The Gaff in a Head Act

Episode Card_S01E07 (Ep7)

Say, what happens when someone hates the very premise of a show, but then is booked on a podcast about that specific show? Let’s find out! Aaron Bleyaert (Conan, RJ and Bley Suck at Girls) joins Jon and RJ to talk about “Now You See Him…,” which features Columbo repeat offender Jack Cassidy as a murderous magician whose Nazi past is discovered. Will Lt. Columbo be able to match wits with someone to who whom illusion and subterfuge are as essential as water and air? Will we even get through 20 minutes of the show? What of issues of class? Thought experiments? Will we be able to change Aaron’s mind about Columbo? It’s kind of one of those you-have-to-listen-and-find-out-for-yourself deals.

29 comments on “The Gaff in a Head Act

  1. Imagine if your guest had seen some old episodes and noticed that the murder in this episode looks EXACTLY like two other murderers that Columbo had recently sent to jail. He would go over the edge.

    Despite the missed opportunities to discuss the Mike Lally scene and the Danny Green angle, and any number of other things, it was a trip to hear someone who just doesn’t get Columbo. 🙂

      1. OK maybe not an idiot but some of his points just didn’t make sense. How could Santini use a phone to make his voice appear in the room? 1 He would need a phone on the steps where he was waiting 2. If he called the phone in the room who would answer it? 3. If he took the phone off the hook he wouldn’t be able to call it. Makes no sense.

        As far as the lamp thing goes, WE know that Santini isn’t in the room so we pay special attention to how the shadows look and yes it looks weird to us but the guy bringing the drinks has no idea Santini isn’t in the room so any movement at all will be enough to convince him that nothing is awry.

        As for the whole Nazi angle that your guest had a problem with, all this goes to motive. As Columbo says “there is always a motive”. Columbo is basically trying to uncover two things. Who committed the murder and how. Then what is their motive? your guests suggests that owing him money would be motive enough. I say not. Who would kill someone just because they owe them money? killing someone to GET money yes especially big sums of money but being exposed as a Nazi criminal is a far better motive. The extortion only bolsters it.

        The lounge singer is cringe worthy but this is 1976, the audience is mostly older people. These would be people who grew up listening to Perry Como and Tony Bennett not the Beatles. So this type of music would probably suit them.

        You guys didn’t mention the typewriter scene with Sgt Wilson or the end when Columbo for some reason saw fit to bring 100 copies of the incriminating letter.

      2. Wow, where did you get this guy? Has he ever heard of using his indoor voice? Whatever point he was trying to make would come across much better if it wasn’t buried in f-bombs.

  2. I like how you get your titles, I was going to guess this one would be “The hot plate is mine, everything else belongs to the joint”.

  3. As a die-hard lover of Columbo, I acknowledge that there are some not-so-hot episodes. But this one is one of my favorites (Jack Cassidy was always so wonderfully smug), and it was very frustrating to listen to a guest who just refuses to engage with the material he has been asked to review for the show. I don’t particularly care for CSI, but if I was invited to be a guest on my friend’s show where they talk about CSI, I would at least make an attempt to meet the show halfway. It seems like this guy didn’t even try.

  4. In Bley’s defense, if you hop ahead about halfway you’ll find that he ends up pretty open to approaching Columbo from a new perspective. Plus, y’know, his criticisms of the show’s format were coming from a sincere place, and I appreciate that.

    As hosts, of course, RJ and I are responsible for making sure the program is entertaining and interesting to our audience, so if you have trouble getting through this one, that blame really lies on us. Do give this one a chance, if you can, and stick around for next ep’s guest …

    1. Yes for sure, his criticism of the show started out frankly pointless, but at some point, even well before halfway, he became more thoughtful about it and said some pretty interesting things.

    2. It’s true that I wrote that comment before I had finished the episode and he did eventually come around, sort of. But I was floored by his lack of knowledge not only about Columbo, but a lot of pop culture (Cheers, Dan Hedaya, etc). I usually think of comedy writers as being fairly knowledgeable about these sorts of things because I’ve always felt that one of the keys to writing comedy well is being culturally informed. And to dismiss the very structure of Columbo is to kind of miss the point of how audacious its very premise is. I’m not mad at the show or even the guest. I love the podcast and will definitely continue listening. I guess it just hurt to hear something that I love so dearly be attacked groundlessly. It’s like tuning in to a James Bond podcast and suddenly hearing someone loudly ranting that James Bond sucks!

