Agenda for Murder

Episode 52 – Agenda for Murder

The fiftieth episode of Columbo was titled Agenda for Murder and was the third episode of the show’s ninth season. Political aspirations drive an ambitious lawyer to murder ahead of the California primary. In this podcast Gerry and Iain look at a returning guest star and developments in the work of a returning director.



After two appearances in the original run (Season 4’s By Dawn’s Early Light and Season 5’s Identity Crisis) Patrick McGoohan returns as attorney Oscar Finch. A close compatriot of Congressman Paul Mackey (Denis Arndt), Finch is thrilled by his friend’s adoption to Governor Montgomery’s (Arthur Hill) Presidential ticket. Eyeing the role of Attorney General, he first has to deal with a spot of blackmail from Louis Zorich‘s Frank Staplin. Determining that eliminating Staplin is the safest choice, Finch shoots him and stages the scene to look like a suicide.


This episode’s supporting cast includes Penny Fuller as Finch’s wife; Anne Haney as Finch’s personal assistant/secretary Louise; the brilliant Stanley Kamel as Tim Haines, an assistant to the Governor; and Shaun Toub as Amir, a dry cleaner whose enthusiasm for helping Columbo doesn’t prevent a critical error from one of his colleagues.


McGoohan directed the episode (his first since the widely-derided Last Salute to the Commodore) from a story by Jeffrey Bloom, his first of three Columbo scripts that marked his last Hollywood writing before embarking on a photography career.


If you have thoughts on any aspect of Agenda for Murder, please share them below, or find us on Twitter at @columbopodcast.


The Columbo Podcast is widely available – on iTunes, Stitcher, tunein, Pocket Casts or pretty much wherever you choose to receive and manage your podcasts. If you enjoy the show it would be greatly appreciated if you consider leaving ratings and reviews on these sites – particularly iTunes – as that can make a big difference to growing the podcast’s audience.


Agenda for Murder was released in 1990. It is 98 minutes long and originally aired on the ABC network. This episode is not available on Netflix, but can be found on the Season 9 or complete collection DVD box sets from Universal.


The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast Team

The Columbo Podcast team develops, produces and promotes The Columbo Podcast.

  • Johnny

    Time to clarify that the follow-up podcast will be about TNG rather than Murder One. Everyone who wants to see Gerry and Iain’s roles reversed with a Star Trek podcast give this a like.

    • It would take almost 4 years to do a TNG podcast on a weekly basis! That would be a huge commitment!!

      • Ian Baxter

        Having enjoyed this podcast as a Columbo fan I’d be quite interested in Murder One simply because I’ve never seen it.

        • It’s worth watching either way!

          • Largo

            I just ordered the complete Murder One series from the Amazon Marketplace for only $20, including shipping and handling. Isn’t that lovely? So, in other words, I’ll be all set for a Murder One podcast from both of you gents — should you decide to produce it, eh! 🙂

          • Great decision!

  • Red Hobbes

    Dead Man’s Cheese, that could be an alternate title for this episode.

    I enjoyed this episode quite a bit, and that was because I had forgotten all about it, lol. It wasn’t until I was watching my DVD that when the episode came up my buried memories of it started to come back. It was good to see McGoohan again in quite a fun episode, which really showcased the friendship between Falk and McGoohan: that laughing fit that they both got into over Staplin’s joke seemed genuine as hell.

    No real complaints, but I remembered Penny Fuller from my recent binge-watch of Banacek, and the first broadcast episode of the Six Million Dollar Man. She had a quiet yet memorable presence in those episodes as I recall, and it was good to see her again in a Columbo movie.

    Keep the hits coming, gents. But there are some truly horrible episodes ahead, so it’s good to enjoy this little stretch before they arrive.

    • I’m sure they used to sing shanties about Dead Man’s Cheese!

      • Red Hobbes

        18 Crackers on a Dead Man’s Cheese! Yo-he-ho and a bottle of rum? I don’t know any cheese related beverages, lol.

  • Celebrating Thanksgiving here, with a house full of people. Won’t get to the podcast or show notes til the weekend, probably. But the missus and I did make a point of watching the episode earlier this week, in preparation. Here are the notes I jotted down as I watched. More to come after I get to the podcast proper….

    Enjoyed seeing Monk’s therapist, albeit much younger and with a head full of hair.

