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File:Murder she wrote.jpg

Murder, She Wrote is a popular, long-running television mystery series created by Levinson and Link and starring Angela Lansbury as mystery writer and amateur detective Jessica Fletcher. The series aired for 12 seasons, from 1984 to 1996.

Ruthlessly formulaic, most of its episodes follow a standard format: a murder is discovered, Jessica starts snooping around, the police tell her to let professionals handle things, she ignores them, deduces the murderer's identity in a Eureka Moment, and then engineers a public confession, frequently by tricking the murderer into a Just Between You and Me. And then everybody laughs. Later seasons did mess with the formula a bit, changing the mysteries from Christie-style whodunnits to Columbo-style howcatchums.

The series was followed by a series of four made-for-TV films, aired from 1997 to 2003, and also led to a short-lived Spin-Off, The Law and Harry McGraw.

An amusing interpretation (lampshaded in the show, no less) is that there is no better explanation for the sheer number of murders the lead character encounters throughout the long run of the series than her involvement in all of them. Indeed, if Cabot Cove alone were really to have suffered that many murders, it would top the national crime statistics by several orders of magnitude (as mentioned below, Cabot Cove has an estimated murder rate eighty-six times that of the most murderous city in the real world.) Also, if you're Jessica Fletcher's friend in any capacity but not an episode regular, you're pretty much doomed either to kill someone or be killed, or be wrongly arrested for being a killer.

