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How Did We Get from “Murder” to “Word”?

In “How to Dial a Murder,” Nicol Williamson plays Dr. Eric Mason, a behavioral psychologist looking to exact revenge on his business partner, who may have had an affair with the doctor’s late wife. This revenge takes the form of having trained dogs viciously tear the partner apart after hearing the phrase, “Rosebud,” all while Dr. Mason listens with pleasure over the phone. Quite a guy. Columbo sees right away that these dogs couldn’t be the sole culprits and sets out right away to ensure that they aren’t the only ones going to the pound. Author Glen Erik Hamilton (Every Day Above Ground) returns to analyze the episode, as well as posit the idea of a “Sinister Six” for Columbo villains. Who’d be in that? Let us know!



  1. Jim S Jim S

    Classic Columbo. Again, he uses the killer’s schtick against the killer. As Nicol said, Columbo takes control very well.

    Also classic time and place episode. Captures late 1970s California very well. And finally, Columbo would have been around during the Manson murders. He would have seen a guru kill.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Tom Tom

    Sinister Four! Four Patrick McGoohans.

  3. Here are my votes for Columbo’s “Sinister Six”, chosen not because they are the *best* villains, but because I want to listen in on the conversation:
    Jack Cassidy (as the mystery author)
    Robert Culp (at his angriest, the mustachioed football GM)
    Ruth Gordon (criticizing Cassidy’s writing)
    Johnny Cash (so long as he doesn’t sing that effing song again)
    Leonard Nimoy (plotting to kill them ALL),
    and William Shatner (just to piss off Nimoy, very meta).

    Wilfred Hyde-White will be the manservant at their evil lair.

    • Lisa Stein Lisa Stein

      You were right about Troubled Waters. Robert Vaughn was having his vital signs monitored – and during that read (after murder) – his pulse/blood pressure was up.

  4. Lisa Stein Lisa Stein

    Great episode. Agree with many of the names mentioned. I like Culp, Cassidy, Shatner, McGoohan, Ruth Gordon, and George Hamilton.

  5. Jason Brown Jason Brown

    A cracking pod about a cracking episode. I’ve just watched it again, after listening to you guys, and noticed the tape recorder for the first time!

    Watching back, I think Columbo knows before he’s met the killer. How? He’s already deduced the phone was critical. He’s almost certainly spoken to the phone company to track where the call was from. And he asks Mason did he make a call. He says no, which is so unlikely, so effectively a lie. He’s doomed from there.

    The ‘weeks’ thing later on makes sense; the dogs would’ve taken a while to de/re-programme.

    Columbo absolutely owns this guy. Every reveal, shows Columbo has it fully in hand. Just needs the word…which he gets. Also, I suspect one of the best overall Columbo’s. Everything really fits well. No loose ends.

    Definitely agree with the ‘Murder By Death’ podcast special.

    • Ross Coe Ross Coe

      … And don’t forget The Cheap Detective!

  6. Jason Brown Jason Brown

    The Columbo Sinister Six? Brilliant idea. Here’s my shouts (yes, I did a spreadsheet to rank them) for the best…

    Dr. Barry Mayfield (S2 A Stitch In Crime)
    Harold Van Wyck (S4 Playback)
    Dr. Ray Fleming (Pilot #1 Prescription Murder)
    Leslie Williams (Pilot #2 Ransom For A Dead Man)
    Dr. (see a theme here?) Bart Kepple (S3 Double Exposure)
    Dep. Com. Mark Halperin (S3 A Friend In Deed)

    …with honourable mentions to Hayden Danzinger (S4 Troubled Waters) & Dr. (!!!) Eric Mason
    (S7 How To Dial A Murder).

    Other opinions are available 😉

    • Jonathan Morris Jonathan Morris

      The Doctors of Death!

      • Jason Brown Jason Brown

        …but Martin from the Mrs Columbo pilot tops them all!

  7. Jason Brown Jason Brown

    FYI : here in England this Sunday 3rd September, here’s your Columbo line up,
    on a channel called 5USA, all back to back :

    1pm: Now You See Him (very good)
    2:55pm : The Bye-Bye Sky-High IQ Murder Case (meh)
    4:30pm : Murder By The Book (great!)

  8. Rich Weill Rich Weill

    I am bit surprised that no one commented on Falk’s performance in this episode. Toward the end of the original run — and I distinctly remember noticing this at the time — Falk’s Columbo began to take on some of the mannerisms of a comic impression of Falk’s Columbo. Lots of exaggerated pauses and unnecessary gesturing, for example. “How to Dial a Murder” may have been when this phenomenon reached its peak. Just compare Falk’s Columbo in this episode to, say, his Columbo in “Any Port in a Storm” (Season 3). It’s night and day. I took it as a sign that Peter was tiring of the role, and (for this episode, excuse the pun) phoning it in.

    • Rich Weill Rich Weill

      I came across something that may explain why some of Falk’s work late in the original series was as exaggerated as it appears to me. In this 2002 interview (, Steven Bochco — who wrote the scripts for many early Columbos — quotes Richard Levinson giving him the following warning:

      “Peter Falk is Columbo. You don’t have to write all of that stuff, ’cause that’s Peter. You don’t have to write Peter, ’cause Peter is Peter. If you write that stuff, and then Peter does what you’re writing on top of being Peter, it’s over the top. So you want to really underwrite this character, because Peter is so quirky and so imaginative with all that stuff.”

      But by the seventh season, Link, Levinson, and Bochco were gone, and perhaps this admonition was lost.

    • jcompton jcompton

      I’m surprised the podcast hasn’t commented in general on the tonal shift that affects seasons 6 and 7, after the decision to push ahead post-Commodore. Because, exactly. Columbo is played more broadly, as though some of that self-satire from Commodore never quite faded away. Some of the murderers go over-the-top. (And that stylistic shift affects episodes like Try and Catch Me as well, which the hosts and podcast following seem to think is a lot stronger than I rate it.)

  9. DrGlitterhouse DrGlitterhouse

    I tend to lump this episode together with Murder Under Glass, because I remember NBC advertising both of them as featuring the murderer attempting to kill Columbo, as opposed to quietly accepting being caught.

    I would have appreciated a discussion of writer Anthony Laurence’s apparent obsession with mind control. In addition to Laurence’s creating The Sixth Sense (people being attacked by ESP), in this, dogs were programmed to kill, in a Hawaii Five-O episode Laurence scripted, a policewoman McGarrett sends undercover at a college is hypnotized into trying to kill McGarrett, and in the final season premiere of Ironside (scripted by Laurence and Jimmy Sangster), Fran Beldon is brainwashed into trying to kill Chief Ironside. Methinks there’s a pattern here.

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