Saturday, April 18, 2009

Murder She Wrote ... and wrote ... and wrote

By Pat Browning

Recently Lee Lofland of The Graveyard Shift had guest posts from a couple of veterans of the old Murder She Wrote TV show. Their behind-the-scenes stories are fun, and here are excerpts:

From Thomas B. Sawyer, who was Head Writer/Showrunner, and wrote 24 episodes:

Oddly, though not entirely unusual, the way I became a writer for MURDER, SHE WROTE before it began to air was the result of my agent sending the show’s co-creator, Peter Fischer, a non-mystery pilot script I’d written for CBS. Peter ‘saw’ something in it -- presumably, that I could write scenes that worked -- and he gave me a ‘blind assignment’ to write an episode …

All that aside, MSW looked to me like a hit, and I said so. I also offered that given my limited writing credits in the genre (a QUINCY and a MIKE HAMMER), he’d probably have to hold my hand. He assured me that that wouldn’t be a problem and, in response to my question about the approach, the show’s style, Peter explained -- as I feared -- that he envisioned it in the mold of traditional Agatha Christie puzzle mysteries -- what are known in the mystery genre as ‘Cozies’ ...

Which prompted -- with no hesitation -- a remark from me, the sheer chutzpah of which I really didn’t wonder at until I recalled the incident several years later. And having wondered, I realized that it was pretty much the way I’ve operated for most if not all of my life:

“Peter, I have to tell you, when I was a kid I read a couple of Christies and one or two locked-room mysteries, and they bored the shit out of me. I’m not going to write that for you.”

His response betrayed no sign that I’d offended. “Okay. What will you write?”

“I’ll write The Maltese Falcon.”

Peter replied without missing a beat: “That’ll be fine.”

And that’s what I did for the next twelve years -- seven of them with Peter’s on-the-job blessing.
(End Quote)

And this from actor Ron Masak, who played Sheriff Mort Metzger of Cabot Cove for 8 seasons:

Murder, She Wrote though is the role I will be identified with forever I guess for a day doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t yell out “Hey Sheriff, How’s Jessica?” and you know what? I love it.

I couldn’t wait to go to work with that great lady. Angela is the Rolls Royce of our business, and the last 2 seasons I got to write 2 story ideas that were bought. I was proud of that for I always felt we had the very best writers in the business and the most loyal following…including a couple of administrations in the White House.

Now for those who care … Here is how I got the role. I had worked for Peter Fischer before, but the first time I went on location with him was when I played a detective on The Law and Harry McGraw.

We were in Massachusetts at a closed resort. A small staff was trying to feed breakfast to a film crew so I pitched in serving coffee, telling jokes and having a ball. A couple of months after we returned, Creator Peter Fischer called me and this is what he said on the phone:

“Ron? Peter Fischer … Tom Bosley is leaving the show to do a new series and I am creating a new sheriff. The role is yours if you want it but I have to know in the next 24 hours as I am leaving for Europe, so I have to know your answer before I leave.”

I responded “OK”

He said “Then you will call and let me know?”

I responded “I JUST DID” … And as the late Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

(End Quote)

And now, just because this is the end of a week that was a Hell Sandwich, here’s a laugh from Leah Garchik’s column at

(Quoting) At San Francisco Suicide Prevention's annual “Laughs for Life” fundraiser ... Executive Director Eve Meyer will end the evening, as she always does, “by asking everyone to join me in honoring the memory of my mother by taking a dinner roll and putting it in their purse.” (End Quote)

That won’t make you laugh unless your mother was like mine. She never left a restaurant without putting something left over in her purse. Used to embarrass me half to death. And now I do the same thing. Only now I simply ask for a to-go box and take everything – leftover salad, fries, green beans, butter pats …

By the way, you can read Lee Lofland’s blog at


Jean Henry Mead said...

I loved the show and Lee's guest, but couldn't leave a comment, for some reason. It was a great interview!

Kaye Barley said...

Pat, this was TERRIFIC! I loved all the Murder She Wrote memories. Thanks.
But then? oh my. You KILLED me with the "honoring my mother" quote. Hysterical!!!!! And I guess, 'cause - like you - that just speaks to me. My mom is still doing it. Donald and I just hand over anything we're not going to eat - rolls, etc., knowing she's gonna stuff 'em in her purse. i love it.

Anonymous said...

JEAN - Lee has some kind of lock on his blog. I noticed a small notation that several hundred comments had been removed. Maybe there were just too many to handle.

Anonymous said...

It's just too funny, huh? I think the best waiters, the really experienced ones, just see an old lady and know she wants a box to go. They don't even wait for me to ask for one. (-:

Ben Small said...

Here it is a gorgeous day with sunshine and temps in the high seventies and I'm indoors reading this stuff... Guess that shows where my priorities lie. Good stuff, Pat. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Chester Campbell said...

Thanks for the excerpts, Pat.I intended to read Lee's blog, but as with so many other things lately, got sidetracked.

Lee Lofland said...

I don't have a block on my blog. I do, however, require everyone to register before posting a comment. I know this is a real pain, but remember, I've put many dangerous people in jail and they all seem to want to express their opinions about me on my blog. Having to register allows me to keep those undesirable comments away from innocent eyes. I have lots of school kids who use the blog as a research tool.

Pat - I don't have a clue why you saw that several hundred messages had been removed. We've got tons of space. In fact, we receive so many hits that we've had to increase the bandwidth a couple times.

Anonymous said...


I don't remember where I saw it. I was scrolling around and couldn't even find a Comments button.

Tom Sawyer is a friend and I just wanted to say hello. I ended up e-mailing him about the excerpt I posted here.

Pat Browning

Lee Lofland said...

I hope you'll come back to visit my blog. It should be a little easier to navigate now since we have a whole new look. I'd love to hear you opinions about the makeover.