Steven Bochco reveals how involved Peter Falk was in creating Columbo's quirks
Every wacky impulse Columbo ever had came straight from Peter Falk.
When it comes to crime TV, writer Steven Bochco is among the top forces. He created hit after hit with imaginative series like Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue and L.A. Law - and he won Emmys for all three shows. It's easy to think of Bochco as an untouchable crime writer, gifted at creating characters who go on to become iconic.
But his biggest fans know that Bochco came up writing some of the earliest episodes of Columbo, which would lead you to think he played at least some part in injecting some of his trademark quirkiness into the legendary character. However, in an interview with the Archive of American Television, Bochco said that couldn't be further from the case. When it came to bringing Columbo to life, series co-creator William Levinson had just one note for Bochco when he joined the Columbo writing staff:
"Peter Falk is Columbo," Bochco remembered Levinson telling him. "You don’t have to write all of [those quirks], because that’s Peter." Bochco said Levinson went on, "If you write that stuff, and then Peter does what you’re writing on top of being Peter, it’s over-the-top. So you want to really underwrite this character, because Peter is so quirky.”
It seems that when it came to writing the character of Columbo, writers like Bochco just didn't. Instead, Falk would read their scripts and come up with all the quirks you'd see onscreen, from the way he chewed his cigars to his habit of grazing on food left out in every room he ever entered. His winking humor, his squinting scrutiny, his tousled appearance, all the qualities that made Columbo so unique were also what made him so relatable, and according to Bochco, that disheveled dream combo was all thanks to Peter Falk. Watch the clip below to be charmed by Columbo all over again:
“It was a wonderful lesson in letting the actor fill the role," Bochco said. The writer followed Levinson's orders and when he wrote Columbo episodes like "Murder by the Book," "Lady in Waiting" and "Blueprint for Murder," his scripts made sure to leave Columbo a blank canvas for Falk to work with. In return for working so well with him, Bochco got an unexpected gift from Falk that Bochco credits with launching his own career.
"In that first year when [Peter Falk] was nominated for Best Actor, he won. And when he went up, he made this wonderful speech in which among other things, he thanked me by name and it really sort of put me on the map.”
Watch Falk's acceptance speech above to see the moment Bochco credits as the one that paved the way for all of his influential series.