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NBC Mystery Movie

NBC Mystery Movie

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The NBC Mystery Movie is the general name of an American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 television series, produced by Universal Studios
Universal Studios
Universal Pictures , a subsidiary of NBCUniversal, is one of the six major movie studios....

, that was broadcast by NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

 from 1971
1971 in television
The year 1971 in television involved some significant events.Below is a list of television-related events in 1971.For the American TV schedule, see: 1971-72 American network television schedule.-Events:...

1977 in television
The year 1977 in television involved some significant events.Below is a list of television-related events in 1977.For the American TV schedule, see: 1977-78 American network television schedule.-Events:...

. At times, it was divided into several versions that were broadcast concurrently during different nights of the week and were entitled The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie and The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie.

Mystery Movie was a "wheel show
Wheel series
A wheel series is a term applied in the broadcast television industry to a television program in which two or more regular series are rotated with the same time slot...

", or "umbrella program". That is, it rotated several programs within the same time period throughout the season. For its initial 1971-72 season, it featured a rotation of three detective dramas that were broadcast during Wednesday nights for 90 minutes, from 8:30-10:00 p.m. in the Eastern Time Zone
Eastern Time Zone
The Eastern Time Zone of the United States and Canada is a time zone that falls mostly along the east coast of North America. Its UTC time offset is −5 hrs during standard time and −4 hrs during daylight saving time...



The origin of the "wheel" format was a joint programming and creative production agreement between the NBC Television Network and Universal Studios Television and Motion Pictures dating from 1966. By that agreement, NBC ordered a multi-year series of dramatic anthology productions from Universal Studios which would be broadcast as NBC series television programming in the United States (both as originals and re-runs), but Universal retained the rights to overseas release of these products as feature length films. Also, NBC would not offer these shows subsequently as TV re-runs for international sales.

The first series created under this agreement was Fame Is the Name of the Game
Fame Is the Name of the Game
Fame Is the Name of the Game is an American TV-movie, directed by Stuart Rosenberg, that aired on NBC and served as the pilot episode of the subsequent series The Name of the Game. The film stars Tony Franciosa as an investigative journalist and presents the screen debut of 20-year-old Susan...

, an anthology of four programs. It was followed by The Bold Ones
The Bold Ones
The Bold Ones is the umbrella title for several television series. It was produced by Universal Television and broadcast on NBC from 1969 to 1973...

, Four in One
Four in One
Four in One was the umbrella title for a wheel series broadcast in the United States on the NBC television network as part of its 1970-71 schedule in the Wednesday 10 PM Eastern time slot....

and The Men
The Men (TV series)
The Men was an umbrella title for three adventure series aired in the United States by ABC as part of its 1972-73 lineup.The Men comprised Assignment Vienna, Jigsaw, and The Delphi Bureau. The common element in each of the series was that its hero was a rugged individualist, working essentially...

. While it was a long and profitable collaboration, it finally succumbed to the changes of the commercial broadcast market regarding both structure and content by the end of the decade.

By the late 1970s, the increase in the popularity of situation comedies—coupled with the comedies' lower production costs and much greater scheduling flexibility and resale opportunities—surpassed that of these drama anthologies, whose episodes had typically longer run-times (ranging from one to two hours). The anthologies could not reasonably be reduced for briefer broadcast times for the re-run market. They were not designed for casual or short-term viewers, who would have little interest in the character or the story of an individual episode. Each episode and each series were of widely varying quality, making re-sale in re-runs difficult. While they lasted, the best of them employed the finest actors, writers and production standards available.

