“Now Suddenly You Are Accusing My Sister of Murder Based on the Far Fetch Hypothesis of Some Meddling Mystery Writer.”
With season six, we are hitting the halfway point of Murder, She Wrote’s twelve season run. It was another year of transition that would continue on into season seven.
The basic premise of the show remains the same. We follow bestselling mystery author Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) as she solves real life murders whether that is at home in Cabot Cove, Maine, or wherever she happens to be visiting family or friends. This season alone, she solves murders in Palm Springs, Athens, Jamacia, and New York City, to name a few.
Specifically, Jessica helps her niece Victoria (in Genie Francis’s last appearance as Victoria on the show) when her real estate client is killed. Jessica has to defend her reputation when the woman she fingered as a killer appears to commit suicide still claiming to be innocent. She helps prove that her cousin didn’t commit a murder he is accused of when he returns home after being released from a mental hospital. And she figures out who really killed her stock broker.
As I said, this was a season of transition. Angela Lansbury was finding the long hours required to film the show too tiring. If you watch the show carefully, you will see that there are more scenes without Jessica in them in each episode. And the murder starts happening later in the episode than it did in the first few seasons. The bigger change, however, is that there are more episodes that Jessica just appears in one or two scenes early on as she introduces us to the story of the week. We get eight such episodes this season, or just over a third of the season. Jessica tells us about another mystery author who solved a case on the Queen Elizabeth back in the 1940’s. She tells us the story of her latest novel. In addition to appearing with Jessica early in the season, recurring characters Michael Hagarty (Len Cariou) and Dennis Stanton (Keith Mitchell) both get solo cases to solve.
Of course, there are still cases set in Jessica’s beloved home town of Cabot Cove. There are five this season. In the first, Jessica helps when a priest hears a confession of murder. Then Jessica finds an old letter in a second-hand bureau, which naturally leads to a murder in a fire. The election for mayor heats up when a woman, claiming to be bachelor Sam Booth (Richard Paul)’s wife, shows up. A single mother is accused of a crime when her landlord dies. And, in another episode with little involvement from Jessica, she still solves a murder in her living room while Grady and Donna (real life couple Michael Horton and Debbie Zipp) are housesitting while Jessica is off in London visiting her cousin Emma.
I have to talk a bit about that last episode for a minute. It’s actually a favorite of the episodes where Jessica is only minimally involved. It’s clever how she still solves the crime, and I find the way everyone tries to keep her from figuring out that there’s a problem funny. Sadly, this episode marks the final appearance of Donna and the next to last appearance from Grady, two characters I absolutely love.
It's time for my Cabot Cove tally. As I’m rewatching the show, I’m tracking the number of murders that take place in Cabot Cove each season. Yes, I will be counting the episode I just talked about in the tally. The murder count is higher than in previous years since Jessica only solves fourteen murders this year. Of those, five take place in Cabot Cove, and I’m going to say four and a half of them involve people who actually live in town. That brings the totals to 121 murders solved by Jessica, 25.5 taking place in Cabot Cove, 17 involving residents and 9 involving non-residents. Yes, there is a little double dipping in there, which is why the numbers don’t quite work. Since we had guest detectives this season for some of the non-Cabot Cove episodes, Cabot Cove is getting more deadly, with the percentage of murders Jessica has solved there up to 21%.
I feel like every time I go through the show, I recognize more guest stars. Season six had another impressive roster, including Bonnie Bartlett, Elliot Gould, John Rhys-Davies, Theodore Bikel, Jerry Stiller, Holland Taylor, William Lanteau, Bryan Cranston, Faith Ford, Bill Maher, Barry van Dyke, Don Most, Gavin MacLeod, Sheldon Leonard, Donald O'Connor, Gary Sandy, Pat Hingle, Shirley Jones, Doris Roberts, and David Warner. What’s fun for me is some of them are more famous for work after their appearances here while others were fading stars when they guest starred. Everyone always does a great job each week, whether killer, victim, or suspect.
The ratings dropped when Jessica started appearing in fewer episodes, and I can certainly see why. Some of the guest detectives were strange and the stories didn’t quite work for the show. Plus, we tune in to watch Jessica Fletcher at work, not an anthology show. While I do like a few of these episodes, overall, I prefer it when Jessica is hard at work catching a killer.
Trivia fans will note that we actually have an episode without a murder in it, too. There’s other crime, but no actual murder.
There are a total of twenty-two episodes once again in this season, and they are preserved in their native full screen and mono sound track on five discs. (This is 1989 and 1990, after all). We do get a short collection of interviews with some of the cast and crew about what made the show a hit and a special from the now defunct Sleuth Channel counting down America’s Top Sleuths.
There are still enjoyable episodes in season six of Murder, She Wrote, but Jessica’s absence from solving crime each week is noticeable. Fans won’t be so quick to rush back to this season overall, although they will still find episodes to enjoy.