV Series (“Deadly Lady”).
10. Based on the storyline, several sequels in books and films have been produced
After the final episode of this crime drama and detective fiction series in 1996, four television films, computer games, and a book series were created based on this decade-long TV phenomenon.
11. The television program is produced by Lansbury
In addition to taking on the main or starring part in the TV smash, the award-winning actress served as the show’s executive producer from 1992 to 1996.
12. The television phenomenon and its actress were nominated for 14 Golden Globe Awards
The television sensation received 14 Golden Globe nominations. The program once won the Best TV Series – Drama award, and Lansbury once won the award for Best Actress Performance in a TV Series – Drama.
13. Even though the movie is at its height of popularity, the lead actor thought about leaving the project
Lansbury contemplated quitting in 1988 despite the fact that the TV program was a success. This occurred as a result of an increase in the number of shooting days. The lead actress, who was then 63 years old, struggled with this commitment. As a result, there was speculation that the series might cease in 1989. The show went on, but in 1995, as she approached her 70th birthday, she reconsidered her decision to leave the program.
14. Lansbury was never a winner of an Emmy, despite the nominations
For outstanding lead actress in a drama series, Lansbury has received the most Emmy nods. She never did, though, and that also set a record. The program, nevertheless, got 41 Emmy nominations.
15. Murder, She Wrote has a variety of merchandise options
The series also included a variety of merchandize, including vinyl collector figures and a board game made by the Warren Company.
16. More than 200 episodes make up the TV Program
The TV series ran for more than ten years, spanning 12 seasons and 264 episodes. The running length, excluding advertisements, is 48 minutes for each episode. It also features 4 movies.
17. From number 8 to number 58
The program received favorable reviews, but its popularity collapsed, and it fell from the number 8 slot (first airing) to the number 58 spot in the TV ratings. The show’s airing scheduling modification is cited as the cause.