Did you know McGruff the crime dog was modeled after Columbo?
Take a bite out of crime - and perhaps a trenchcoat from Columbo.
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Between 1971 and 1978, Columbo could be seen solving case after case for the series' original run. Then, after Columbo faded from the screen in the spring of 1978, a character who looked suspiciously like Peter Falk's rumpled homicide detective crept on screens: McGruff the Crime Dog. If you sniffed out these subtle similarities between the 1979 Ad Council mascot and one of TV's most celebrated detectives, then you've got an eye for detail that rivals Columbo.
According to The New York Times in a profile of McGruff the Crime Dog creator Jack Keil (who unfortunately passed on Aug. 25 at 94), Keil "drew part of his inspiration from television: The endearing Detective Columbo, played by Peter Falk, had just wrapped up its popular initial 1971-78 run.”
Of course, fans of Columbo know that the show's cigar-chomping hero was inspired in part by two other famous characters who came from books. He gets his tenacity at elliciting confessions from Porfiry Petrovich, the investigator with instincts of steel from the novel Crime and Punishment. His humility and deep read on human nature comes from the cleric-detective character from a notable collection of short stories by G.K. Chesterton, Father Brown.
When Keil was coming up with McGruff the Crime Dog, the initial concept wasn't Columbo at all, though. After jotting down McGruff's famous slogan "Take a bite out of crime," Keil says he originally drew a Keystone Cop cap on a Snoopy-like character, but his creative team at Dancer Fitzgerald Sample urged him to take another crack at the design to create a character people would take more seriously. So as creative director, he challenged them all to come back with new concepts a day later.
Among the submissions was a bulldog that looked like J. Edgar Hoover and a super-aggressive dog intended to be a hardened deputy, but the winner was a world-worn dog cloaked in a raincoat. This would eventually be modified to fit McGruff more like Columbo's trenchcoat. You can almost imagine Keil comparing the sketches and saying to his team as Columbo often did, "There's just one more thing ... ."