HTF Review: Murder She Wrote - The Complete First Season

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Jason Perez, Mar 30, 2005.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Murder She Wrote: The Complete First Season

    Studio: Universal
    Year: 1984-1985
    Rated: Not Rated
    Running Time: 18 Hours 34 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (4:3)
    Captions: English
    Subtitles: French and Spanish
    Audio: English – Monaural

    Release Date:
    March 29th, 2005

    Set in Cabot Cove, Maine, a the quirky little town that served as home to novelist/super-sleuth Jessica Fletcher, Murder, She Wrote! is one of the most beloved and longest-running detective shows of all time. Angela Lansbury, who earned an amazing 12 straight Emmy® nominations for her work in the series, stars as Ms. Fletcher, a well-known mystery writer who has superb deductive abilities…a good thing, because murder seems to follow her everywhere she goes!

    Fletcher was a widowed former teacher who had attained celebrity status at the mid-point of her life via the popularity of her murder-mystery novels. Taking full advantage of the opportunities that her books afforded her to travel, Jessica would take frequent trips, often becoming embroiled in real murder investigations, and becoming quite the respected amateur detective.

    Although Ms. Lansbury was the only regular presence in the series, the show did frequently rely on recurring characters played by the likes of Tom Bosley, who portrayed Sheriff Amos Tupper; Jerry Orbach, who portrayed PI Harry McGraw; and Michael Horton, who portrayed Jessica’s nephew, Grady Fletcher. In addition, many episodes were contained guest appearances by prominent show business personalities, such as Leslie Nielsen, Joaquin Phoenix, Martin Landau, and Milton Berle, to name a few.

    Furhter, though there is no question that the writing was nowhere near as sophisticated as that found on some of today’s crime shows, like Law and Order or C.S.I., the cases Jessica Fletcher worked were intriguing. As such, a viewer would have to give the show more than passing attention if he or she was hoping to piece together the clues that would reveal each case’s killer.

    Some of the other notable characteristics of the show were its tongue-in-cheek humor and overall charm. I do realize that while I enjoyed this show’s humor, some people prefer their mysteries to be a bit more serious, so keep that in mind if you are looking to purchase this set but have never seen an episode. Finally, the fact that locations other than Miss Fletcher’s town of Cabot Cove were frequently used was welcome, as it gave the series a little variety. On that note, I suppose if Cabot Cove was the setting for each murder to unfold in, the series would have been over relatively quickly (it is a small town…get it?). Alright, I hear the crickets chirping, so let’s move along…

    The series aired a total of 263 color episodes from 7 October 1984 through 19 May 1996 and five made-for-TV-movies (including the 90-minute pilot “The Murder of Sherlock Holmes”, which aired in September of 1984), started with the 22 episodes (running about 50 minutes each) outlined below:

    --- “The Murder of Sherlock Holmes” (90-minute pilot) Air Date - 09/30/1984
    In the very first installment of the series, guest starring the great Ned Beatty, Jessica attends a costume party at her publisher’s home, which is festive until a guest masquerading as Sherlock Holmes is murdered, and Grady is arrested for the murder.

    --- “Deadly Lady” Air Date – 10/07/1984
    In “Deadly Lady”, the four daughters of a very wealthy man tell the authorities that their father was swept off of the family yacht while in inclement weather. Smelling a rat, Jessica sets out to prove that the man’s death was no accident.

    --- “Birds of a Feather” Air Date – 10/14/1984
    This time out, Jessica arrives in San Francisco for a family wedding, but as you might have guessed, death follows her on the trip, and the bridegroom ends up facing a murder rap! His only hope…you guessed it – Jessica Fletcher! Notable guest stars on this episode included Martin Landau, Jeff Conaway, and Gabe Kaplan.

    --- “Hooray for Homicide” Air Date 10/28/1984
    In the fourth episode from season one, our super-sleuth becomes a suspect in the investigation into the death of a movie producer that who wanted to turn one of Jessica’s novels into a B-movie.

