Q: I don’t recall Steve Martin doing a series before “Only Murders in the Building.” Did he? — Jerry Heller, via e-mail
A: Yes, but you have to reach back quite a way for it — like, almost 50 years. Martin was a regular cast member on “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour,” playing a variety of characters in skits from week to week. The same applied to his work on “The Ken Berry ‘Wow’ Show” around the same time; Martin also was a writer on both programs.
Those were Martin’s two stints as an ongoing television performer before Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building,” unless you count his recurring appearances on “Saturday Night Live.” He’s also done a relative handful of guest shots on series including “The Tracey Ullman Show,” “The Simpsons” (in voice only, of course) and “30 Rock.” He also had a role in the much-praised 1993 HBO film “And the Band Played On.”
Q: What was the name of the very first “Columbo” mystery? — Sean Graves, Norman, Okla.
A: Even some of those who think they’re really up on the character might be surprised. Technically, it was a 1962 episode of “The Chevy Mystery Show” in which character actor Bert Freed played the police detective. That was turned into a stage play called “Prescription: Murder,” with Thomas Mitchell (Scarlett O’Hara’s father in “Gone With the Wind”) inheriting the Columbo role. That then became a 1968 TV-movie marking Peter Falk’s debut as Columbo, though some of the character’s later trademarks were missing (the disheveled look, the folksy behavior, etc.).
It took one more Falk movie to sell “Columbo” as an ongoing franchise, 1971’s “Ransom for a Dead Man,” in which the sleuth investigated a lawyer (played by Lee Grant) who had killed her husband. The following fall, “Columbo” became one of the rotating elements of “The NBC Mystery Movie,” with the first episode-proper generated by a couple of notable talents: director Steven Spielberg and writer Steven Bochco.
Q: I love watching The Weather Channel, and it seems like Jen Carfagno has been there forever. When did she actually start there? — Steve Porter, Chillicothe, Ohio
A: Her tenure there began shortly after her graduation from Penn State in 1998 with a bachelor’s degree in meteorology, and she already was familiar with the workings of the channel, having interned there while she was in college. She built up her on-air cred by participating in the channel’s apprentice program, which gave her weekend broadcasting slots. Largely seen in the mornings now, Carfagno is married and has two daughters.
Q: Why has Turner Classic Movies changed its look? — Andrea Pace, via e-mail
A: The channel’s logo and host-segment sets had pretty much stayed the same since TCM debuted in 1994, and though there was a familiarity and comfort to that, the powers that be — and those powers have changed over the years, given the changes in ownership — evidently felt it was time for the overhaul that took effect at the start of September.
While stressing that the TCM mission to service devotees of classic films remains the same, those who oversaw the renovation also have acknowledged the different styles and personalities of the current hosts in designing their respective settings. Also, some movies of more modern vintage are in the library now, so the updated look is a nod to that as well.
Q: Why does Lifetime make so many cheerleader movies? — Sandra Fordham, Sacramento, Calif.
A: Because the genre has been hugely successful for the network, and also because the films repeat very well. You’ll note that whenever a new one premieres, it’s usually surrounded by previous ones that are brought back for additional runs.
If the pictures didn’t fare well, Lifetime wouldn’t group them together into a two-weekend “Fear the Cheer” stunt, as it recently did. It’s also interesting that some performers have appeared in more than one of the movies, such as actress-producer Vivica A. Fox (“The Wrong Cheerleader,” “The Wrong Cheerleader Coach,” “The Wrong Cheer Captain”) and actual former pro cheerleader Grace Patterson (“Cheer for Your Life,” “Killer Cheer Mom,” “Who Is Killing the Cheerleaders?”).