Tropes used in Murder, She Wrote include:
  • All Just a Dream: "The Petrified Florist"
  • Always Murder
    • Two notable exceptions; "Just Another Fish Story"(self-defense), and "To The Last Will I Grapple With Thee"(suicide made to look like murder to implicate someone else).
  • Amateur Sleuth
  • Anti-Villain: One murder victim turned out to be blackmailing the more prominent men of her small town. But then it's implied she was using the money to anonymously support charities for orphans and widows.
  • Auction
  • Bluffing the Murderer
  • Busman's Holiday
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Ethan Cragg (Claude Akins), who appeared often enough in the first season to be considered a recurring character, disappears without explanation at the start of season two, his role as crusty Cabot Cove resident filled by Dr. Seth Hazlitt.
  • Creator Breakdown: Reversed, in-universe. The reason Jessica started writing her mysteries in the first place was to give herself an outlet to work through her grief over her husband's death.
  • Crossover: With Magnum, P.I.. The crossover episode was a two parter, with the first part on Magnum, P.I. and the second part was continued on the subsequent episode of Murder, She Wrote.
  • Dead Man Writing: "Truck Stop"
  • Death in the Clouds: "The Corpse Flew First Class"
  • Eagle-Eye Detection
  • Electrified Bathtub: "Sticks and Stones" and "Unauthorized Obituary"
  • Engineered Public Confession: Once an Episode
  • "Everybody Laughs" Ending: More like "Jessica Laughs Ending".
  • Fair Play Whodunnit
  • Fashion Dissonance: Especially in earlier seasons. It was The Eighties, after all.
  • Gender Flip: Ellery Queen as a middle-aged female.
  • Genre Blindness: There's no other possible explanation for why people continue to want to be Jessica's friends and neighbors.
  • Headless Horseman: Relocated to a prep school, and tied it in with the required murder.
  • Hidden Wire: Jessica does this several times as part of her Engineered Public Confessions.
  • Identical Grandson: Jessica has a cousin, also played by Angela Lansbury.
  • Just Between You and Me
  • Lady And A Scholar: The protagonist, of course.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Jessica and her husband Frank were childless; in the pilot, when speaking to a potential new love interest (who later turns out to be the killer), she explains that "We were never blessed in that way," suggesting that they wanted children but couldn't have them for whatever reason.
  • Little Old Lady Investigates
  • Magazine Decay: In-Universe example: a publishing magnate buys up a literary magazine called Literary Lines and adds Maxim-esque pictorals of bikini-clad ladies. This doesn't sit well with Jessica, who is under contract to have her first short story published in the magazine.
  • Murder Mystery Magnet: People drop dead around Jessica everywhere she goes. Everywhere. It's creepy.
    • It's been calculated that Cabot Cove has a murder rate of 86 per 1000; by comparison, the most murderous city in the world, Caracas, has a murder rate of 1.1 per 1000. That's not counting the murders that happen outside Cabot Cove...
    • In some years, more people were murdered in Cabot Cove on the show than were murdered in the entire state of Maine in Real Life.
    • Lampshaded in one episode when another character tells Jessica, "If murder were a disease, you'd be contagious."
    • Lampshaded again by Sheriff Metzger, a former New York cop, who after a year as the sheriff of Cabot Cove, asks Jessica, "Just what the hell's wrong with this town?"
    • The Mad Magazine parody of the series is named "Murder, She Hopes." Jessica is overjoyed every time she learns that a new murder has taken place.
  • Mystery Writer Detective
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: She sure doesn't sound like she's from Maine...
  • Oireland: The Celtic Riddle.
  • Pretty in Mink: Some furs show up.
  • Put on a Bus: The original sheriff retired when Tom Bosley left the show.
  • Nephewism: Jessica had no children, but many nieces and nephews. Grady Fletcher was the only repeater among them.
    • In one episode, it's explained that his parents died when he was little and Jessica and Frank raised him, thus giving him a reason to be a repeater nephew.
    • Jessica's other repeating relative was a niece and nephew in law played by Genie Francis and Jeff Conaway who had a continuing thread about wanting to be in the entertainment business.
  • New Neighbours as the Plot Demands
  • Other Me Annoys Me
  • Playing Drunk
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: In everything but intent. When Angela Lansbury started to tire of the pace of a weekly network show, a strategy was devised that would allow the network to do a full season without Lansbury having to do a full season. Slightly more than half of the episodes of the season would be full adventures of Jessica Fletcher. The remainder would be Poorly Disguised Pilots, for which Lansbury, as Fletcher, would film bookend sequences, explaining the new character we'd be seeing for the next hour — sometimes "real-world" acquaintances of Fletcher, sometimes Jessica's own fictional characters. They weren't really intended to Spin-off any of the characters (although if any were exceptionally successful, why not?)
  • Right Behind Me
  • Script Swap: Done in one episode with an aging actor whose memory is so bad he has to rely on the teleprompter. While this looks like an Engineered Public Confession, it is actually a ploy on Jessica Fletcher's part to trick the real killer into exposing themselves.
  • Sherlock Holmes: In the pilot, a man dressed as The Great Detective is the murder victim.
  • Shout-Out: In "Tough Guys Don't Die", the victim is a P.I. named Archie Miles.
    • "Prediction: Murder" has a housekeeper character named Greta Olsson.
  • Strictly Formula: Mostly played stright, though it should be noted that this was subverted from time to time. Earlier seasons, strangely enough, played with the formula more than later ones.
  • Summation Gathering: Occurred quite often.
  • Technology Marches On: During the run of the show Jessica goes from typing manuscripts on a typewriter to using a computer as reflected in updated opening credits.
  • Trans Atlantic Equivalent: More than a few people have mentioned that Jessica Fletcher could be considered an American Miss Marple. Especially hilarious, as Angela Lansbury has played both. In fact, the opening of "The Murder of Sherlock Holmes" is practically a direct lift from the opening of The Mirror Crack'd, the film Lansbury appeared in.
  • You Look Familiar: Oh so often in this series. Repeat offenders include (but aren't limited to) Jessica Walter, Gregg Henry, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, and Eugene Roche.
    • This even happens with recurring guest stars. Ron Masak, before joining the cast as Sheriff Mort Metzger, appeared in two earlier episodes (the first playing a cop in New York!).
    • William Windom played one of the guilty party in "Funeral at Fifty-Mile" before appearing as Dr. Seth Hazlitt in the second season.
    • Madlyn Rhue, before playing Cabot Cove's librarian in later seasons, appeared earlier as a victim's widow in "Seal of the Confessional".
    • Another interesting example is "Murder on Madison Avenue": Firstly, after having played Johnathan Quayle Higgins in the aforementioned Crossover with Magnum, P.I., John Hillerman appears in this episode as a completely different character, to the likely confusion of longtime viewers. Secondly, Barbara Babcock's character (her fourth on MSW, fifth if you count The Law and Harry McGraw) is murdered by her assistant (played by Hallie Foote), but in an interesting possible Casting Gag, the next season episode "For Whom the Ball Tolls" sees Babcock and Foote together again (playing completely different characters, of course), working together on a historic preservation commitee, as if nothing had ever happened.