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The most famous element was Columbo, which came to television in a Made for TV Movie in 1968 (Prescription: Murder, adapted by Richard Levinson and William Link from their stage play) before becoming part of the wheel in its initial season following a second TV movie (1971's Ransom For A Dead Man). McCloud (inspired by the 1968 movie Coogan's Bluff) began as an hour-long show as part of another Wheel Program, Four-In-One, in 1970; the following season, this and Night Gallery were "freed" from the wheel, Night Gallery for its own slot and McCloud to be in the new strand. McMillan and Wife, starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James respectively, was the only element to be directly created for the Mystery Movie lineup.
Once this was an established success, NBC and Universal Television launched a second night, moving the three originals to Sundays (they initially aired on Wednesdays) as the rebranded NBC Sunday Mystery Movie and premiering the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie; they also tried to find a fourth spoke for the wheel, but none of the new arrivals (see below for chronology) stuck, and neither did the NBC Wednesday Mystery Movie itself (which only ran from 1972-74) - in fact, it wasn't until the final season that they finally had an addition which was a real hit, in Quincy, M.E.. In 1977 all the elements were cancelled except for the crusading coroner, who in a reversal of McCloud was granted his own hour-long slot (although Columbo continued to make appearances in additional TV movies).
The series was introduced for most of its run with an opening theme by Henry Mancini and visuals featuring a silhouetted figure walking across a landscape at sunset, using a torch to light up images of the elements of the wheel that season (the order depending on which one was airing that evening.) Here are two examples.
In 1989 ABC resurrected the concept; see The ABC Mystery Movie.
The Sunday Mystery Movie elements in order of debut (see individual pages for more details):
- McMillan and Wife: known as McMillan in its final season.
- Hec Ramsey (1972-74)
- Amy Prentiss (1974-75): focusing on the first female Chief of Police in San Francisco, played by Jessica Walter. The pilot aired in disguise as the double-length Ironside episode "Amy Prentiss: AKA, The Chief." Incidentally, the City by the Bay wouldn't have a real female chief of police until 2004.
- McCoy (1975-76): the first American TV series to star Tony Curtis, here playing a con man in the Robin Hood mold.
- Quincy, M.E. (1976-77): with Jack Klugman as an inquisitive, idealistic coroner. The first four episodes aired under the Mystery Movie banner; early in 1977 it was given its own slot.
- Lanigan's Rabbi (1977): based on the novels by Harry Kemelman about police chief Paul Lanigan and his friend Rabbi David Small (who dabbles in detective work), starring Art Carney as Lanigan and David Solomon (Stuart Margolin in the pilot TV movie that aired the previous year) as Rabbi Small.
The Wednesday Mystery Movie elements in order of debut:
- Banacek: George Peppard as a Polish-American insurance investigator, based in Boston. This was the only element to appear in both seasons.
- Madigan (1972-73): Richard Widmark reprised his role from the 1968 movie of the same name (suggesting, despite how the movie ended, that Madigan was Not Quite Dead) as a tough New York cop.
- Cool Million (1972-73): James Farentino as a private investigator plying his trade to the jet set and upper crust (the title refers to how much he charges per case).
- Faraday And Company (1973-74): Dan Dailey as Faraday, a PI back in the US after having spent almost 30 years in a Caribbean prison; the "company" (his agency) was basically his family.
- Tenafly (1973-74): Another Levinson and Link creation, with James McEachin as the only black lead in this incarnation of the Mystery Movie lineup, playing one of the unflashiest, most down-to-earth detectives (of any colour) on television - a happily married family man just doing a job.
- The Snoop Sisters (1973-74): Leonard Stern's second contribution to the Mystery Movie wheel (he also co-created Mc Millan And Wife), with Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick as mystery-writing sisters who, like Jessica Fletcher years later, tended to stumble across real-life mysteries.