Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Book Review: Murder, He Wrote

Me and Murder, She Wrote: An Unauthorized Autobiography, by Peter S. Fischer (Grove Point Press, $18.95), is a highly readable, enjoyable memoir by the veteran TV writer-producer who co-created CBS' long-running Sunday night mystery series Murder, She Wrote. Although he worked on shows outside the mystery genre, Fischer is probably best-known for contributing scripts to Columbo, as well as writing and producing for Ellery Queen and The Eddie Capra Mysteries, before striking gold with Jessica Fletcher.

Fans of the long-running hit will enjoy going behind the scenes with Fischer as he recalls his working relationship with star Angela Lansbury, the pressures of devising a new mystery plot each week, and choosing those guest stars that gave the show an extra cachet. He explains why convincing the studio to pony up sizable talent fees not only made the show more fun but was a good investment: "Familiar faces help keep the suspects separated in the viewer's mind. If three of your suspects are the accountant, the lawyer and the banker, most people won't remember which is which. But if Van Johnson is trying to blackmail Troy Donahue into killing Veronica Lake, that they can follow." He reveals the name of the only actor who balked at the alphabetical Guest Stars billing (about which producers were adamant), and preferred to appear unbilled rather than share the glory.

Admirers of Ms. Lansbury's work won't be disillusioned, as Fischer paints a complimentary portrait of her as a professional and colleague. On the other hand, he did acquire a healthy dislike for series star Hal Linden while producing Blacke's Magic, and doesn't hesitate to explain why. I also loved his anecdote blasting the auteur theory, giving credit to directors at the expense of writers and other colleagues -- "Or as one well known writer once said as he handed a particularly obnoxious director a bound sheaf of 120 blank sheets of paper, 'Auteur this!'" Even if you're not a Murder, She Wrote devotee, Fischer's memoir is a great read if you're interested in television production and history.
Since retiring from the television industry, Fischer has not only written this memoir but also continued his lifelong love for the mystery genre with a series of "Hollywood Murder Mysteries" in book form. You can learn more about those here.

NOTE: Review copy courtesy of NetGalley.

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