As reported by Deadline, TV writer and producer William Link—co-creator of Columbo, Murder She Wrote, Mannix, and a number of other things—has died from congestive heart failure. Link frequently collaborated with fellow writer and producer Richard Levinson, with whom he co-created all three of the aforementioned shows, up until Levinson’s death in 1987. Link died on Sunday and was 87.
Link and Levinson somewhat famously began their collaborative writing careers as children, becoming friends in junior high school and quickly working together on scripts for radio dramas. They eventually moved on to plays and short stories, and Deadline says the duo consciously transitioned over to television after recognizing the nascent medium’s ability to “capture the current scene and contribute to the national discussion about such subjects as race relations, student unrest, and gun violence.” They wrote scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Fugitive, and in 1960 they created their own detective character for an episode of NBC’s The Chevy Mystery Show.
That character, Columbo, went on to get his own series. Starring Peter Falk, Columbo originally ran from 1971 to 1978 on NBC before moving to ABC for a more intermittent schedule that went on for a decade, and it has become one of the most iconic crime dramas in TV history. It popularized an “inverted” format that showed a crime being committed and then went back to show how Columbo solved the mystery—with the perpetrators generally being wealthy elites who underestimate Columbo’s apparent ineptitude, right up until he drops a “just one more thing” and reveals that he actually knows exactly what happened.
Stephen Spielberg directed the first episode of Columbo, “Murder By The Book,” and credits Link and the show with giving him a foot in the door into the film industry. In a statement, he said that he “caught a huge break when Bill and Dick trusted a young, inexperienced director to do the first episode of Columbo,” adding, “That job helped convince the studio to let me do Duel, and with all that followed I owe Bill so very, very much.”
In the ‘80s, Link and Levinson were approached by CBS to create a new mystery series, which ended up being Murder, She Wrote. Inspired by Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, the series starred Angela Lansbury as amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher. It ran for 12 seasons, from 1984 to 1996, and has made a similarly lasting impact on the TV landscape as Columbo. Over the years, Link won multiple Emmys and Golden Globes, a Peabody, and was inducted into the Television Academy’s hall of fame.