Murder, She Wrote and The Mysteries of Laura: Agatha Christie’s Influence on U.S. TV Crime Dramas

Curator's Note

Agatha Christie and her work have significantly influenced television crime dramas in the United States.  Some U.S. crime shows feature plots inspired by famous Christie stories (Burke's Law, Columbo, Charlie's Angels, Jake and The Fatman).  Others use Christie and/or her work as inspirations for their premises.  Two programs that suggest Christie’s influence on U.S. television crime dramas are Murder, She Wrote (CBS, 1984 – 1996) and The Mysteries of Laura (NBC, 2014 – 2016).The origins of Murder, She Wrote distinctly reflect the influence of Agatha Christie.  In 1983, CBS network executives asked famed writer-producers Richard Levinson, William Link, and Peter S. Fisher to create a mystery series with a female protagonist.  According to various accounts (Fischer 2013, Parris 1997, Meyers 1989), a CBS TV movie adaptation of Christie’s novel A Caribbean Mystery, starring Helen Hayes as Miss Jane Marple, inspired the trio's plans for their new series.  The team decided to make their protagonist a character who combined elements of Agatha Christie and Miss Marple.  This character eventually became Jessica Beatrice (J.B.) Fletcher (Angela Lansbury), a famous mystery author who solved real-life murders.  The series creators also decided the mysteries on Murder, She Wrote would resemble the whodunits crafted by Christie (Fischer 7; Parris 3).  Indeed, the writers and producers incorporated plot elements from many Christie novels, including Peril at End House (1932), Murder on the Orient Express (1934), and Death on the Nile (1937).

Christie and her work also inspired The Mysteries of Laura.  This series is an adaptation of the popular Spanish program Los misterios de Laura (La 1, 2009 – 2014).  The creators of the original series, Carlos Vila and Javiar Holgado, have cited Christie’s novels and Murder, She Wrote as inspirations for their program (‘The Mysteries of Laura’).  Episodes of Los misterios de Laura incorporate elements of famous Christie works, like And Then There Were None (1939), Taken at the Flood (1948), and The Mousetrap (1952).  Similarly, the U.S. adaptation, The Mysteries of Laura, feature storylines and/or plot devices from Christie stories.  These stories include The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), Hercule Poirot's Christmas (1938), and Peril at End House.  Thus, Murder, She Wrote, Los misterios de Laura, and The Mysteries of Laura suggest Agatha Christie’s influence on television crime series in the United States and other parts of the world.

Works Cited

Ferrero, Betty.  “‘The Mysteries of Laura’ learn to shoot in United States.”  El Pais.  Prisa. n.d Web.  2 Dec. 2014. 

Fischer, Peter S.  Me and Murder, She Wrote.  Pacific Grove:  Grovepoint Press, 2013. 

Meyers, Ric.  Murder on the Air: Television's Great Mystery Series.  Mysterious Press, 1989.

Parrish, James Robert.  The Unofficial Murder, She Wrote Casebook.  New York:  Kensington Books, 1997.



The parallels between Miss Marple and JB Fletcher are interesting to consider. I wonder if Miss Lansbury's portrayal of Miss Marple in the 1980 film "The Mirror Crack'd" may have influenced the creators of "Murder, She Wrote" in shaping the plots and/or selecting Lansbury for the role.

Your question about whether Angela Lansbury's portrayal of Miss Marple influenced Murder, She Wrote's creators is an interesting one. The creators originally had Jean Stapleton in mind for the role of Jessica.  However, she decided not to play the part.  Miss Stapleton's rejection left the creators no choice but to find someone else for the role.  While they were trying to think of a replacement for Jean Stapleton, they learned that Angela Lansbury was interested in doing a television series.  Because they were longtime fans of Miss Lansbury's work, they decided to approach her about playing the part. I do not know with any certainty what, if any, influence Miss Lansbury's portrayal of Marple had on the selection of her for the role of Jessica.

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