Nonviolent 'Murder' was good for many a local soul

THE BALTIMORE SUN

America says goodbye tomorrow night to Cabot Cove, Maine's most beloved citizen and faithful viewers of "Murder, She Wrote" are definitely not happy.

Bad enough, they say, that CBS has canceled a show they still enjoy, even after 12 seasons. But even worse, the network is taking away a show that's one of the last of a dying breed -- a show you could watch without fear of being offended, an old-fashioned murder-mystery that emphasized the mystery over the murder, a star vehicle for Angela Lansbury, a woman who's been making movies since the 1940s.

The show's decidedly older audience sees the decision by CBS as a slap in the face by an industry that doesn't seem to care about their wants anymore.

"I would have liked to have seen it stay on, because I'm afraid of what might take its place," says 70-year-old Evelyn Tana of Eastport. "I have grandchildren, and I don't approve of a lot of the shows that are on."

"The stories are not violent," says Oscar Hamson, who lives in the Charlestown Retirement Community with his wife, Martha. "The rest of the shows are not attractive to us. It was the best thing since Lawrence Welk. We need something more for the older folks."

In tomorrow's finale, Jessica Fletcher is in San Francisco, visiting a disc-jockey friend who's lost his job to the station's new youth-oriented image. The new program director is murdered, and Jessica is soon hot on the killer's trail.

The episode's title: "Death by Demographics."

Since 1984, 263 episodes of "Murder, She Wrote" have aired; tomorrow's will be the 264th. Over the years, sheriffs have come and gone at Cabot Cove, with Ron Masak replacing Tom Bosley in 1988. There have been 286 murders on the show -- 64 in Cabot Cove (for a small town, this is one dangerous place), 58 in New York City. More than 1,400 guest stars have appeared on the show -- including Courteney Cox, who would go on to star in "Friends," the show that finally did in "Murder, She Wrote."

For 11 years, the program dominated its Sunday-night time slot. Viewers knew what to expect: an off-camera murder; some genteel poking-around by Jessica; some quaint scenery; guest stars that left you wondering, "Where have I seen that face before?"; and a final reckoning where the real killer is unmasked and Jessica proves, once again, that there's no sleuth like a mystery-writer sleuth.

"There was no violence," says Tana, a loyal viewer from the beginning. "They do murder, but you don't see it happen. There's not a lot of blood and gore."

On Sundays, the show was a ratings champ, defeating every rival ABC and NBC could come up with -- including two from producer Steven Spielberg, "seaQuest DSV" and "Amazing Stories," both of which pundits predicted would send Jessica and her gang packing.

Instead, it was CBS itself that ended up killing the show with the ill-fated move to Thursday nights.

"I think it could have come back for a few more years," says 38-year-old Ingrid Floyd, who dispels the idea that the show's fans are all of retirement age. "I think they blew it by moving it to Thursdays. Sunday is a restful day, you kind of like to sit there and solve a mystery."

"I liked the stories and I liked Lansbury," says Mary Zanderhoof, 79, a retired school teacher living in Towson. "I like the whole thing, looked forward to it every Sunday at least I did, until they put that goofy 'Cybill' on instead."

'Murder, She Wrote'

Starring: Angela Lansbury

When: 8 p.m. tomorrow

& Where: WJZ, Channel 13

Pub Date: 5/18/96

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