Love Steven Spielberg movies? You can thank Columbo for that
The pioneering director calls the set of Columbo his "film school."
One of the biggest names in movies today got his start begging for work on the Universal back lot in the early 1970s. That's what Steven Spielberg told empireonline.com in a recent interview, in which the popular director also discussed how shows like Columbo and Night Gallery helped him quickly adapt early on to become the stylish director that he is today.
It seems that back then, Spielberg had plenty of confidence right from day one, but he didn't yet have the chops to be taken seriously by every TV producer. That's why he says his work on shows like Marcus Welby, M.D. and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law were limited to just one episode: The young director simply put too much of his stamp on the episodes he directed, resulting in an episode that didn't stylistically fit with the rest of the series. He says he often wasn't asked back to set because of that.
But that novelty was exactly the kind of direction that Columbo encouraged Spielberg to do, which is why he didn't become discouraged trying to play along with studios. Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link wanted their show to look and feel more like a movie, and that made Spielberg the perfect fit to direct the series' first episode, "Murder By the Book."
In the interview, Spielberg says, "They were the first producers who actually encouraged me to make choices that were weird and unconventional. They were at dailies so every time they came to dailies on set or called me on the phone to give me a tremendous boost of confidence. That was my first experience with episodic television where the producers were encouraging me to make shots, whereas other television producers would beg me not to." Scroll through some of these unique shots from his Columbo episode below to get an idea of how this sparked Spielberg's eye for setting, drama and detail.
Before Spielberg got to work on Columbo, he'd also directed segments for Night Gallery, including the "Eyes" feature in the series' pilot episode. Spielberg describes his time on Night Gallery as much more challenging than Columbo, despite actually being asked to come back to do a second segment, "Make Me Laugh." He said he struggled with a crew he viewed as hostile toward him as a young director, intentionally slowing down production day to make things extra challenging. In the end, the crew came around to his vision, and though it wasn't Spielberg's favorite experience, you can tell that some of these Night Gallery shots really set the scene for his career today.