Jessica won't be retiring


Fans of Jessica Fletcher can relax.

After three years of saying she might leave her hit show, "Murder, She Wrote," Angela Lansbury yesterday told TV critics she has changed her mind about retiring prime-time's favorite amateur detective anytime soon. And, furthermore, she's going to give viewers more Jessica than ever this year.

"As I was thinking of leaving, I realized that the show had become a national habit," she said. "That's not something you just walk away from."

Also contributing to her change of heart, she said, was "a very good deal that involved my production company." Translation: CBS made her financially set for life with guarantees for movies and future series.

And she's repaying them by doing 22 episodes this year, five more than last year. She's also deep-sixing the device where she introduced episodes performed by other actors, returning only to say goodnight.

Other changes in store include "a rejuvenation of character and a revitalization of story," she said. Only five episodes will be set in Cabot Cove, Jessica's sleepy hometown. Instead, many will be set in New York, where Jessica will be teaching at a university.

"Jessica made a decision," Lansbury said, in explaining the new setting. "She can return to Cabot Cove and rest on her laurels, or she can go back into the mainstream and put back into society some of what she achieved. So she decides to take the teaching job, which allows her to be vitally involved with young people."

The work schedule, the soul searching, the sense of rejuvenation -- it all sounds like the situation of Lansbury herself. Is there some blurring of actress and persona?

Lansbury said she didn't know. But later, asked why her TV ads for aspirin are convincing to viewers, she said the answer was easy.

It is, she said simply, "because they trust Jessica Fletcher."

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