    3. I don’t see it that way at all. The only concession he made was the last 10 minutes of the show. The payoff. But he fails to grasp the point of the show. It’s not a police procedural or a whodunnit. The whole point of the show is Columbo’s ability to grasp the psychology of the murderer. He’s done this many times and he knows how the mind of a killer works.

      Columbo will show up at the scene and spend 5 minutes just looking around and asking a couple of basic questions getting his sense of what happened. By this time he usually has a good idea of what happened and who the killer is. Almost from the get go he will focus his attention on that person. Then he will use certain techniques to confirm his suspicions.

      When he presents inconsistencies or loose ends as he calls them, to the killer they will try and explain those inconsistencies away in order to throw Columbo off the trail, whereas an innocent person would just say “yes you’re right that doesn’t make sense why someone would do that”

      I will agree with your guest on the length of the show. There were certain amounts of filler in the early episodes. I guess that’s why they eventually shortened the show down.

  5. I actually kinda liked it. Now, I love Columbo and this is a good ep in my book BUT the guy did have some good points and it was funny.
    That being said, I do wonder how these podcasts (not just this Columbo one), find their guests. Just ’cause you’re in the industry does not make you qualified to talk about a show you’ve never seen before. Hell, I’m an English teacher and I’ve been watching Columbo down here in Sydney since I was a little kid back in the 70s- I’d be more than happy to appear as a guest.

  6. Love the podcast….I at first was worried about this guest..it’s a good thing he was pretty funny and ultimately came around, because at first he seemed like a reallly bad choice as guest. Dissing the clever twist of Columbo plotting in favor of traditional whodunit format doesn’t show a lot of imagination on his part and I don’t know how any one in pop culture doesn’t get more exposure to a Columbo episode. I’m not even in the industry and I know who Dan Hedaya is.

    As i said i love the podcast but have two suggestions to share, free of charge! 🙂

    1. Change the format so that you go through the plot chronologically. I like the up front recaps but then the chatter jumps around so much that it misses out on things and it’s hard to follow.

    2. Bring back Mallory Ortberg and other guests who ‘get’ Columbo like your listeners–yet can still have fun w/it.

    1. Agree completely with point 1. You guys spend way too much time talking about stuff not related to the show. I know that can happen when you are not working from the script but I find it a bit distracting. In fact I would find this easier if you could present it as a video where you talk over the video of the show kind of like commentaries on DVD’s. Then discuss scenes as they come up.

  7. Oh no! I’m sorry to hear such negative reviews of this episode! I have always been the one trying to introduce new people to Columbo except I’ve never had them come around. To be fair, he did say that a lot of his early dislike came from misconception of what the show was about, and now he’d watch a couple more episodes with a new perspective in mind.

    Personally I love to hear different people just react to it. It’s my favourite thing when people mistake it for a murder mystery with any sort of plot that makes any real sense. It really is just a great big character study that attempts to get characters to react to each other in weird and interesting ways. This too is one of my personal favourite episodes. The Cassidy and McGoohan ones are really just the best.

    1. You’re absolutely right about the whole character study thing. That’s why it bugs me when people nit pick about procedural stuff and legal stuff like “they would never get this guy in court with this flimsy evidence”. argghh it’s not about that. It’s a TV show where we get to watch one guy battle wits with another guy (or girl in some cases)

      My favorite episodes are the ones where the killer goes through great lengths to lay out this perfect murder then slowly Columbo will start to pull on threads one by one till the whole thing falls apart. We get to see the murderer become gradually unhinged as they see Columbo getting closer and closer to exposing them.

  8. Add me to the not so happy list and I listened to every word. He did make a concession at the end, but for me it was too little too late. He clearly did not understand Columbo and as fans, I think most of us look forward to hearing how others enjoy it just as we do. I don’t mind people coming to it without any experience, but I do mind those who openly insult it on a fan show. Please do not mistake criticism for insults.

    He did have a few valid points though. Raincoats in LA are definitely not needed, but in that day men of his age still wore coats and even hats. Also, it gets pretty dang chilly in the evenings in LA year around. I wear my coat in July when I’m there (usually twice a year or so), in the evenings, sometimes even during the day. Even in the Big Bang Theory (except for Penny because they want us to see her breasts) they all wear long sleeves, some with sweaters and jackets.

