By Rich Heldenfels
Q. I enjoy watching the reruns of “Murder, She Wrote” on the Hallmark Channel, but I am puzzled by something. In the spring of 1990, Angela Lansbury did not appear in six episodes except for a short intro at the beginning of each episode. Was she doing something else for those months or was this just an attempt to sell potential pilots featuring the detectives featured in those episodes that she knew and had worked with, including Michael Hagerty, Dennis Stanton and Harry McGraw?
A. During its 1984-1996 run, “Murder, She Wrote,” included an array of recurring characters along with Jessica Fletcher, the writer-sleuth played by Angela Lansbury. You may recall, for instance, Tom Bosley as a local sheriff before he went on to his own detective show, “Father Dowling Mysteries.” At the same time, though, as the show’s sole star, Lansbury often found the workload difficult to bear, and more than once she said she was leaving the series — only to be brought back, with changes made to help her.
In 1989, she made a deal that included episodes highlighting other characters. One of those was Dennis Stanton, played by Keith Michell, and it certainly looked as if his character could be spun off — but was not. Len Cariou, more recently seen on “Blue Bloods,” played Hagerty (and variations on that name) in a number of episodes, including during this period, but I have not come across any reference to his being considered for a spinoff. He and Lansbury may simply have liked working together because of their pre-“Murder” history, when they co-starred onstage in “Sweeney Todd.”
Harry McGraw, played by Jerry Orbach, was spun into his own series, “The Law and Harry McGraw,” in 1987, but it lasted only a single season; McGraw then reappeared on “Murder” a few times. After two seasons of the extra detectives, Lansbury in 1991 said the experiment “wasn’t tremendously successful,” and the show’s focus returned to Jessica.
Q. I have seen Dick Van Patten in numerous television shows, the most memorable of which was “Eight Is Enough.” There is also an actress named Joyce Van Patten. I feel there is a physical resemblance between these two entertainers and wonder if they are brother and sister.
A. They are. Dick Van Patten is the older brother of Joyce. But that is hardly the end of the Van Patten clan. There is also Tim Van Patten, formerly an actor (notably on the series “The White Shadow”) but now more acclaimed as a director on “The Sopranos,” “Boardwalk Empire,” “Game of Thrones” and other series. Because Tim is some 30 years younger than Dick, he is often assumed to be the older actor’s son. In fact, they are half-brothers. Dick does have three sons who became actors: Vince, Nels and Jimmy. And Joyce has an actress daughter, Talia Balsam, from her marriage to actor Martin Balsam. You may have seen Talia as Roger Sterling’s ex-wife Mona on “Mad Men”; John Slattery, who plays Roger, and Talia are married in real life.
Q. Who sings the song “Stand Up” on the Blue Cross Blue Shield commercial?
A. If you are talking about the ads promising that the company is “standing up” and “standing with” you, the song is “Count on Me” by Bruno Mars. The lyric includes “You can count on me/Like one, two, three/I’ll be there.”
Q. What is the status of “Homeland?”
A. Showtime has ordered a third season of the Emmy-winning drama, which is set to begin Sept. 29. It will begin in the aftermath of the terror attack in the second-season finale and will include a global manhunt for Nick Brody (Damian Lewis).
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