Elsbeth Proves the Columbo Formula Still Works in 2024 – Better Than Ever

Elsbeth Proves the Columbo Formula Still Works in 2024 – Better Than Ever
Image credit: CBS, ABC

Detective stories always benefit from unconventional characters and narrative structures.


  • Unlike The Good Wife and The Good Fight, Elsbeth is structurally distinctive.
  • Elsbeth Tascioni, like Lt. Columbo, cleverly squeezes the details of the crime committed out of the suspects.
  • Ratings and high scores prove that audiences are interested in the Columbo formula.

In recent years, many TV shows have attempted to shake up tired procedural formulas by offering a fresher approach to storytelling. True Detective: Night Country offered a feminist reimagining of the series, The White Lotus gave us an angst-ridden version of Agatha Christie's work, and Only Murders in the Building poked fun at both the genre and true-crime fans.

But let's face it, no matter how crazy the plot twists in these shows, we often already know almost in detail who committed the crime and how — the audience has been familiar with the narrative for many decades. On the contrary, Columbo always felt fresh in this context, because the beauty of the show was the way Peter Falk's character cleverly coaxed testimony out of suspects, generating not only comedic moments but also some pretty good psychological drama.

Now the formula has been followed with a new hit from CBS, created by Robert King and Michelle King, Elsbeth. Ratings and rave reviews from viewers confirm that the Columbo formula is in incredible demand in 2024.

Same Formula, Different Detectives

Speaking about Elsbeth, a new procedural drama on CBS, creator Robert King noted that the new series, a spinoff of the iconic The Good Wife and The Good Fight, unlike the first two, focuses on the unconventional confrontation between a quirky lawyer and the entire fabric of corrupt elites.

'The difference between this and The Good Fight and Good Wife is the world. The Good Fight was a takedown at this time of craziness with Trump. The Good Wife was really about the law and how the law can corrupt. This is not that. This is about seeing the elites taken down a bit through Elsbeth, who seems every bit the non-elite. She loves Cats. She loves The Lion King. She probably would read Glamour magazine from cover to cover, just to see the pictures. She's that kind of person.'

Of course, it's impossible not to draw parallels to Columbo. The cult series followed the title character, a seemingly incompetent detective who, through simple conversations with suspects, built up a complete picture of the crime committed by the interviewee. The beauty of Columbo, however, was not only its 'howcatchem' formula, but also its blatant class critique — blue-collar Lt. Frank Columbo exposed the shady dealings of the entitled elite.

Elsbeth proved to be a worthy successor, offering a fresh approach with a compelling protagonist.

'You think she's off in the ozone and getting lost in how cool your glasses are, but, really, she's also solving the case and leaning on her intellect and her wit,' Elsbeth's Carrie Preston shared.

Columbo-Style Investigations Are More Popular than Ever

The success of Elsbeth is evidenced not only by the high media coverage over the past two months, but also by the consistently high ratings for the first season, which were not affected by the insane 5 week hiatus after the release of the pilot episode. It only increased the anticipation!

As for the ratings, Rotten Tomatoes boasts a 94% critics score and a pretty good 77% audience score. Many viewers have commented that they enjoy the feel of the cozy drama, as the series deftly balances detective and lighthearted comedy.

There's no denying the contributions of the Columbo formula, which finally brought a much-needed freshness to crime television. Before that, elements of the cult detective were used in the popular procedural Monk, and last year Ryan Johnson's Columbo-inspired Poker Face. All of which speaks volumes about the audience's interest in the inverted detective stories.

Source: The Daily Beast.