‘Columbo’: No One Actually Expected Peter Falk to Nail the Role So Perfectly

Back in the ’70s, NBC aired a police procedural TV show which featured an unrefined detective called Columbo. Columbo was known for his brown coat and famous one-line catchphrase “just one more thing” when catching criminals.

Actor Peter Falk helped bring the character of Columbo to life while delivering a performance that went unmatched. Fans of the show will be interested to learn that Falk wasn’t the original choice to play Columbo. The casting directors actually had another actor in mind until Falk called in to audition for the role.

The premise of ‘Columbo’

RELATED: ‘Columbo’: The Peculiar Reason Bing Crosby Turned Down a Starring Role

At the beginning of every episode of the police procedural show, viewers would see a crime unfold, which usually involved an affluent member of society. Columbo rarely appeared in the first act. However, when he enters the story, audiences watch him solve the case by scrutinizing the evidence laid before him.

Columbo would evaluate the contradictions between the version presented to him and the truth in the ‘howcatchem’ style of mystery. In every episode, Columbo hid his genius behind his disarming demeanor to throw the criminal off.

Sometimes, Columbo would lure the criminal into self-incrimination if the criminal displayed some arrogance and dismissiveness. Columbo’s true thoughts and intentions are never revealed until the end of the episode. However, the details of the killer’s actions, crime, and motivation are revealed at the beginning of the episode.

Most times, the show would cast famous people as guest stars who played the criminals. Some of the most famous people to have appeared on the show include Jack Cassidy, Ruth Gordon, Donald Pleasence, and Johnny Cash.

In every episode, Columbo concludes the case by dropping his pretense of uncertainty and providing the case’s details. After the killer realizes that their cover is blown, the episode typically ends with a confession from the killer or them submitting to arrest.

Columbo aired its first 2 pilots on February 20, 1968, on NBC. The network then picked the show up for seven seasons from 1971 until May 13, 1978. ABC then picked the show up for 2 more seasons from 1989 to 1990 and aired specials until January 2003.

The showrunner said that Falk badly wanted the role

Peter Falk
Peter Falk | Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In a 2002 interview with Archive of American Television, the creator of Columbo’s character, William Link, talked about how critical casting is for any role. Link said that they had to pay attention to whoever they were casting for the role of Columbo.

The showrunner said that Falk called their office out of the blue. He continued that they’d known Falk when he was a young actor gaining momentum in New York. The writer explained that Falk had gotten a glimpse of Columbo‘s script for the pilot called ‘Prescription Murder’ and said that he’d “kill to play that cop.”

Link then said that he thought about Falk’s call and admitted that Falk had all the attributes. He was intelligent, funny, and was “very New York.” The writer acknowledged that Falk kept getting better and better at playing Columbo.

Falk wasn’t the original choice for Columbo

Looking back at how well Falk delivered the sly sleuth’s character, it is nearly impossible to imagine the character without him. However, when the show’s creators wanted to cast for the detective, they had their sights set for someone else.

Richard Levinson and Link had their eyes on the singer Bing Crosby. According to Mental Floss, Crosby, famously known as Der Bingle, fell in love with the character of Columbo and the show’s script but thought that committing to a tv show would come in the way of his golfing.

Additionally, Crosby passed away in 1977, which was when the show was at its prime. Another person who was considered for the role was Lee J Cobb, but Falk beat him to it. Falk ended up becoming a sex symbol who resonated well with audiences due to his demeanor.