Production history

The three original 1971-72 shows of The NBC Mystery Movie were:
  • McCloud, starring Dennis Weaver
    Dennis Weaver
    William Dennis Weaver was an American actor, best known for his work in television, including roles on Gunsmoke, as Marshal Sam McCloud on the NBC police drama McCloud, and the 1971 TV movie Duel....

     as a New Mexico
    New Mexico
    New Mexico is a state located in the southwest and western regions of the United States. New Mexico is also usually considered one of the Mountain States. With a population density of 16 per square mile, New Mexico is the sixth-most sparsely inhabited U.S...

     lawman reassigned to the New York Police Department, which debuted the previous season as part of the hour-long NBC
    The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

     wheel show Four in One
    Four in One
    Four in One was the umbrella title for a wheel series broadcast in the United States on the NBC television network as part of its 1970-71 schedule in the Wednesday 10 PM Eastern time slot....


  • Columbo, starring Peter Falk
    Peter Falk
    Peter Michael Falk was an American actor, best known for his role as Lieutenant Columbo in the television series Columbo...

     as a deceptively bumbling Los Angeles
    Los Ángeles
    Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...

     homicide detective. The series was derived from a 1968 made-for-television movie, Prescription: Murder, which starred Falk in the same role.

  • McMillan & Wife, starring Rock Hudson
    Rock Hudson
    Roy Harold Scherer, Jr., later Roy Harold Fitzgerald , known professionally as Rock Hudson, was an American film and television actor, recognized as a romantic leading man during the 1950s and 1960s, most notably in several romantic comedies with Doris Day.Hudson was voted "Star of the Year",...

     and Susan Saint James
    Susan Saint James
    Susan Saint James is an American actress and activist, most widely known for her work in television during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.-Early life:...

     as a husband-and-wife crime-fighting duo. Hudson's character was a sophisticated San Francisco
    San Francisco, California
    San Francisco , officially the City and County of San Francisco, is the financial, cultural, and transportation center of the San Francisco Bay Area, a region of 7.15 million people which includes San Jose and Oakland...

     police commissioner. Saint James later left the series and it was renamed McMillan.

The umbrella series was counted a great success in its first season and finished at number 14 in the Nielsen ratings
Nielsen Ratings
Nielsen ratings are the audience measurement systems developed by Nielsen Media Research, in an effort to determine the audience size and composition of television programming in the United States...

 for the 1971-1972 season. Columbo was nominated for eight Emmy Award
Emmy Award
An Emmy Award, often referred to simply as the Emmy, is a television production award, similar in nature to the Peabody Awards but more focused on entertainment, and is considered the television equivalent to the Academy Awards and the Grammy Awards .A majority of Emmys are presented in various...

s and won four categories.

The success of Mystery Movie prompted NBC
The National Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network and former radio network headquartered in the GE Building in New York City's Rockefeller Center with additional major offices near Los Angeles and in Chicago...

 to reschedule the original three shows to the competitive 8:30-10:00 Sunday evening time period for the second season as The NBC Sunday Mystery Movie.

A fourth show was added to the rotation and lasted two seasons (1972–74):
  • Hec Ramsey
    Hec Ramsey
    Hec Ramsey is a television Western, a production of Jack Webb's production company, Mark VII Limited, in association with Universal Studios, broadcast in the United States by NBC as part of the NBC Mystery Movie wheel show during the 1972-73 and 1973-74 seasons.-Overview:This series was...

    , starring Richard Boone
    Richard Boone
    Richard Allen Boone was an American actor who starred in over 50 films and was notable for his roles in Westerns and for starring in the TV series Have Gun – Will Travel.-Early life:...

     as a gunfighter turned frontier forensic detective in the Old West, was produced by Jack Webb
    Jack Webb
    John Randolph "Jack" Webb , also known by the pseudonym John Randolph, was an American actor, television producer, director and screenwriter, who is most famous for his role as Sergeant Joe Friday in the radio and television series Dragnet...


In addition, a clone of the umbrella series, The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie debuted in the original time period and featured three new programs:
  • Banacek
    Banacek is a short-lived, light-hearted detective TV series starring George Peppard on NBC from 1972 to 1974. It alternated in its timeslot with several other shows but was the only one to last beyond its first season...

