TV hit the jackpot when Angela Lansbury agreed to star in a prime-time detective series.
Forty-one years after her first movie, “Gaslight,” she was 58 when “Murder, She Wrote” premiered in September 1984 on CBS. At the time, she had already won four Tony Awards and been nominated for three Oscars.
With all of her accomplishments, it would be the TV show that would make her a household name, as TV often does.
“Murder, She Wrote” ran for 12 seasons, ending in 1996. She was nominated for 12 Emmys for playing sleuth Jessica Fletcher, but won none.
Afterwards, she would go on to win two more Tonys in a career that lasted for an estimated 75 years. She died in October at age 97.
At this time of year, it is appropriate to look back, remember and say good-bye to the TV greats both behind and in front of the cameras who left us this year.
We were all stunned by the death of Kirstie Alley at age 71 earlier this month. She will forever be remembered for her brass and sass for as long as reruns of “Cheers” are seen somewhere in the television universe.
This year, the “Seinfeld” universe lost two of the most memorable mothers in the history of television -- Estelle Harris, who was so unforgettable as Estelle Costanza, mother of George; and Liz Sheridan, Jerry's mother, Helen. They were both 93 and died in the same month last April.
Acclaimed actor Philip Baker Hall, 90, delivered what may stand as the most memorable, and easily the funniest soliloquy in the history of television when he laid down the law as the tough library detective Joe Bookman on “Seinfeld” in 1991.
In 1992, character actress Rae Allen played another authority figure in “Seinfeld,” Lenore Sokol, world-weary agent of the unemployment office who allows George Costanza to date her daughter. Allen, 95 when she died, also played the mother of Tony Blundetto (Steve Buscemi) in “The Sopranos.”
Speaking of “The Sopranos,” Tony Soprano may have been the central character in the series, but Paulie Walnuts was everybody's favorite. The actor who played him, Tony Sirico, died this year at age 79.
Peter Bogdanovich was a renowned director and movie historian who played Dr. Elliot Kupferburg in “The Sopranos” -- psychiatrist for Tony Soprano's psychiatrist, Jennifer Melfi (Lorraine Bracco).
“The Sopranos” universe also lost Paul Herman this year, who played the hard luck Beansie, and Robert LuPone, brother of Patti, who played the Sopranos' next-door neighbor Dr. Bruce Cusamano.
This year we lost two of the finest comedians of their generation -- Gilbert Gottfried, 67, and Louie Anderson, 68.
Bob Saget, 65, was a comedian too, who went on to full-fledged TV stardom in “Full House.” His death this year from what appears to have been a tragic fall in a hotel room came as sudden, sad news.
The list of familiar faces from TV seasons past is long this year. Nichelle Nichols, 89, became an icon of the 1960s as Lt. Nyota Uhura on “Star Trek.”
Dwayne Hickman, 87, will be forever remembered as Dobie Gillis (“The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis”).
Larry Storch, 99, is forever etched in our memories as the immortal Corporal Agarn in “F Troop.” Howard Hesseman, 81, will never be forgotten as disc jockey Johnny Fever in “WKRP In Cincinnati.”
With great sorrow, we say good-bye to the great Tony Dow, 77, aka Wally Cleaver from one of the foundational sitcoms of TV history, “Leave It To Beaver.”
The list goes on with James Caan (“Brian’s Song,” “Vegas”), Paul Sorvino (“Law & Order”), Robert Morse (“Mad Men”), Johnny Brown (“Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and “Good Times”), Tim Considine (“My Three Sons”), Robert Clary (“Hogan’s Heroes”), Clarence Gilyard (“Walker, Texas Ranger”) and Stuart Margolin (“The Rockford Files”).
And let us not forget Taurean Blacque (“Hill Street Blues”), Gregory Itzin (“24”), Roger Mosley (“Magnum P.I.”), Gloria McMillan (“Our Miss Brooks”), June Blair (“The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett”), William Reynolds (“The FBI”), Joe E. Tata (“Beverly Hills 90210”), Bob McGrath (“Sesame Street,” “Sing Along With Mitch”) and Leslie Jordan (“Will & Grace,” “Call Me Kat” and so much more).
Farewell to them all and sincere, heartfelt gratitude for the television memories they left behind.
From the world of TV news, we say a year-end farewell and thank you to CNN anchor emeritus Bernard Shaw, Jim Hartz of “The Today Show,” TV newsman and one-time dean of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism Ken Bode, former NBC News President Richard Wald and the incomparable Bill Plante of CBS News.
A very grateful tip of our fedoras to pioneering network news producer Av Westin and the immortal Al Primo, the man credited with creating the “Eyewitness News” format for local stations and in the process changed the very face of local TV news.
Special recognition goes to another pioneer of local TV news, the beloved Trudy Haynes, who became the first African-American reporter for KYW-TV in Philadelphia in 1965 and stayed there until she retired in 1999.
From the world of radio, we say good-bye at year's end to Bernard McGuirk, producer and sidekick for Don Imus on “Imus in the Morning,” and the great Jim Bohannon, renowned host of his own nationally syndicated radio talk show for 37 years.
A special farewell and thanks for the memories to one of the radio business’s leading lights, entrepreneur Norm Pattiz, founder of Westwood One, the radio network and syndication company whose roster of top talent included Casey Kasem, Dr. Ruth and Larry King.
Nikki Finke earns her very own special salute here. She founded Deadline.com and became renowned and feared as the most dogged and tenacious journalist in the business of covering the entertainment industry who ever lived.
From the executive suites, we remember one-time PBS President Bruce Christensen and Thomas Murphy, who, with the late Dan Burke, shocked the TV business when their company, Capital Cities Communications, bought ABC for $3.5 billion in 1986.
Farewell to the people who made the shows: Bert Metcalfe, executive producer of “M*A*S*H”; David Davis, co-creator of “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Taxi,” and writer/producer on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Rhoda”; and Jay Wolpert, who spent his career at the very center of game show production and creation from the 1960s to the 2010s.
Last but definitely not least, the holiday season is the appropriate time to remember animator Jules Bass, whose production company Rankin/Bass -- formed with the late Arthur Rankin in 1960 -- is known to all who have ever watched some of the longest-running of TV's perennial Christmas classics, including “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Frosty the Snowman” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Jules Bass passed away in October at the age of 87.