Don’t Call It A Reboot: The Strange Case of Murder, She Wrote

Was Angela Lansbury threatened by Octavia Spencer, or the very word "reboot"

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Murder, She Wrote
NBC / Getty Images

Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher

Cabot Cove can add another death to its long list, with the news that NBC‘s Murder, She Wrote reboot won’t be going ahead after all. Announced last year to much excitement, there was one person in particular who didn’t share in the optimism about the show, which leads to the obvious question: Did Angela Lansbury kill the brand new Jessica Fletcher because she thinks “reboot” is a dirty word?

“I think it’s a mistake to call it Murder, She Wrote,” Lansbury said about the project during an interview with the Associated Press last year, “because Murder, She Wrote will always be about Cabot Cove and this wonderful group of people who told those lovely stories and enjoyed a piece of that place, and also enjoyed Jessica Fletcher, who is a rare and very individual kind of person.”

Though there’s no evidence that NBC took its cues from Lansbury, it’s easy to understand where she was coming from, even outside of whatever territorial feelings she may have about the pretender to this particular televisual throne. Whatever the new murder mystery series would have ended up becoming, it wouldn’t have been an exact replica of Lansbury’s — especially if it wanted to be a success with today’s audiences.

The original Murder, She Wrote seemed unrealistic even at the time, filled with coincidences and melodrama that stretched credulity for all but the least demanding viewer. The “cozy mystery” genre that it sat squarely within doesn’t even really exist on TV these days, with arguably a couple of exceptions. (And even something like Fox’ Bones is considerably more graphic and gory than anything that Mme. Fletcher would have put up with once upon a time.)

Then again, on a very basic level, the proposed show starring Octavia Spencer shared a basic concept with the Lansbury series: Both center around a female writer of mystery novels who ends up being an amateur sleuth solving murders each week. That core concept, surely, is what defines Murder, She Wrote more than the Maine setting or Lansbury herself. And, if the new Spencer series hadn’t used the title officially, critics would’ve been happy to nonetheless. (Well, that or “It’s like a female Castle.”)

Part of the problem, I suspect, is the very idea of the “reboot” that has become so much a part of the cultural landscape over the last few years — or, to be more precise, the very language of the reboot. In earlier times, such projects would have been called “revivals,” perhaps, or “remakes” — terms that suggested some kind of relationship with the original, but one that was entirely separate and respectful towards its source material. A relationship that was less aggressive or adversarial, as well.

(MORE: Here Are the First Photos from Mad Men Season 7)

“Reboot,” however, brings to mind something altogether more dismissive. The word suggests a do-over, starting again and wiping out what’s already been created — usually out of necessity, because something has gone wrong in some way with the earlier attempt(s). Most people know the term from its connection with technology, and you reboot computers that have crashed, after all.

The idea that Spencer’s reboot would have somehow invalidated Lansbury’s original Murder, She Wrote may have been behind this particular objection about the new series. That’s an understandable concern, in a way. When someone talks about Battlestar Galactica now, for example, it’s rare that people think they’re talking about the show with Lorne Greene and Richard Hatch as opposed to the one where Edward James Olmos frowns while political allegories explode in the background. Of course, that isn’t always the case; multiple attempts to reboot The Twilight Zone have done little to replace Rod Sterling’s original, and audiences have proven to be able to keep the many different big-screen incarnations of Batman separate in their heads, allowing both Adam West and Christian Bale to co-exist despite their many contradictions when it comes to how dark a dark knight should be. Perhaps reboots are instead examples of pop-culture Darwinism, allowing the strongest to survive and quietly banishing the rest to YouTube.

Nonetheless, there remains something almost disrespectful about the verbiage of “rebooting” something, especially given the opportunity to use the terms “revive” or “remake.” Whereas “rebooting” bring a harshness and suggestion that you’re managing to approach the material in a dismissively superior way to what has come before, there’s an oddly positive quality to those other terms (with “revive” going so far as to sound gentle, almost).

“Reviving” a project sounds as if you’re assisting it in some way, nursing it back to health after a sickness, while “remaking,” suggests that there was something so good, so valuable about the original that it’s worth trying to recapture the magic using whatever method possible. If NBC had announced the new Murder, She Wrote as a remake, or a revival, instead of a reboot, would Lansbury have recognized a coded compliment and not come out so strongly against the series? NBC is reportedly not ruling out another go at Murder, She Wrote — maybe if they stop calling it a reboot it will have a better chance at life.

29 comments
CatherineDavis1
CatherineDavis1

The best Murder, She Wrote episodes were set in Cabot Cove, Maine, and other small towns. I have the series on DVD and the ones I almost never watch are those involving international intrigue and those set in foreign locations -- although a couple set in Ireland, "Wind Around the Tower" and "Nan's Ghost", were good as was "Widow, Weep for Me," which was set in the Caribbean. 

