15 Facts You Might Not Know about Murder, She Wrote

Jessica Fletcher, a widow in a small town in Maine, writes murder mystery novels. Everywhere she goes, people are murdered. When she visits friends and relatives, people are murdered. But the quick-minded Mrs. Fletcher always solves the case and finds the culprit. This is the premise of Murder, She Wrote, a television show that ran from 1984 through 1997. Here are some bits of trivia the series.

1. At the beginning of the series, Jessica Fletcher lives at 698 Candlewood Lane, Cabot Cove, Maine 03041. Where is this fictional town? That’s unclear, but here’s a webpage that meticulously pieces together the geographic clues mentioned in the series.

2. Over its 12-year run, the series listed by title 25 mystery novels that Jessica has written, starting with The Corpse Danced at Midnight--her first book.

3. By the early 1980s, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple character had thrived on British television for a decade. CBS wanted to create a similar series to exploit its popularity. The network created and aired a Miss Marple television movie called A Caribbean Mystery.This movie was a hit, so CBS continued to work in this direction.

4. CBS decided to create a dramatic series about a mystery novel writer who solved mysteries. They offered the lead role for Murder, She Wrote to Jean Stapleton, who played Edith Bunker on All in the Family. She declined.

5. Jessica Fletcher doesn’t drive a car. Angela Lansbury liked this “because it precludes, in a sense, the need for car chases.”

6. Lansbury had demands for the show’s tone before she would accept the lead role. “I stipulated that there should be no scenes of gratuitous violence, with blood and gore and car smashes.”

7. The house that was shot as Jessica Fletcher’s was the Blair House Inn, a bed and breakfast Mendocino, California. Pictured above is Angela Lansbury with Grover Wickersham, the owner of the inn, and his son.

8. Merchandise inspired by the show includes a board game produced in 1985. It’s played by 4-6 players, one of whom is secretly the murderer. Board Game Geek summarizes it:

One player is secretly and randomly chosen to be the murderer, the rest are detectives (Jessica Fletcher) trying to determine which player is the murderer. The murderer player wins if he/she can murder five witnesses and escape off of the game board before he/she is discovered. A detective player wins by being the first to correctly deduce the identity of the murderer, before the murderer escapes. Players mark which locations they have visited and in which order. This information, along with the living or dead status of the witnesses, is used by the detective players to deduce who is the murderer player.

9. There are also 2 computer games.

10. And several novels based on the series, ostensibly written by Jessica Fletcher and Donald Bain.

11. From 1986-1987, Murder, She Wrote was thriving in its third season. Magnum, P.I., however, was faltering in its seventh season. CBS arranged for a crossover between the two to prop up Magnum, P.I. They created a 2-part show that began on Magnum, P.I. and ended on Murder, She Wrote. The ratings for Magnum, P.I. increased slightly, but that show was cancelled after another season.

12. William Windom, who played Commodore Matt Decker on Star Trek, also played Dr. Seth Hazlitt, the town doctor of Cabot Cove on Murder, She Wrote. Producers created his character because they wanted Jessica Fletcher to regularly interact with an intellectual.

13. By the seventh season, Murder, She Wrote had fallen in the ratings. In response, Angela Lansbury took over as executive producer. She brought in a new production team, including several of her relatives. Lansbury moved the character and story from Cabot Cove to New York City. Jessica Fletcher was now an urbanite who used a computer, dressed sharp and interacted with young people. Lansbury’s efforts paid off. By the ninth season, the show was in the top 5.

14. In 1996, CBS began phasing out Murder, She Wrote. Lansbury knew that the show was ending, so she felt free to experiment. The episode “Murder among Friends” was a parody of the popular sitcom Friends. In this episode, Jessica Fletcher solved a murder on the set of a fictitious sitcom called Buds.

15. The series finale “Death by Demographics” was a jab at CBS and its decision to cancel the show. It was set at a San Francisco radio station that was changing its lineup to reflect the tastes of younger audiences.

Parish, James Robert. The Unofficial Murder, She Wrote Casebook. New York: Kensington Books, 1997. Print. 

Images (from top to bottom):
CBS, CBS, CBS, Blair House, VintageGameShow, NBC Universal, Penguin Group, CBS, CBS, CBS, NBC.

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What I remember most about Murder She Wrote are the reaction shots. They would shoot a scene and then cut in the actors doing some sort of cloying facial contortion. The women in the background of the photo are a perfect example of that sort of over acting.
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