I Am a Dean Hargrove Junkie

Dean Hargrove is the producer of some of TV's classic mystery shows: Columbo, Diagnosis Murder, Father Dowling Mysteries, Matlock, Jake and the Fatman.

Of these shows, I haven't seen Matlock or Father Dowling Mysteries.

I have seen all the Columbo and Diagnosis Murder episodes available on DVD. I also recently began watching Jake and the Fatman, and I am hooked! (The latter show is surprisingly modern in feel; it uses music and camera shots in a style I usually associate with 90's rather than 80's shows.)

I really can't get enough of this stuff. For one thing, I love the "cozy" murder mystery. Mafia and conspiracy plots bore me senseless. But give me jealous spouses, relations killing for inheritance, victims taking out blackmailers, and I'm as happy as a clam in black with a little gavel.

And I prefer the Hargrove approach. Hargrove often worked with Levinson and Link who, with Fischer, produced Murder, She Wrote. I enjoy Murder, She Wrote, but it is rather random; Mrs. Fletcher goes here and there, talking to these people, those people, some other people. It's hard to know where all the questioning is heading.

Hargrove's shows are far tighter. They often (but not always) begin by showing you the actual murder/murderer. The surprise or mystery is what mistake the murderer made that will help the good guys  capture the bad guys.

Even when the episodes don't begin with the actual murder, the investigation process moves along at a good clip with rising and falling action. Dr. Sloan investigates a set number of suspects; J.L. maps out a specific road map for investigation. Every "act" leads somewhere.

Like in Murder, She Wrote, there's a little too much reliance on verbal slip-ups, but Hargrove's writers will throw in fun forensics and unexpected link-ups just to keep things interesting. (My favorite is when Columbo catches a bad guy because Columbo's fingerprints, not the bad guy's, are on a piece of evidence. In general, Columbo concentrates on the time-line/process of the murder while Diagnosis Murder focuses on motive. In comparison, Murder, She Wrote focuses on the unexpected identity of the murderer.)

Like Murder, She Wrote, Hargrove's shows rely tremendously on the character of the investigators/stars.

You have to like Dick Van Dyke (which I do), Joe Penny and William Conrad (which I do; they remind me of Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin), Andy Griffith (who I don't really care about), Tom Bosley (who is just cute), and Peter Falk (who I adore). This investment in the main star is less necessary with Law & Order and CSI. I don't watch any classic Law & Order after Season 4 since I bemoan the loss of Moriarty so much. But Law & Order and CSI aren't QUITE as reliant on a single star. The stories themselves will keep people watching. There's an entire system to take over if the investigators are out of commission.

Hargrove's shows, on the other hand, emphasize the character and role of the private detective. Like with Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Peter Wimsey, and Tey's Alan Grant, if you don't want to spend company with Hargrove's detectives, well . . . that's a lot of television you might as well not watch.

Me? I wish the studios would hurry up and release more Hargrove mysteries onto DVD!

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