A popular topic among Murder, She Wrote fans involves the so-called “Bookend” episodes — episodes where Jessica Fletcher provides introductory (and sometimes concluding) remarks, but doesn’t actively take part in the main story action.
The reason for these episodes had to do with contract negotiations with Angela Lansbury. Reportedly, Angela Lansbury felt overworked, and when her contract was about to expire at the end of Season 5 she hinted that she did not want to renew for a sixth season. Eventually, she was swayed to sign on with a reduced workload for Season 6, which is why Season 6 had a whopping 9 episodes in which she only briefly appeared (as I have written about in my post about the Murder, She Wrote Season 6 “Bookend” episodes).
Similar contract negotiations took place ahead of Season 7. This time, Angela Lansbury signed on with the promise that she would do 17 regular episodes and 5 bookend episodes. But while in Season 6 the bookend episodes each featured a different detective, the producers had decided that all of the bookend episodes in Season 7 would feature the same one: Dennis Stanton (played by Keith Michell).
- Ep. 3 “See You in Court, Baby“
- Ep. 8 “The Great Twain Robbery“
- Ep .10 “Murder in F Sharp“
- Ep. 12 “Suspicion of Murder“
- Ep. 18 “Where Have You Gone, Billy Boy?“
Personally, I think this was a good move for several reasons:
(1) Dennis Stanton as a character had already appeared in two regular Murder, She Wrote episodes plus the Season 6 Bookend episode “Always a Thief“. Thus, viewers were familiar with his character and relationship to Jessica Fletcher.
(2) Multiple episodes in Season 7 hinted at the fact that Jessica Fletcher had used her knowledge of Dennis Stanton as a basis for one of her book characters. (See in particular “The Great Twain Robbery” and “Where have you gone, Billy Boy?“.) This gave viewers an added glimpse into Jessica Fletcher’s writing life.
(3) And finally, having the same character at the center of every bookend episode allowed the producers to make use of a steady cast of supporting characters—effectively giving Dennis Stanton his own mini-spin-off.
[Update: May 25th 2021]
Just as I’ve done for the Season 6 “Bookend” episodes, I wanted to give readers of this blog and fans of the show a chance to vote on their favorite Dennis Stanton “Bookend” episode. To that end, I’ve set up a Google forms survey that asked Murder, She Wrote fans to rank the 5 Bookend episodes from Season 7 as well as the 1 Bookend episode featuring Dennis from Season 6.
A total of 23 people responded to the survey in the one week span between May 17th and May 24th. They were each asked to rank the episode from 1 (best) to 6 (worst). According to their votes, the following ranking emerged:
- Always A Thief (average score = 2.3)
- The Great Twain Robbery (average score = 2.5)
- Murder in F Sharp (average score = 3.1)
- See You in Court, Baby (average score = 3.2)
- Suspicion of Murder (average score = 3.9)
- Where have you gone, Billy Boy? (average score = 4.3)
The following image includes a more detailed summary, with the bar graphs representing the number of people who assigned a particular ranking to each episode.
Given this results, it appears that the best Dennis Stanton bookend episode is actually the only one that appeared in Season 6 (i.e. “Always a Thief“). In fact, it was the only episode to have never been ranked 6th. However, Season 7’s “The Great Twain Robbery” is a very close second, and is by far the most favorite Season 7 bookend episode. On the other hand, “Where have you gone, Billy Boy?“, the last of the Dennis Stanton spin-off episodes, was by far the least favorite.
(Because not too many fans have had a chance to vote in the survey yet, I am keeping it open for the foreseeable future. You can still access and vote in the survey by following this link: https://forms.gle/r4cJ8X6we1nYvaPt9. I may update this post in the future if the results are significantly different after more fans have had a chance to participate.)