    , starring George Peppard
    George Peppard
    George Peppard, Jr. was an American film and television actor.Peppard secured a major role when he starred alongside Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's , portrayed a character based on Howard Hughes in The Carpetbaggers , and played the title role of the millionaire sleuth Thomas Banacek in...

     as a free-lance insurance investigator of Polish ancestry in Boston. Like Hec Ramsey, it lasted two seasons (1972–74).
  • Cool Million
    Cool Million
    Cool Million was a detective drama aired in the United States by NBC as an element in its "wheel series" The NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie during its 1972-73 schedule....

    , starring James Farentino
    James Farentino
    James Farentino is an American actor. He has appeared in almost one hundred roles, among them in The Final Countdown, Jesus of Nazareth, and Dynasty.-Career:...

     as a private investigator and security / retrieval expert whose fee per case was the name of the series.
  • Madigan
    Madigan is a 1968 American thriller film directed by Don Siegel and starring Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda.The screenplay, originally titled Friday, Saturday, Sunday, was adapted by two writers who had been blacklisted in the 1950s, Abraham Polonsky and Howard Rodman , based on a novel titled The...

    had Richard Widmark
    Richard Widmark
    Richard Weedt Widmark was an American film, stage and television actor.He was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as the villainous Tommy Udo in his debut film, Kiss of Death...

     reprising his 1968 film role as a streetwise veteran detective of the NYPD.

During the 1973-1974 season, the programs rotating on Sunday remained the same, while on Wednesday, Cool Million and Madigan were canceled and Banacek rotated with three new series:
  • Faraday & Company
    Faraday & Company
    Faraday & Company is a crime drama television series that was part of the NBC Mystery Movie. It lasted for only four episodes, which were rotated with Banacek, The Snoop Sisters, and Tenafly on Wednesday nights during the 1973-1974 season....

    , starring Dan Dailey
    Dan Dailey
    Daniel James Dailey Jr. was an American dancer and actor.-Early life and career:Born in New York City on December 14, 1915, to James J. and Helen Dailey, both born in New York City. He appeared in a minstrel show when very young, and appeared in vaudeville before his Broadway debut in 1937 in...

     as a private detective who returns to Los Angeles after a quarter century in a South American jail.
  • Tenafly
    Tenafly (TV series)
    Tenafly is a drama series and one of the TV shows for the NBC Mystery Movie for the 1973-74 season.-Overview:It starred James McEachin as Harry Tenafly, a former cop turned detective who finds himself in one pickle after another. It was also one of the few series that had a main black character on...

    , starring James MacEachin as an African-American private detective.
  • The Snoop Sisters
    The Snoop Sisters
    The Snoop Sisters was an American mystery television show that aired on NBC during the 1973–1974 season.-Plot:The show starred Hollywood film legends Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as two elderly sisters who routinely stumbled across mysteries which they solved...

    , starring Helen Hayes
    Helen Hayes
    Helen Hayes Brown was an American actress whose career spanned almost 70 years. She eventually garnered the nickname "First Lady of the American Theatre" and was one of twelve people who have won an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar and a Tony Award...

     and Mildred Natwick
    Mildred Natwick
    Mildred Natwick was an American stage and film actress.- Early life :A native of Baltimore, Maryland, she was born to Joseph and Mildred Marion Dawes Natwick. She graduated from the Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore...

     as two elderly sisters who routinely found mysteries which they solved.

Even rescheduling to Tuesday nights as The NBC Tuesday Mystery Movie during January 1974 didn't help ratings, however, and the midweek series was canceled, while the Sunday series continued.

During subsequent years, Columbo, McCloud and McMillan and Wife rotated with a fourth series, which changed each year. These included:
  • Amy Prentiss
    Amy Prentiss
    Amy Prentiss is an American police drama television series which aired on NBC. It is a spinoff of Ironside, and aired as part of the NBC Mystery Movie from 1974-1975. Jessica Walter stars as Amy Prentiss, a relatively young investigator who becomes Chief of Detectives for the San Francisco Police...