    And, if I’m not mistaken, The governor was a murderer in the very first episode of Murder, She Wrote.

    The missus inadvertently gave the episode the highest praise by mistaking it for one of the original 1970s run.

    I thought Finch was the quickest evil-deed-planner in the world when he hung up on Staplin before realizing, when he pulled that newspaper article out of his safe, he’d been planning for awhile.

    Anybody notice Finch’s accent going New York Jewish when he was talking to Staplin at his house? His accent went from it’s usual Continental to one that more closely matched Staplin’s.

    Great line from Columbo: Not a nice way to begin the day, identifying a body.

    Enjoyed the scene between Columbo and Staplin’s secretary—I thought Columbo was exceptionally gentle and kind with her. Nicely done.

    Columbo’s response to the fax machine had me wondering when they came into general use—I would have expected them to be common when this was filmed. But the internet gave me this nugget of information: “Even though the use of the fax machine to transmit images via telephone lines did not become common in American businesses until the late 1980s, the technology dates back to the nineteenth century.” So I guess Columbo’s reaction was accurate.

    I thought Columbo was very professional in this episode, doing a lot of actual detection, which is always nice.

    Another great line from Columbo: What the hell am I gonna do, what the hell am I gonna do, , and he hung up.

    Great Finch line: You’re rather subtle for a man who appears so overt.

    So, what would have happened if Columbo checked Finch’s phone records and saw that he didn’t actually get a second call while talking to Staplin that night?

    Great scene when Finch cuts right while Columbo continues straight on, still talking.

    I thought Falk’s performance was spot on in this episode. It was a very nuanced performance, from his line deliveries right down to his facial expressions, gestures and body language.

    Great line as Columbo gets Mackey’s autograph: What’s her name? Mrs. Columbo.

    I liked that they threw in a little time reference, to let us know how much time had passed, when Columbo remarked to Mackey “Remember the other day, I asked you if you were aware of any previous relationship between Mr. Finch and Mr. Staplin?”

    Man, that dry cleaning van driver had to be a favor to someone on staff. Awful line delivery.

    The episode had fantastic performances all around, particularly from Falk and McGoohan.

    Recognized the political aide, Toby, from When Harry Met Sally. That’s a classic.

    So what if Columbo had tripped and accidentally squashed that gum while he was showing it to Finch? Hope they had already taken a cast or had tests done on it….


    It would have been better if Columbo had stolen someone else’s rowing boat at the end. Or ridden off into the sunset on a child’s tricycle with some circus music in the background while wearing an ape mask. I guess Mr McGoo was off the drugs by season 9.

  • Just listened to the podcast. Excellent job, gents. This episode ranks as above par for me, revival or not. (Even if the whole cheese and gum thing was a little thin.) I’m relieved to see Falk still has it in him to give a great performance when he has good direction and a solid script.

    As for the autographs in this episode, I seem to remember, in a previous episode, Columbo saying something about the policeman’s wives like to collect autographs from various bigwigs their husbands meet on the job and then brag to each other about them. I think it was in one of the classic episodes. Anyone remember hearing that?

    • Doesn’t ring a bell, but couldn’t rule it out!

    • Ian Baxter

      It was Etude in Black, when Columbo asks the murderer for his autograph

      • Correct chaps. I (Gerry) remember it from Etude.

        • Ian Baxter

          While I’m on a role, the mention of sitting on an antique chair was going back to ‘Try and Catch Me’ with Abigail M

  • Show Notes:

    Great article on McGoohan (as well as the one linked at the bottom of it), tying his personality into his screen roles. I really hope he didn’t spend his whole life as angry as these two articles suggest!

    Interesting profiles on Arndt and Hill–always interesting to see the circuitous routes some take to get to the acting profession.

    And points for originality on the Zorich article. Also a nice peek at what seems like a happily long married couple.

  • Roberto

    Very enjoyable podcast and very enjoyable episode of Columbo! Clearly episode was of a quality similar to the original series. McGoohan and Falk seemed like they were enjoying themselves too (and not in a bizarre Commodore way).

    Crime and detection were good, though I wish Columbo wouldn’t solve every murder within the first ten seconds of arriving on the crime scene. Supporting cast was quite good as well.

    Thanks again Gerry and Iain and a belated Happy Thanksgiving to my fellow American podcast listeners.

