TL/DR: There is no significant different of quality between long (90+ minutes) Columbo episodes vs short (~70 minutes) episodes. Lower rated, long Columbo episodes seem to suffer from pacing issues but the higher rated ones do not.
I’ve become a big fan recently of the Columbophile blog and if you’re a Columbo fan like me you should check it out! The author goes through each Columbo episode and really dissects the strengths and weaknesses of each episode without being too critical or fawn-like (with some understandable exceptions). The blog also has a lot of interesting trivia on the Columbo guests, episodes, and scenery so if you can’t get enough Columbo you should really check it out!
I’ve actually started a habit recently where after I watch a Columbo episode I read what the Columbophile thought of it and I started noticing a bias the author seems to hold for the longer Columbo episodes. You see, some Columbo episodes are about 70 minutes long while others are about 90 minutes long. Although there are many good Columbo episodes in the 90 minute category (e.g., Forgotten Lady, Any Old Port in the Storm, A Friend in Deed, and etc.) a common complaint the Columbophile has about some of the episodes is the predominance of filler and padding scenes, and the sometimes lethargic pacing. This makes sense given that the 70 minute episodes have to be smart about their pacing and choose their scenes carefully whereas the 90 minute episodes can take their time and flesh out the story.
But is it too fleshed out? Is there too much inconsequential scenes, padding, and filler in these episodes? After I watched the Candidate for Crime episode, which is about 98 minutes long, I noticed there were scenes that seem pointless like the traffic stop scene, the dentist scene, and other scenes which seem way too overdrawn like the initial investigation scene. Even Columbo seems more…Columbo-ey than usual. After I noticed this, I read Columbophile’s opinion on the episode and sure enough, they agreed with me; this episode was padded out. If these scenes were cut, this already good episode could’ve been top-tier.
So that got me thinking; Are the 90 minute episodes overall worse than the 70 minute episodes? And is the padding detracting the quality of them?
Fans of my blog know that I like to do statistical analysis on trivial subjects and this was going to be no different! I want to compare these two groups of episodes and see if there was a difference in quality.
So first, I went to IMDB and focused solely on the 70’s era seasons which is widely regarded as the Golden Era of Columbo. I then divided the episodes into two groups; 70 minutes and 90 minutes. I then applied the IMDB rating to each episode and calculate their average with a confidence interval of 95% and compared the two groups.
The average IMDB rating is as follows
70 minutes rating: 7.5 + 0.1
90 minutes rating: 7.7 + 0.2
Overall, the results were the opposite of what I expect! The 90’s group was rated slightly higher than the 70’s group which makes sense as we see a lot of high quality episodes in the 90 minute group (e.g., “Any Old Port in a Storm”). The 90 rating would’ve been 7.8 if it wasn’t for it having the worst episode in the 70’s series, “Last Salute to the Commodore,” with a 6.5 rating. Regardless, these results are so close to each other that they’re not significantly different (there’s an overlap in their confidence intervals). What does this tell us? To me, this says that there is no relationship between an episode’s time to its overall quality. Viewers do not think that long episodes are worse than short episodes.
From this, I think that the Columbo writers were, for the most part, able to craft stories well enough without them feeling too padded, slow, or boring. They were able to effectively use their time to write necessary scenes that help the plot move forward. In fact, only 6% of the 90 minute IMDB reviews complained about an episode’s padding, filler, or slow pacing.
This got me curious though and I wondered if low-rated 90 minute episodes had a higher amount of pacing complaints compared to high-rated episodes. Perhaps one of the reasons reviewers gave a lower score was because they found it boring, slow or packed with too many filler scenes.
So I compared an episode’s IMDB rating with the percentage of pacing complaints and made a scatterplot graph. I found that there was a mild relationship between an episode’s quality with the number of reviewers complaining about its pacing. A low-rated episode (like “Last Salute to the Commodore”) will have more complaints about its boring scenes, padded content, and slow pacing compared to high-rated episodes. As an example, one reviewer for the above-average episode “Troubled Waters,” rated at 7.8, said that no time in the episode was wasted. Then you have episodes which may have filler content but reviewers commented that they actually enjoyed these scenes and thought it added more depth and character building to Columbo’s world.
Overall, while I do agree that there can be pacing issues with 90 minute Columbo episodes, I think, and apparently so do other people, that these padded scenes do not negatively detract from the overall experience. When I have a criticism, it’s usually directed at the story or the characters rather than the episode’s story progression. For instance, the “Last Salute to the Commodore” could’ve been jazzed up by more interesting characters, a less-annoying Columbo, and a more cohesive storyline. Pacing issues were just one of its many issues that this episode suffered from.
Thank you for taking the time to read this inconsequential article! I hope you found it mildly interesting and again, please check out Columbophile when you get the chance!