Debuting September 30, 1984, Murder, She Wrote, TV's longest-running mystery series, might never have come about had producers Richard Levinson and William Link enjoyed a success with their 1975 TV weekly Ellery Queen. That particular series folded after a single episode, but Levinson and Link were still committed to the concept of a best-selling murder-mystery novelist who solved real murders when not at the typewriter. By changing the gender of their protagonist from male to female, and transforming the character from a good-looking, absentminded young pedant to a middle-aged, down-to-earth widow, the producers were able to parlay their "mystery writer/amateur detective" premise into a 13-year hit for CBS. Angela Lansbury starred as Jessica Fletcher, who after being widowed in her early fifties achieved success as a mystery writer. Despite fame and fortune, Jessica remained a resident of Cabot Cove, a cozy coastal town in Maine, and maintained her links with all of her old friends, never letting the popularity of her novels go to her head. Jessica's one eccentricity was an insatiable curiosity, especially whenever murder reared its ugly head. Funny thing, but no matter where Jessica went (and she traveled all over the world, often as a lecturer on criminology and creative writing), a murder seemed to occur. The "official" police were almost always willing to slap the cuffs on the most likely suspect, but Jessica invariably felt that the so-called guilty party wasn't. Carefully and methodically piecing the clues together, gently but firmly asking questions that no else had asked, and refusing to give up her investigation despite warnings to do so, Jessica always managed to trap the guilty party -- who, given the series' "special guest star" policy, was often played by a famous film or TV personality.
While Angela Lansbury was the series' only true regular, several other characters made recurring appearances, notably her Cabot Cove friends Sheriff Amos Tupper (Tom Bosley, later replaced by Ron Masak as Sheriff Mort Metzger) and crusty general practitioner Dr. Seth Hazlitt (William Windom). During the series' eighth season, Jessica accepted a full-time teaching job in New York, returning to Cabot Cove on weekends, where she often compared notes with Deputy Andy Broom (Louis Herthum). Also showing up from time to time was Jessica's nephew Grady Fletcher (Michael Horton), who through no fault of his own always seemed to be in trouble with the law, obliging Aunt Jessica to help him out -- and to solve another murder or two along the way. Though Angela Lansbury seemed to enjoy carrying the load of the series by herself (she was also one of the executive producers), beginning in season six the actress cut back her appearances, allowing such other sleuths as reformed jewel thief Dennis Stanton (Keith Michell), retired spy Michael Hagarty, (Len Cariou) and down-at-the-heel private eye Harry McGraw (Jerry Orbach) to take center stage. Viewers, however, didn't like Jessica's frequent absences during this period, so the "replacement detective" policy was eventually dropped.
A Sunday-evening tradition for over a decade, Murder, She Wrote was moved to Thursdays during its twelfth and final season, much to the dismay of its star, especially as she was forced to go head-to-head with NBC's extremely popular Friends. Not surprisingly, ratings plummeted on Murder throughout the season, and the show was canceled in August of 1996. However, Angela Lansbury fans could take heart in the fact that she would sporadically revive the character of Jessica Fletcher in a handful of feature-length Murder, She Wrote specials during the early years of the 21st century. ~ Rovi