    , starring Jessica Walter
    Jessica Walter
    Jessica Walter is an American actress, known for the films Play Misty for Me, Grand Prix, and for her role as Lucille Bluth on the sitcom Arrested Development...

     as the fictional first female chief of detectives for the San Francisco Police Department.
  • McCoy
    McCoy (TV series)
    McCoy is the title of an American action-adventure television series that aired on NBC during the 1975-1976 season.The series starred Tony Curtis as a con man who "out-cons" bad guys in order to steal back their ill-gotten gains and return the loot to its rightful owners...

    , starring Tony Curtis
    Tony Curtis
    Tony Curtis was an American film actor whose career spanned six decades, but had his greatest popularity during the 1950s and early 1960s. He acted in over 100 films in roles covering a wide range of genres, from light comedy to serious drama...

     as a professional con-man / thief.
  • Quincy, M.E.
    Quincy, M.E.
    Quincy, M.E., also called Quincy, is a United States television series from Universal Studios that aired from October 3, 1976, to September 5, 1983, on NBC...

    , starring Jack Klugman
    Jack Klugman
    Jacob Joachim "Jack" Klugman is an American stage, film and television actor known for his roles in sitcoms, movies, and television and on Broadway...

     as a medical examiner in the L.A. County Coroner's office.
  • Lanigan's Rabbi
    Lanigan's Rabbi
    Lanigan's Rabbi is a short-lived American crime drama series that aired on NBC during the first half of 1977.-Synopsis:Based upon a series of novels by Harry Kemelman, the series starred Art Carney as Police Chief Paul Lanigan, who fights crime in a small California town with the help of his best...

    , about a small town police chief (Art Carney
    Art Carney
    Arthur William Matthew “Art” Carney was an American actor in film, stage, television and radio. He is best known for playing Ed Norton, opposite Jackie Gleason's Ralph Kramden in the situation comedy The Honeymooners....

    ) and his best friend, a rabbi and amateur sleuth (Bruce Solomon
    Bruce Solomon
    Bruce Peter Solomon is an American television and film star, best known for the roles of Sgt. Foley in the TV show "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman" and Kenny Zuckerman in Beverly Hills, 90210.-Television and film:...

    ), based on Harry Kemelman
    Harry Kemelman
    Harry Kemelman was an American mystery writer and a professor of English. He was the creator of one of the most famous religious sleuths, Rabbi David Small.- Early life:...

    's popular Rabbi Small mysteries.

Of all the wheel series, only the original three -- Columbo, McCloud and McMillan & Wife -- survived for the entire run of the Mystery Movie. Most of the others were very short-lived, and with the exception of Hec Ramsey and Banacek were all only on the air for one season. Quincy, M.E. proved to be such a hit that NBC spun it off into its own weekly series midway through the final Mystery Movie season, the only Mystery Movie series to receive this honor, and the spin-off series ran until 1983.


The Mystery Movie theme music was composed by Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini
Henry Mancini was an American composer, conductor and arranger, best remembered for his film and television scores. He won a record number of Grammy Awards , plus a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 1995...


The opening credits consisted of a mysterious figure carrying a flashlight slowly walking towards the camera in a desert landscape under dramatic clouds, as images representing the various rotating series appeared sequentially on the screen; at the end, an announcer (Hank Sims) presents that night's main actors and series (example: "Tonight, starring Peter Falk as Columbo"). Some syndicated
Television syndication
In broadcasting, syndication is the sale of the right to broadcast radio shows and television shows by multiple radio stations and television stations, without going through a broadcast network, though the process of syndication may conjure up structures like those of a network itself, by its very...

 episodes of Columbo retain this opening credit sequence, though slowed towards the end to avoid showing the title caption which includes "NBC" and (after the first season), a day of the week.

The Wednesday Mystery Movie Theme was composed by Quincy Jones for its first season and had an animated open to show the lineup. The tune was very uptempo and the open did not look at all like the Sunday Movie.