    --- “It’s a Dog’s Life” Air Date – 11/04/1984
    This installment, which co-stars Lynn Redgrave, chronicles Jessica’s visit to her cousin, which turns into an investigation into the mysterious death of fox hunter, and the prime suspect is the heir to his fortune...his prized dog!

    --- “Lovers and Other Killers” Air Date 11/18/1984
    In “Lovers…”, Ms. Fletcher is lecturing at a university in Seattle, Washington, when the young man she hired to serve as her secretary is accused killing his girlfriend. Jessica’s instincts tell her the accusation is untrue, but is she right?

    --- “Hit, Run, and Homicide” Air Date 11/25/1984
    In her latest adventure, Jessica lends a hand to a rather eccentric inventor who is accused of killing his former partner, with one of his inventions no less!

    --- “We’re Off to Kill the Wizard” Air Date 12/09/1984
    As this episode begins, we see Jessica being asked to investigate the murder of a very wealthy, and very much disliked, amusement park owner who had hired her to design a House of Horrors attraction.

    --- “Death Takes a Curtain Call” Air Date 12/16/1984
    In “Death Takes a Curtain Call”, Jessica is attending a ballet performance when a young dancer is murdered backstage. Luckily for everyone, Jessica Fletcher is on the scene to investigate!

    --- “Death Casts a Spell” Air Date 12/30/1984
    In this episode, which co-stars Jose Ferrer, a hypnotist is brutally murdered in front of several journalists whom he had placed into a trance, yet another unexplained crime which Jessica is sought out to help solve.

    --- “Capitol Offense” Air Date 01/06/1985
    When Jessica is tabbed to replace a deceased Congressman in Washington, D.C., she finds a great deal of political gamesmanship and intrigue awaiting her in the nation’s capitol.

    --- “Broadway Malady” Air Date 11/13/1985
    In this episode, Jessica is forced into another family squabble, this time involving a Broadway legend and her daughter, who are co-starring in a successful musical.

    --- “Murder to a Jazz Beat” Air Date 2/03/1985
    Jessica is on the move again, this time in New Orleans, but she still cannot get away from murder, and is enlisted to solve the mysterious death of a famous musician who died in the middle of a performance.

    --- “My Johnny Lies Over The Ocean” Air Date – 2/10/
    This installment focuses on another of Jessica’s family members, her niece, who is terrorized on a cruise she was taking to get her mind of her husband’s recent suicide.

    --- “Paint Me A Murder” Air Date 2/17/1985
    In this episode, which features guest appearances by Robert Goulet, and Cesar Romero, a famous artist’s birthday bash ends on a sour note, when he is haunted by a murderer on his posh island villa.

    --- “Tough Guys Don’t Die” Air Date 2/24/1985
    While conducting research for her next novel, Jessica looks into the death of a Private Investigator she had hired to look into several old murder cases that were never solved. Her partner in the attempt to solve the man’s killing is another PI named Harry McGraw (the late Jerry Orbach), who tries to help Jessica determine which one of cases contains the motive for the PI’s demise.

    --- “Sudden Death” Air Date 3/3/1985
    This installment chronicles Jessica’s attempt to pare down a list of murder suspects when the disagreeable owner of a football team, is found dead.

    --- “Footnote To Murder” Air Date – 3/10/1985
    In this episode, Jessica sets out to find a murderer who killed an aspiring author and stole an unpublished manuscript during an awards show.

    --- “Murder Takes The Bus” Air Date – 3/17/1985
    “Murder Takes The Bus”, which co-stars Linda Blair and Golden Girl Rue McClanahan, treats with Jessica’s trip to Portland, Maine, via bus, which takes a turn for the worse when a passenger is murdered. It seems death follows her wherever she goes!!!