As for credibility, ALL TV shows are incredulous, none more so than the current CSI and NCIS shows because things just don't happen that way in real life. And just because American TV doesn't have any "cozies" airing now doesn't mean they are no longer popular. In England, "Midsomer Murders," a cozy, has been running since 1997 and it is very popular in the US, as are Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot on PBS. Perhaps if the US offered more cozies, more people would watch.

eturner547
eturner547

I only just stumbled across this and have mixed feelings on the subject. I'm actually 23 (and a guy) and I love Murder She Wrote. I don't watch it quite as much now as I've seen every episode multiple times through the Hallmark channel yet I can always count on it to keep me entertained even now. I think the concept of a show with a similar plot would be good, but a remake/reboot does make it seem like your replacing the original. Also I'm not racist and it's not the race exactly that bothers me but the age of who the leading actor would have been. I haven't looked her up nor recognize the name off the top of my head yet based on these comments she would have been younger than the original main character. I think people liked the character of Jessica Fletcher because while the mysterious weren't easy to solve and were intriguing, even the other characters noted how strange it was due to her age & occupation that she was solving crimes let alone butting in on police business. I've joked for years about how I wouldn't want to hang around Jessica Fletcher because it seems like people die where ever she goes. It was a bit out there on realism but the cases had real science and she solved them using realistic deductive techniques. In the end the remake probably wouldn't have made it past a few episodes or the first season, yet I'll always wonder what it might have been like. 

JesseVCoffey
JesseVCoffey

Angela Lansbury didn't kill it -- the fans did. And that show has a LOT of fans who didn't want to see MSW remade in any way, shape, or form. I'm proud to say I'm one. There is only one Murder She Wrote. Leave it that way.

What is Hollywood's incessant need to remake movies and television shows from the past? Are they totally unable to come up with new material now?

CarlaKinmanWillis
CarlaKinmanWillis

I agree with the author, "reboot" is the wrong description...NBC should never have called it that.  No wonder they keep falling short.  Classics never require a reboot.  I am able to watch this on Netflix and am delighted by it still!

StankoniaRoberts
StankoniaRoberts

I'm very happy that it will not be remade.   The original was a cozy, classic "Whodunit" series that didn't heavily rely on technology and had a wonderful small-town setting.  I suspect that the new version would have relied on databases, cell phones, GPS and the like, in order to solve mysteries.  Very useful for the real world and for a slick high-action movie like "Mission: Impossible", but not that fun for an ongoing t.v. show.  

gg4x
gg4x

To therantguy - as a "geriatric" myself, I take umbrage to your unkind, cruel and ignorant remarks about the older generation.  You wouldn't be here if it weren't for the older generation and you will become the older generation eventually unless the alternative gets you first.  Oh, just so you know, in case you don't know what "umbrage" means - look it up - or is that just from the older generation who actually knows the English language.  This was a wonderful show that all ages loved.  The ones on TV today don't even come close!

inquisitive500
inquisitive500

The original Murder, She Wrote seemed unrealistic even at the time, filled with coincidences and melodrama that stretched credulity for all but the least demanding viewer."


You are way off with that comment. The original Murder, She Wrote kept viewers on the edge of their seats. I am a writer and a very demanding viewer. That show and Lansbury was entertaining, heartwarming, a bit spooky at times, and scary, too. 


The writer of this article was born in Ireland in the 70's, according to his bio which states:  he "was raised on a diet of comics, Doctor Who and gritty life on the streets just like in Trainspotting." He didn't even begin living the United States until 2002. How on earth can he claim to know what he's writing about when it comes to a U.S.-based classic like Murder, She Wrote?


What were the editors at entertainment.time.com thinking when they assigned this article to him? 


Quite frankly, we need more shows like Murder, She Wrote and Columbo, shows that are not so graphic—shows that let viewers escape into an engrossing viewing experience that entertains rather than horrifies or shocks.


Why does the current TV and movie production crowd keep remaking shows? Obviously, they lack imagination. This show was a classic and should never be redone. Look at the overabundance of Cinderella remakes. Leslie Ann Warren will always be Cinderella in my mind. 


Angela Lansbury is a class act like so many actors and actresses of her generation. If you haven't seen some of the movies she was in, do take a look. They're wonderful. Lansbury, by the way, was born in England, but she certainly talks like an American! Obviously she made the effort to acquire the accents that each role demanded of her. Truly one of the greats of the entertainment world. 

judyb1945
judyb1945

The  "cozy" mystery genre" NEEDS  to exist on tv today!   I find myself watching masterpiece mystery shows  more and more!   Great stories with great actors of quality there and on Murder She Wrote also.  Will always remain one of my favorite shows.