American Broadcasting Company
The American Broadcasting Company is an American commercial broadcasting television network. Created in 1943 from the former NBC Blue radio network, ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Company and is part of Disney-ABC Television Group. Its first broadcast on television was in 1948...

 launched a revival of the mystery wheel show idea, appropriately titled the ABC Mystery Movie, which lasted from February 1989 to August 1990. Columbo returned as part of ABC's revival, along with a revival of Kojak
Kojak is an American television series starring Telly Savalas as the title character, bald New York City Police Department Detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak. It aired from October 24, 1973, to March 18, 1978, on CBS. It took the time slot of the popular Cannon series, which was moved one hour earlier...

and three new series: B.L. Stryker
B.L. Stryker
B.L Stryker is an American detective drama that aired on ABC from February 13, 1989 to May 1990 as part of the ABC Mystery Movie along with Gideon Oliver, Columbo and Kojak. The series was executive produced by Tom Selleck.-Premise:...

, Gideon Oliver
Gideon Oliver
Gideon Oliver is a prime time television series that ran on the ABC television network between February 1989 and May 1989 as part of the ABC Mystery Movie rotation, along with B.L. Stryker, Kojak and Columbo. On the air for only five episodes, the series starred Emmy- and Academy Award-winning...

, and Christine Cromwell.

After the ABC Mystery Movie ended its run, a further fourteen Columbo TV movies were broadcast between 1990 and 2003. McCloud was also featured in one further TV movie, The Return of Sam McCloud, during November 1989.

In addition to Columbo, Banacek, McCloud, and MacMillan and Wife have also been seen in syndication in the past and still do air on various stations from time to time. Quincy currently airs on Retro Television Network
Retro Television Network
The Retro Television Network is a system of television stations that airs classic television shows as well as more recently produced programs...

, a digital television network that also has aired episodes of McCloud and MacMillan and Wife in the past. Currently, Banacek is aired on the Retro Television Network Sunday Mornings (February 2011).

Popular culture references

  • The cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000
    Mystery Science Theater 3000
    Mystery Science Theater 3000 is an American cult television comedy series created by Joel Hodgson and produced by Best Brains, Inc., that ran from 1988 to 1999....

    would often reference the NBC Mystery Movie, either through referencing characters, or a subtle recurring joke; whenever a character in their spoofed movie shone a flashlight, one of the robots would remark, "It's the NBC Mystery Movie!"

  • A 2008 episode of The Simpsons
    The Simpsons
    The Simpsons is an American animated sitcom created by Matt Groening for the Fox Broadcasting Company. The series is a satirical parody of a middle class American lifestyle epitomized by its family of the same name, which consists of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie...

    , "Dial 'N' for Nerder
    Dial 'N' for Nerder
    "Dial 'N' for Nerder", also known as "N is for Nerder", is the fourteenth episode of The Simpsons nineteenth season, and was originally broadcast on March 9, 2008. After a prank gone wrong, Bart and Lisa believe they have accidentally killed Martin Prince. Meanwhile, Marge hires a TV show called...

    ", ended with a reference to the NBC Mystery Movie's opening sequence, featuring Nelson Muntz
    Nelson Muntz
    Nelson Mandela Muntz is a fictional character and bully from the animated TV series The Simpsons. He is voiced by Nancy Cartwright. Nelson was introduced in Season 1's "Bart the General" as a bully but later turned into a friend of Bart Simpson, who is best identified by his signature laugh .-Role...

     as Columbo, Dr. Hibbert as Quincy, Rich Texan as McCloud and Mr. Burns and Smithers as McMillan and Wife.

  • In an episode of the cartoon King of the Hill
    King of the Hill
    King of the Hill is an American animated dramedy series created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels, that ran from January 12, 1997, to May 6, 2010, on Fox network. It centers on the Hills, a working-class Methodist family in the fictional small town of Arlen, Texas...

    , Hank Hill refers to Hec Ramsey as an under-appreciated part of the NBC Mystery Wheel.

External links