    --- “Armed Response” Air Date 3/31/1985
    This time out, Jessica, who has been hospitalized (despite her protests) due to a minor injury, investigates the murder of a fellow patient.

    --- “Murder At The Oasis” Air Date 4/7/1985
    The second to last installment of Season One features Jessica using her deductive abilities to resolve the death of her college roommate’s spouse, an unpopular show-business personality who discovers that elaborate security systems cannot guarantee complete safety.

    --- “Funeral At Fifty-Mile” Air Date 4/21/1985
    In “Funeral At Fifty Mile”, a Wyoming rancher leaves his entire estate to a stranger, much to the disgust of his own daughter. This unexpected turn of events also raises Jessica’s suspicions.

    While Murder, She Wrote was a well above-average detective series, especially in its time, its “full frame (1.33:1)” visual presentation on DVD is decidedly below average. As is usually the case, however, I will prep you with the good news first! [​IMG]

    To begin with, the 90-minute pilot has a slightly washed out appearance, but the episodes feature decent color rendering, and even bright, bold colors exhibit almost no discernable noise or bleed. Black level is generally fine as well, so Jessica Fletcher’s murder investigations have a fair enough amount of shadow delineation.

    Unfortunately, with the good (or decent, in this case) comes some bad…these episodes are far from clean. Indeed, the rather dingy looking prints contain both a fair amount of damage and video noise, which definitely detracted from my viewing experience. Further, fine/small object detail is disappointing, and the “soft” image does not contain much in the way of depth or texture.

    All in all, however, it was nice to revisit the Murder, She Wrote series, and while the image quality is not great, it is not so bad that fans of the series will want to avoid this set. Personally speaking, although the plusses and minuses about even out, I still would have welcomed some sort of restoration effort to make these episodes a bit easier on the eyes.

    Even as television product goes, Universal’s monaural soundtracks for these episodes left me wanting. As you might expect, these episodes are almost entirely dialogue driven (there is some cheesy music here and there), so it was a disappointment to hear that dialogue frequently lacked clarity and fidelity. The show’s music and sound effects suffered a similar fate, and the soundstage also seemed extremely narrow to me, even by monaural standards

    Don’t get me wrong, you can still hear everything the characters are saying without too much effort, but when compared to other Universal “season sets” of shows that aired in the 1980s, the audio on these discs just doesn’t stack up.


    There are no value-added materials in this set. [​IMG] That’s right – zip, zilch, nada…you get the point. This is quite a disappointment considering the show enjoyed such longevity.


    (on a five-point scale)
    Episodes: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    It “feels” a bit dated, but Murder, She Wrote still contains enough charm, wit, and good old-fashioned whodunit mysteries to make it worth watching, not to mention the wonderful performance by perennial Emmy® nominee Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher. The impressive roster of guest stars add some variety to the series, and most of the episodes in this Season One set are relatively well written, even if they do not quite measure up to the shows on television/cable today.

    As far as presentation goes, this Season One package comes encased in three separate keepcases, which are in turn housed in an attractive cardboard slipcover. Unfortunately, the image and sound quality are not quite as attractive, and Universal has done better work with other TV product from the period, such as The A-Team and Knight Rider. Overall, however, A/V quality for the set is still serviceable.

    All in all, despite the passage of 20 years since it first aired, Murder, She Wrote is still good light entertainment, and is sure to both tickle the ribs and engage the mind with the investigation into each episodes’ mysteries. With that being said, I will give this set a mildly enthusiastic recommendation, even though I would have liked to see some value-added material (this was a popular show, after all!) and better image/sound quality.

    Stay tuned…
  2. Andrew Budgell

    Andrew Budgell Screenwriter

    Mar 12, 2002
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    Ontario, Canada
    Real Name:
    Andy Budgell
    Great review, Jason! Can't wait to delve into my set!

  3. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

    Feb 24, 1999
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    my parents *love* this show and this might make a nice b-day present for my dad...

    thanks for the review!

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