    I listened to a number of these podcasts at a time, so please pardon me if I get some facts confused with other episodes, but I believe he was mocking the clothing worn by some of the people in the show. They were too dressy, not in flip flops. I was born in the late ’60s so I grew up in the 70s and early 80s. Let me explain something here.

    Until the 80s, casual clothes for dinner was not usually acceptable. It was inappropriate to go to a dinner club in flip flops and shorts. In fact, in many it still is. These were adults that grew up during WWII when women wore dresses, moms stayed home and raised children, America was still Bible based and was generally conservative. No one listened to all that hippy nonsense, despite what Hollywood thinks today. Interestingly, later on there would be hippy stuff that Columbo addresses, but the wealthy frowned upon them. Many still do.

    In any case, it was the young crowd in the 70s that began to rebel against the norm. Any in their early twenties, I’d say, and younger. Those are the ones you’re likely to see in flip flops and shorts.

    Finally, I really did not understand your guest’s dismay and obvious dislike with the format. The entire point of Columbo is to NOT be a whodunit. It seemed unfair to complain about the very thing that sets it apart. For example, I do not go to Poirot fans and began complaining how I hate it because we don’t find out who the killer is until the end.

  9. I think this was a very entertaining episode of the podcast. Your guest Aaron’s near-outrage, and your heartbreak on hearing what he had to say, were both actually very funny.

    But if the podcast had been just 10 minutes longer, I think Aaron might have retracted almost all of his criticisms of Columbo! As he himself admitted, he had never watched the show before, and his expectations were for a more-or-less traditional whodunnit. But Columbo is a howwillhesolveit, not a whodunnit.

    Also, as you pointed out in the podcast, Aaron didn’t really get that the appeal of Columbo lies in (i) Peter Falk’s incredible performance, (ii) the depiction of the contrasts in wealth and social class between the detective and the murderer, and (iii) the fact that each episode was 90 mins long, and scenes had “room to breathe”. This last point is something that really seemed to annoy Aaron, who works in television and seems to be wedded to the faster-paced, dumbed-down, advertiser-driven program-formats of today, which I’m sure we would all agree have massively improved the aesthetic experience of network television the world over.

    I think you should get Aaron back on the show — if you dare! But seriously, at the end of the podcast he seemed to have started to come round, to adjust his expectations, and I think it would be really interesting to see how much his views have changed, especially if he’s actually watched some more episodes of Columbo in the meantime.

    Another great episode of the JOMT podcast. Thank you!

  10. The first time I listened to the podcast, I was pretty put off by the guest’s reaction. But I listened to it again today, and a) hey, it was an honest reaction on his part and b) the podcast is funnier than I remembered.

    All three of you commented on how cheesy the cabaret is, and I think that part was intentional at the time. It’s not just ’70s kitsch gone stale from our perspective. One clue to that is how the magic act is portrayed. On his way to the murder, Santini emerges from his trapdoor, and the show doesn’t treat this as a big surprise. Of course there’s a trapdoor; anyone who has ever read a magic book for kids could figure that out. (The rubes in the audience can’t, and Sgt. Wilson can’t at first, but the TV audience is smarter than that.)

    I liked that, and I also liked the scene where Santini’s daughter is hustling to the same trapdoor so she can get into the chest at the right time. It’s entertaining for the TV audience to see a cheesy magic act from backstage, where it’s clearly just show business.

    Anyway, a very good episode of Columbo and a funny, if contentious, podcast. If Bley wants to guest again, why not? Maybe he’ll like the next episode better.

  11. Aaron: “Don’t show us the murder! I mean what the hell!”

    Please, never ever EVER again have a guest who fundamentally refuses to engage with the show.

    He wants a Moriarty. He wants it to be shorter than 90 minutes. He doesn’t want to see the murder. Speaking as a vegetarian, this is like me going to a barbecue pit and being annoyed that nothing seems tasty to me.

  12. Sorry, couldn’t get through this episode of the podcast and don’t want to. Too painful, especially when people are listening to this podcast in the first place because they are fans (in spite of the absurdity of Eddie Albert, Columbo’s tuba playing, and George Wendt). Please do not bring this guest back.

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