Country of origin
No. of seasons
Murder, She Wrote
Theme music composer
First episode date
30 September 1984
Peter S. FischerRichard LevinsonWilliam Link
Angela LansburyWilliam WindomTom BosleyRon Masak
Murder, She Wrote is an American crime drama television series starring Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher. The series aired for 12 seasons with 264 episodes from 1984 to 1996 on the CBS network. It was followed by four TV films and an unsuccessful spin-off series, which was produced in 1987, The Law & Harry McGraw. It is one of the most successful and longest-running television shows in history, averaging close to 26 million viewers per week in its prime, and was a staple of the CBS Sunday night lineup for a decade. In syndication, the series is still highly successful throughout the world.
- Regular cast
- Recurring cast
- Crossover with Magnum PI
- Awards and nominations
- US television ratings
- Abandoned reboot
- International syndication
Lansbury was nominated for ten Golden Globes and 12 Emmy Awards for her work on Murder, She Wrote. She holds the record for the most Golden Globe nominations and wins for Best Actress in a television drama series and the most Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Murder, She Wrote, with those nominations netting her four Golden Globe awards. The series received three nominations but no wins in the Outstanding Drama Series category at the Emmys. It was nominated for a Golden Globe in the same category six times and won twice.
After the series finished in 1996, four TV movies were released between 1997 and 2003. In 2009, a point-and-click video game was released for the PC platform, followed in 2012 by a sequel. A spin-off book series, written by Donald Bain, continues publication at present.
Fischer, Levinson and Link thought Lansbury would be perfect for the part of Jessica Fletcher but had not dreamed that she would be interested in a television series. Earlier, she had acted in two film adaptations of Agatha Christie's mystery novels: as Salome Otterbourne in Death on the Nile and as the famous sleuth Miss Marple in The Mirror Crack'd (1980). When the latter film did poorly—despite an all star cast including Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, Kim Novak, and Tony Curtis—the offer for Lansbury to reprise Miss Marple in three more films never materialized.
When she made it known she would be available if the right project came along, the trio of creators sent her the script and almost immediately, Lansbury felt she could do something with the role of Jessica Fletcher. With Murder, She Wrote debuting on Sunday, September 30, 1984, the producers were able to parlay their "mystery writer/amateur detective" premise into a 12-year hit for CBS. It also made Lansbury, known previously for her motion picture and Broadway stage work, a household name for millions of television viewers. The title comes from Murder, She Said, which was the title of a 1961 film adaptation of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple novel 4:50 from Paddington.
The show revolves around the day-to-day life of Jessica Fletcher, a childless, widowed, retired English teacher who becomes a successful mystery writer. Despite fame and fortune, Jessica remains a resident of Cabot Cove, a small coastal community in Maine, and maintains her links with all of her old friends, never letting her success go to her head. Exterior shots of Cabot Cove were filmed in Mendocino, California. The fictional "Cabot Cove" name for the series' coastal town was derived from the name of an actual bay harbor inlet in Kennebunkport, Maine, located near the town's center, on the road where motels and lobster shack dives are located.
The show mostly starts with a preview of the episode's events, with Jessica stating: "Tonight On Murder, She Wrote..." Jessica invariably proves more perceptive than the official investigators, who are almost always willing to arrest the most likely suspect. By carefully piecing the clues together and asking astute questions, she always manages to trap the real murderer. Murder occurred with such regularity in her vicinity that the term "Cabot Cove syndrome" was coined to describe the constant appearance of dead bodies in remote locations. Indeed, if Cabot Cove existed in real life, it would top the FBI's national crime statistics in numerous categories, with some analysis suggesting that the homicide rate in Cabot Cove exceeds even that of the real-life murder capital of the world. Fan theories have even arisen that Jessica herself is murdering these people since there is no better explanation for the sheer number of murders she encounters throughout the long run of the series besides her involvement in all of them.
Jessica's relationship with law enforcement officials varies from place to place. Both sheriffs of Cabot Cove resign themselves to having her meddle in their cases. However, most detectives and police officers do not want her anywhere near their crime scenes, until her accurate deductions convince them to listen to her. Some are happy to have her assistance from the start, often because they are fans of her books. With time, she makes friends in many police departments across the U.S., as well as with a British police officer attached to Scotland Yard. At the start of season eight, more of the stories were set in New York City with Jessica moving into an apartment there part-time in order to teach criminology.
