Sunday, November 05, 2023

Murder, He Wrote

Peter S. Fischer, who co-created the CBS-TV mystery series Murder, She Wrote, in addition to scripting episodes of Columbo, Ellery Queen, and McMillan & Wife, passed away on October 30 in a Pacific Grove, California, care facility. He was 88 years old.

Born in 1935, Fischer went on to study drama at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland. After deciding that his destiny was not as an actor, he turned instead to writing. Fischer was 34 years old and living on New York’s Long Island, editing and publishing a sports car magazine, when he decided to try his hand at writing for Hollywood. He sent the script for a tense science-fiction tale to his younger brother, a casting director at Universal Studios, and after some reworking, it became the basis for an October 1971 ABC Movie of the Week feature, The Last Child. That first success convinced him to move to Los Angeles and embark on a television career.

Fischer soon had his hands full contributing stories to ABC’s Marcus Welby, M.D., and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, as well as to crime dramas such as Griff, Kojak, Baretta, and Judd Hirsch’s Delvecchio. After turning out several episodes of the underrated, 1975-1976 period whodunit Ellery Queen, starring Jim Hutton and created by Richard Levinson and William Link, Fischer concocted his first script for another, more famous Levinson-Link series, Columbo. He’d subsequently pen five further Columbo installments, among them 1974’s “An Exercise in Fatality” (which cast Robert Conrad as a homicidal health club owner) and “Negative Reaction” (in which Dick Van Dyke played a photographer who did away with his spouse). Fischer developed the screenplay for the 1976 NBC mini-series Once an Eagle; joined Levinson and Link in devising the pilot film Charlie Cobb: Nice Night for a Hanging, which they hoped would generate a western-detective series starring Clu Gulagher (it didn’t); created the 1978-1979 Vincent Baggetta drama The Eddie Capra Mysteries, and wrote all 13 episodes of Blacke’s Magic, starring Hal Linden.

In 1984 Fischer teamed up again with Levinson and Link, this time to launch the Angela Lansbury mystery series Murder, She Wrote. He penned dozens of episodes of that CBS show before it ended its weekly run in 1996, and even created a short-lived spin-off mystery titled The Law & Harry McGraw, starring Jerry Orbach and Barbara Babcock. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) lists his final small-screen production as the 1997 teleflick Murder, She Wrote: South by Southwest.

After bidding adios to Hollywood, Fischer assumed the role of full-time author. In 2010 he released Jezebel in Blue Satin, the first of 22 “Hollywood Murder Mysteries,” their plots spanning the latter half of the 20th century. The protagonist in those yarns was a studio press agent by the name of Joe Bernardi, but Fischer also incorporated into his plots real-life headliners on the order of Alfred Hitchcock, Humphrey Bogart, Orson Welles, and Robert Wagner. The concluding entry in that series was 2019’s The Man in the Raincoat, which found Bernardi struggling to protect Peter Falk from the publisher of a scandal mag. Beyond his novels, Fischer released an “unauthorized autobiography” called Me and Murder, She Wrote in 2013.

Variety recalls that “Fischer was nominated for three Emmys and two Golden Globes for Best Television Series – Drama throughout his career.” He received an Edgar Award nomination for “Deadly Lady,” the second episode of Murder, She Wrote. And in 2013, the author picked up the gold medal in the Mystery/Suspense category of the Benjamin Franklin Awards competition for his fifth Hollywood Murder Mystery, The Unkindness of Strangers.

The cause of Fischer’s demise hasn’t been publicized.

His passing comes just over a year after Angela Lansbury died in her sleep at her home in Los Angeles. She was 96.

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