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As much as I love Murder, She Wrote, I’m sure even the most die-hard MSW fan has thought about switching things up and watching something different for a change. At the same time, when I get in that mood, I want to ensure that whatever else I watch can still bring about that same comforting and familiar feeling that a good episode of MSW can.
Below is a list of five TV shows and two movies that have certain direct ties to Murder, She Wrote and that I guarantee will kindle a spark of familiarity among MSW fans.
Murder, She Wrote premiered at a time when there were plenty of mystery shows to go around. And even though there were many other detective shows on their TV network (CBS), only one show made a direct connection with Murder, She Wrote in the form of a crossover episode.
Jessica Fletcher makes an appearance towards the end of the Magnum, P.I. season 7 episode “Novel Connection”, and the story continues in the Murder, She Wrote season 3 episode “Magnum on Ice”. The two episodes originally aired four days apart in November 1986.
While I am a fan of both shows, I should note that Magnum, P.I. is quite different from Murder, She Wrote. It is nonetheless endearing in its own way and many episodes weave in a thread of light-hearted humour–just like in Murder, She Wrote. It was also extremely popular in its early seasons, and the crossover could be seen as an attempt to revive Magnum, P.I.‘s falling ratings while at the same time exposing Murder, She Wrote to a new set of viewers.
The Law & Harry McGraw
The only other show with a direct connection to Murder, She Wrote, this time in the form of a spin-off, is The Law & Harry McGraw. Jessica Fletcher’s friend, the Bostonian private detective Harry McGraw, proved to be popular among MSW fans, and it wasn’t too long before the network thought to give him his own show.
Harry McGraw appeared in only two episodes of MSW before producers decided to feature him in a special extended episode of MSW that was meant to serve as a backdoor pilot (Season 3’s “Death Takes a Dive“). The following September, The Law & Harry McGraw premiered.
However, the show proved to be very short-lived as only 16 episodes were ever produced. Pretty soon (a little over a year after his show got cancelled), Harry was back on MSW. But only for a few more episodes–in 1992, Jerry Orbach scored a major role not on The Law & Harry McGraw but on Law & Order.
Father Dowling Mysteries
Aside from Jerry Orbach, one other Murder, She Wrote actor got to star in his own detective show–and this time more successfully. Tom Bosley left MSW at the end of season 4, which resulted in Sheriff Amos Tupper being replaced by Sheriff Mort Metzger at the beginning of Season 5.
Bosley left in order to star in the Father Dowling Mysteries, a series about a Catholic priest in Chicago solving mysteries with the help of a young smart-talking nun called Sister Stephanie. The series was relatively popular although plagued with some problems (e.g. delays due to a writer’s strike and religious controversies). Three seasons were produced in total, resulting in 43 episodes.
Murder, She Wrote was co-created by Peter S. Fischer, Richard Levinson and William Link. The latter two had created many popular and successful series prior to MSW, the most famous of which was Columbo–which also featured scripts by Peter S. Fischer. However, there is one series among those created by Levinson and Link which could be said to be almost a direct predecessor to MSW and that is their 1975-1976 adaptations of the Ellery Queen novels.
The Ellery Queen character first appeared in a series of mystery novels, starting in 1929. In the books as in the TV series, he is a novelist who helps his police detective father solve particularly sticky crimes. Having worked on the TV adaptations almost a decade before MSW, Levinson and Link had a chance to refine their skills in developing yet another mystery novelist character: Jessica Fletcher. Only one season of the TV show was produced (22 episodes plus the pilot), but it is an incredible show that I highly recommend.
The Snoop Sisters
A series about two elderly ladies, Gwendolyn and Ernesta Snoop, it’s hard not to see how The Snoop Sisters could have further inspired the character of Jessica Fletcher. The Snoop Sisters predates the Ellery Queen TV series by a couple of years, but there are several parallels between the two shows: one of the sisters is a mystery novelist, and they have a family member (in this case a nephew) on the police force whom they help in investigations. However, The Snoop Sisters was also very short lived (1973-1974) and only four episodes were produced in addition to the pilot.
The series stars, Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick, also starred in the 1971 TV movie “Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate” where they also help solve a crime. And Helen Hayes further went on to star as Miss Marple in two made-for-TV movies in the 1980s.
The Mirror Crack’d
And speaking of Miss Marple: Angela Lansbury had previously appeared in two adaptations of Agatha Christie novels. In 1978, she appeared in Death on the Nile, where she played Salome Otterbourne, a romance novelist. However, it is her 1980 appearance in The Mirror Crack’d as the famous Miss Marple that truly led to her role as Jessica Fletcher since it proved to the world that Angela Lansbury would make a great on-screen sleuth.
Despite featuring an all-star cast, The Mirror Crack’d did not do too well at the box office, meaning that although Lansbury signed a deal to play the character in two more movies, those never ended up being produced. But lucky for us, this meant that she was free to star in MSW a few years later.
Murder, She Said
There were many many other Miss Marple adaptations aside from the one that Angela Lansbury starred in. And although the character of Miss Marple as an elderly lady who solves crimes can be generally seen as an inspiration for the character of Jessica Fletcher, there is one specific movie that had a direct influence on the series.
In 1961, Margaret Rutherford, the original on-screen Miss Marple, starred in an adaptation of 4.50 from Paddington (also known as What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw!). As with all Margaret Rutherford adaptations, there is a touch of humour and lightheartedness, which carries over to MSW. However, what’s important about this adaptation in particular is that it’s titled Murder, She Said, which was a direct inspiration for the series title: Murder, She Wrote.