By August 1988, when Lansbury expressed weariness of her commitment, the series was expected to end in May 1989. Nevertheless, she continued in the role, with a few changes made. For the next two seasons, Lansbury reduced her appearances, several episodes in which she only appeared at the beginning and the end, to introduce stories starring several friends of Jessica, like PI Harry McGraw, reformed thief Dennis Stanton or MI5 agent Michael Hagarty. The "experiment" ended in 1991.
By the end of the 1994–95 season, Murder, She Wrote's 11th season, CBS moved the network's then-longest-running weekly series to Thursday nights at 8 p.m. This put the series in direct competition with the first hour of NBC's Must See TV lineup, which had been drawing the highest ratings of the week for any network for years. Despite protests of many of the show's fans (who believed CBS was intentionally setting the show up to fail in its new timeslot), CBS refused to budge on the new timeslot. Murder, She Wrote plummeted from eighth to 58th in the yearly ratings; the series lost nearly 6 million viewers as the audience was not willing to follow it to Thursday, which left CBS with little choice but to end Murder, She Wrote after 12 seasons in August 1996.
To soften the blow, the network agreed to air the final four episodes in its original Sunday night timeslot, as well as commission four Murder, She Wrote movies over the next few years: the first was South by Southwest (1997), with three more following as A Story to Die For (2000), The Last Free Man (2001), and The Celtic Riddle (2003).
Lansbury stated in May 2011 that she would like to make a comeback appearance as Jessica Fletcher.
However, in a 2015 interview, Lansbury quashed the idea of reprising the much beloved character stating, "I think it would be a downer. In some way, we’d have to show her as a much older woman, and I think it’s better to maintain that picture we have in our mind’s eye of her as a vigorous person. I’m still pretty vigorous, especially in the garden … but if I wanted to transform myself back into the woman I looked like then, it would be ridiculous. And I can't do that."
Crossover with Magnum, P.I.
The episode of Magnum, P.I. entitled "Magnum on Ice" concludes a crossover that begins on the earlier Magnum, P.I. episode "Novel Connection". In the episode's plot, Jessica comes to Hawaii to investigate an attempt to murder Robin Masters' guests, then tries to clear Magnum when he's accused of killing the hitman.
Awards and nominations
Over its twelve-year run Murder, She Wrote received numerous award nominations. Lansbury herself holds the record for the most Emmy nominations for outstanding lead actress in a drama series with twelve, one for each season. She never won, which is also a record. Mary Dodson, the art director for 102 of the series' 264 episodes, received three Emmy nominations for her work on Murder, She Wrote.
U.S. television ratings
Murder, She Wrote maintained extremely high ratings finishing in the top 15 of shows for eleven of its 12 seasons (eight of which it was in the top 10), even well into its late seasons. By its 11th season, Murder, She Wrote was still averaging 25 million viewers per week. However, at the beginning of its 12th season in 1995, CBS moved the show from its extremely popular Sunday night time slot to Thursday night forcing it to compete with NBC's Must See TV line up, and as a result the ratings plummeted. The show rated as the following:
Deadline Hollywood reported in October 2013 that NBC was planning a reboot of the series, starring Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer as a "hospital administrator and amateur sleuth who self-publishes her first mystery novel." Lansbury commented that she was not a fan of using the title, saying "I think it's a mistake to call it 'Murder, She Wrote,' because 'Murder, She Wrote' will always be about Cabot Cove and this wonderful little group of people who told those lovely stories and enjoyed a piece of that place, and also enjoyed Jessica Fletcher, who is a rare and very individual kind of person." Early on it was decided by producers that Spencer's character would not be named Jessica Fletcher, for only Lansbury could play Jessica Fletcher. It was announced on January 21, 2014, that the reboot would not be going forward.
Since its original run on CBS, Murder, She Wrote has been syndicated in many countries around the world.
In 1985, Warren Company released a Murder, She Wrote board game. In the game, one player takes the hidden role of a killer and the other players try to determine which player is the killer through deduction. The killer is successful if he or she can kill five of the characters on the game-board and escape, while the detective players win by correctly deducing the identity of the killer.
In December 2009, casual game developer and publisher Legacy Interactive, under license with Universal Pictures Digital Platforms Group (UPDPG), announced the release a PC and Macintosh video game based on the television series. In the game, players help Jessica Fletcher to solve five unusual murders. A sequel, Murder She Wrote 2, was launched by Legacy Interactive in November 2012.