  • Ian Baxter

    Great to have a return to form for the ageing detective. An engaging episode that, as others have said, wouldn’t feel out of place in the original run. Indeed, similar to Salty, my better half thought it was an early episode. The interplay between Falk and McGoohan is the highlight and reminded me a lot of ‘By Dawns Early Light’, and the whole setting of elections reminded me of ‘Candidate for Crime’.

    My understanding on the unseen Dr Menton (who’s calling card Columbo sneaks a peek at on the desk) is that Columbo had just heard the secretary and Finch talk about the fact that he was going to have a house visit with the Doctor; Columbo was therefore planning ahead to intercept Finch out and about. Presumably this is how Columbo knows where to be when we see him parked down the road waiting for Finch.

    Thanks again for another good podcast, one might even describe it as ‘special’ 😉

  • Two words: outstanding episode.

    It actually made me rewind to the bit where he bit the cheese and put it down. I’d never done that before (rewound the episode, not bitten some cheese and put it down!)

  • Largo

    Thank you for a truly great podcast for one of the very best Columbo episodes from the ABC network revival series. “Agenda For Murder” gets the Most Like The Classic NBC Columbo Series award in my book. Patrick McGoohan is in top form as both actor and director in this episode and his interactions with Peter Falk are just priceless, eh! Great stuff, indeed!!! 🙂

  • IanGent

    This is a good episode (podcast of course but also the Columbo itself).

    There’s an odd thing that always puzzled me about this episode. You mentioned it in passing though didn’t rant about it as I would have done.

    It’s the line where the presidential candidate asks the VP candidate if he wrote his own speech, and then reassures him that he is sure he did.

    This is so weird because even in those days presidential candidates didn’t write their own speeches. In fact it was many years previously that FDR was shocked to discover that Churchill was his own speechwriter. I suppose the scriptwriters thought that viewers would think politicians wrote their own speeches. Anyway always slightly irked me – as you can tell.

    • In this case I think perhaps “wrote your own speech” was a metaphor for holding those particular views on an informed basis. At least, that’s my kindest interpretation!

  • Peter

    This might be my favorite post-70’s episodes. Completely agree with Gerry and Iaian on this

  • Peter

    Anybody catch the last line of the show, a night to remember. Sounds like an allusion to the movie about the Titanic

  • nivipa

    Oh, I agree that this was a very, very good episode! It certainly could have fit in quite well with the original run, with only a few moments just having that “90s” feel to them, such as some of the conversations between Finch and Mackey. I admit to being nervous when I saw that Patrick McGoohan was helming the production as director, but those fears were quickly laid to rest. I was very directly reminded of his original appearances, though. First off, the moment that you could see McGoohan’s face, I thought: “Ah! Steinmetz!” Whoever did the makeup on “Identity Crisis” was pretty spot-on for what he would look like! Then, of course, as someone mentioned, the entire, silent scene of the character’s prepping for a murder as we watch, unsure of what *exactly* is going to happen with all of this, brings to mind “By Dawn’s Early Light” perfectly!

  • Clive

    Great podcast, thank you guys. I agree with Ian Baxter that Colombo sneaks a look at Dr Menton’s business card to see where Finch will be but perhaps the Dr is actually a dentist and Columbo had it all worked out at that early stage?! One other point you did not mention is that throughout the episode when Finch meets people he snacks on whatever food is on offer so eating the cheese is would be his usual modus operandi.

  • Shieldsy

    To add a bit of trivia, those who have read Falk’s book “Just One More Thing” will know that the journal he produces at the end was one Falk took from a dentist’s waiting room after he read the interesting article on the forensic bite mark. He put it in a drawer for years and when he gave McGoohan the Agenda for Murder script to rewrite, he also gave him the magazine to put that in the story. Falk kept that exact same magazine in his back pocket throughout the whole episode.

  • Dog

    Please can someone confirm that this has been edited for the dvd version. There is a scene missing where Columbo talks to Mrs Staplin (victim’s wife). She is credited on imdb and I have seen someone mention the scene but on my dvd copy there is no scene & Mrs Staplin never appears. I had thought the dvds were the complete versions so perturbs me as to what else has been deleted from the episodes. Thank you

    • I’m maybe mis-remembering, but I’m sure he does speak to her and it was the DVD version I watched!