Memexz
Memexz

I am relieved! I also agree 100% with Jillxz. 'Nuf said!

Jillxz
Jillxz

I'm glad NBC axed this.  Some things are classics and should never be remade. 

PatCradenBrown
PatCradenBrown

I just loved Murder She Wrote!!!! I don;t care how you bring it back Please just bring it back. It was a wonderful clean show and my Fanily just enjoyed it so much!!!!!

cammenbert
cammenbert

Oh come on. Murder She Wrote was great that is why it lasted so long. Angela Lansbury was delightful. Cabot Cove was the place everyone would have loved to visit and come out alive! The problem with this remake was the choice of the person for Jessica Fletcher. I don't know why everything is being remade with a black person now (i.e. Rosemary's Baby). To be honest why not do it again just for the fun, with Anglea Lansbury?? BTW Olivia could not have been Jessicas lost daughter because she didn't have one!

ChaseSheridan
ChaseSheridan

I am not "geriatric" (yet!:)) and I loved the fun and ridiculous but often serious exploits of Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher.

I will always think of Angela when I hear or read about Jessica.

The title of the "new" show could have been Murder She Wrote and that would have been okay, but Olivia should NOT have been a "reboot" of Jessica. She could have been Jessica's niece or long lost daughter, or an in law, half sister, anybody but Jessica herself.

SusanLowe
SusanLowe

Was Olivia Spencer going to play a gentle person like Jessica Fletcher? I'm sure that Spencer could play that character but she has made her bones, so to speak, playing women with an attitude and I would bet that it's that character the producers want her to play.. When I read the first description of the character and the series, it didn't appear that it was anything like "Murder, She Wrote." The producers should spend a little time and creative effort coming up with another catchy title and let Spencer do her thing. She has great comedic timing and could make a hit.

GS47
GS47

Who on earth wanted to see a BLACK Jessica anyway?

katiegee
katiegee

It never would have worked, I said that from day one.  You do not try to reboot an iconic television program and change everything and expect it to work.  No attempts in the past have worked, don't know what they were thinking.   If you like a show you do something based on it, not copy it.  That's what Murder She Wrote was itself- it was based on Miss Marple's character by Agatha Christie.  It was derivative, not a copy.  That would work, wish they had opted for that first.

therantguy
therantguy

Pshaw. You heard me. Pshaw. The idea that NBC would make decisions on a new show based on the wishes of an 88 year old former star with no leverage or say in the matter is just silly. Like people were going to refuse to watch because Angela Lansbury said she was against it? And, how, pray tell were the geriatrics that followed the original show even going to hear about her wishes? The newspaper? Give me a break.

RobertaFarris
RobertaFarris

I agree with you as well. I'm 44 and I watched "Murder, She Wrote" every week with my parents. And I still watch it today! It's on Monday through Friday on the Hallmark Movie Network. Four episodes air back-to-back beginning at 10 p.m. (CST). Every once in a while, they even have a weekend of episodes that begin on Saturday and run for nearly 48 hours. Watching the show takes me back to a time when things weren't so complicated and everything wasn't aired within seconds of it happening on the Internet or Facebook or Twitter.

StankoniaRoberts
StankoniaRoberts

@judyb1945  That's a perfect word--"cozy".  I am 40 years old, and have been bored by the more recent t.v. shows.  I find myself watching "Downton Abbey", but also falling back on old reliables such as "The Golden Girls", "Cheers", and "Matlock".  

StankoniaRoberts
StankoniaRoberts

@GS47  Well, I think that anyone who played the character would have been a miscast unless she was actually Lansbury's age at the time of the original show and was white with a British affect.

yeahisaidit
yeahisaidit

Who on earth wanted to see white Egyptians?? ( Liz Taylor)  ijs..

mswebcam31
mswebcam31

@GS47 who cares about her being black certain things shouldn't be remade 

Mad_Dawg
Mad_Dawg

@therantguy

We geriatrics heard about it the same way you did -- on the Internet.  And I think cancelling the idea was a good decision.  Think Ironside -- lasted two episodes.  Make the show, use the concept, but name it something else.

acter
acter

Sorry, but I'm not a geriatric, or anywhere close.  I work in technology, too, so I heard about it the same way you did.  Stop being so dismissive.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff

@therantguy

You know, a spoon full of olive oil every morning will help you with that mental constipation problem you have.

As for the "geriatrics" crack, age and experience always trump youth and naivety unless someone just wants to take advantage of the naive. And from the sound of it, you didn't learn much from that experience.