NBC Mystery Movie aired on the network from 1971 until 1977,
and consisted of several recurring programs. Its use of a rotation
of different shows under an umbrella title was an NBC innovation
during this era. Mystery Movie followed on the heels of the
network's 1968 umbrella series, The Name of the Game (which
ran each of its different segments under the same title). In 1969
NBC launched The Bold Ones (which included The New Doctors,
The Lawyers, The Protectors, and, in 1970, The Senator),
and in 1970 the network presented the Four in One collection
of Night Gallery, San Francisco International Airport, The Psychiatrist,
and McCloud. But the idea behind Mystery Movie and similar
"wheel format" series had much deeper roots than these NBC versions,
and can be traced back at least to ABC's Warner Brothers Presents,
which debuted in 1955.
original incarnation of The NBC Mystery Movie consisted of
three rotating series. McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver as
a modern-day western Marshal who was transplanted from New Mexico
to the streets of New York City, was a holdover from NBC's earlier
Four in One lineup. McMillan and Wife starred Rock Hudson
and Susan St. James as San Francisco Police Commissioner Stewart
McMillan and his wife, Sally. And the most successful Mystery Movie
segment of all, Columbo, featured Peter Falk reprising his
role from the highly rated 1968 NBC made-for-television movie, Prescription:
Murder, as a seemingly slow-witted yet keenly perceptive and
doggedly tenacious L.A.P.D. homicide Lieutenant.
new Wednesday night series was an immediate success for NBC, finishing
at Number 14 in the Nielsen ratings for the 1971-72 season. In addition,
Columbo was nominated for eight Emmy Awards (including all
three nominations for dramatic series writing), winning in four
categories. For the next season, NBC attempted to parley the Mystery
Movie's success in two ways. First, it moved the original Mystery
Movie lineup of Columbo, McCloud, and McMillan and
Wife to the highly competitive Sunday night schedule and, as
a fourth installment to this rotation, added Hec Ramsey, starring
Richard Boone as a turn-of-the-century Western crime fighter. Also,
NBC initiated a completely new slate of similar shows, and moved
these into the Wednesday time period formerly occupied by the original
Mystery Movie lineup. Thus, NBC's 1972 fall schedule contained
the original Mystery Movie shows, now called The NBC Sunday
Mystery Movie, plus a completely new set of programs, titled
The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie.
continued to achieve commercial and critical success with its Sunday
Mystery Movie series. The umbrella program finished tied as
the fifth highest-rated series of the 1972-73 season, and Columbo
garnered four more Emmy nominations to go along with acting nominations
for McMillan and Wife's Susan St. James and Nancy Walker.
But the Wednesday Mystery Movie lineup never was able to
realize a similar degree of success. The new Wednesday series included
Banacek, starring George Peppard as a sleuth who made his living
by collecting insurance company rewards for solving crimes and insurance
scams (Banacek's Polish-American heritage was also a featured element
of the program); Cool Million, a segment that featured James
Farentino as a high-priced private investigator and former CIA agent;
and Madigan, starring Richard Widmark as a New York police
detective. While the shows' concepts may have sounded similar to
those of the original Mystery Movie segments, they lacked
the novelty and unique characterizations of the originals, and NBC's
attempt to clone its Mystery Movie format in such a way that
it could fill a second block in its prime time schedule was ultimately
unsuccessful. The "knock-off" Wednesday lineup was retooled several
times over its two seasons on the air. Madigan and Banacek
were retained for the 1973 fall season, and were joined in the
rotation by Tenafly, which featured African-American actor
James McEachin as a Los Angeles P.I. (the series title was suspiciously
similar to the 1972 "blaxploitation" hit film, Superfly), The
Snoop Sisters, which brought Helen Hayes to prime time television
as half of a mystery writing/crime solving team of elderly sisters,
and Faraday and Company, starring veteran film and television
actor Dan Dailey. But after seeing no better results in its second
year, the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie was dropped for the
1974 fall season.
was not the only network unable to successfully clone the Mystery
Movie formula. Both ABC, with its 1972 The Men series,
and CBS, with its 1973 Tuesday Night CBS Movie (which rotated
made-for-TV movies with the series Shaft, featuring Richard
Roundtree reprising the title role from the film of the same name,
and Hawkins, starring the legendary Jimmy Stewart as a small
town attorney), failed in similar short-lived attempts. But while
its imitators struggled, the three original Mystery Movie
entries remained strong into the mid-1970s. Over these years, NBC
continued to try to find a fourth element that could be added to
the Columbo/McCloud/McMillan and Wife mix, trying out such
shows as Amy Prentiss, McCoy, and Lanigan's Rabbi.
Finally, in the fall of 1976, Quincy, M.E., starring Jack
Klugman as a Los Angeles medical examiner, joined the rotation.
In early 1977, it was spun off as a regular weekly series, and would
go on to have a successful seven-year run on the network.
the end of the 1976-77 season, The Sunday Mystery Movie had
reached the end of its run, and was replaced on the NBC schedule
by The Big Event. But The NBC Mystery Movie had left
a legacy that would not soon be forgotten, and the series served
as an inspiration for a future television trend: the recurring made-for-television
movie, featuring regular characters and routinized plotlines, which
would appear only a limited number of times each season. Ironically,
one of the most popular of such recurring programs would be Mystery
Movie 's own Columbo, which was revived in the late 1980s by
ABC and would go on to once again garner high ratings and still
more Emmy Awards for its new network.
NBC Mystery Movie: McCloud
PRESENTED AS PART OF THE NBC MYSTERY MOVIE
[Wednesday] Mystery Movie: Columbo, McCloud,
McMillan and Wife.
1972-1973: Sunday Mystery Movie: Columbo, McCloud, McMillan,
Hec Ramsey. Wednesday Mystery Movie:
Madigan, Cool Million, Banacek
1973-1974: Sunday Mystery Movie: Columbo, McCloud, McMillan,
Hec Ramsey. Wednesday Mystery Movie:
Madigan, Tenafly, Faraday & Company,
The Snoop Sisters. [January 1972, series
scheduled on Tuesday as NBC Tuesday
1974-1975: Sunday Mystery Movie: Columbo, McCloud, McMillan.
1975-1976: Sunday Mystery Movie: Columbo, McCloud, McMillan,
1976-1977: Sunday Mystery Movie: Columbo, McCloud, McMillan,
Quincy, M.E. (through December, 1976);
Lanigan's Rabbi (from January 1977).
September 1971-January 1974 Wednesday
8:30-10:00 September 1972-September 1974 Sunday
8:30-10:00 January 1974-September 1974 Tuesday
8:30-10:00 September 1974-September 1975 Sunday
8:30-10:30 September 1975-September 1976 Sunday
9:00-11:00 October 1975-April 1977 Sunday
various times May 1977-September 1977 Sunday
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Marc, David, and Robert J. Thompson. Prime Time, Prime Movers.
Boston: Little, Brown, 1992.
Martindale, David. Television Detective Shows of the 1970s.
Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1991.
Thomas. The Emmys. New York: Penguin, 1992.
Adventure Shows; Columbo;