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Columbo is an American television series starring Peter Falk as Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. The character and show, created by Richard Levinson and William Link, popularized the inverted detective story format, which begins by showing the commission of the crime and its perpetrator; the series therefore has no “whodunit” element. The plot revolves around how a perpetrator whose identity is already known to the audience will finally be caught and exposed (which the show’s writers called a “howcatchem,” rather than a “whodunit”).
Columbo is a friendly, verbose, working-class, disheveled police detective of Italian descent, whose trademarks include wearing a rumpled, beige raincoat over his suit, and smoking a cigar. He is consistently underestimated by his suspects who, while initially reassured and distracted by his circumstantial speech, become increasingly annoyed by his pestering behavior. Despite his unassuming appearance and apparent absentmindedness, he is extremely intelligent and shrewdly solves all of his cases and secures all evidence needed for a conviction. His formidable eye for detail and relentlessly dedicated approach, often become clear to the killer (and even the viewer) only late in the story line.
The episodes are all movie-length, between 73 and 100 minutes long, and have been broadcast in forty-four countries. In 1997, “Murder by the Book”, directed by Steven Spielberg, was ranked No. 16 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time and in 1999, the magazine ranked Lt. Columbo No. 7 on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list. In 2012, the program was chosen as the third-best cop or legal show on Best in TV: The Greatest TV Shows of Our Time. In 2013, TV Guide included it in its list of The 60 Greatest Dramas of All Time and ranked it at #33 on its list of the 60 Best Series. Also in 2013, the Writers Guild of America ranked it No. 57 in the list of 101 Best Written TV Series.