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‘Murder, She Wrote’ Star Miffed Angela Lansbury Surprised By Show’s Move To Thursdays

Susan King Los Angeles Times

The irony fairly drips: One of the upcoming episodes of this season’s “Murder, She Wrote” is called “Murder Among Friends.”

After airing Sundays following “60 Minutes” for 11 seasons, the CBS mystery series starring Angela Lansbury started its new season last week on Thursday nights, opposite NBC’s powerhouse sitcom “Friends.”

That’s not exactly the red-carpet treatment for a show (or its popular star) that easily shot down all comers since 1984.

“Murder” won an especially decisive victory two years ago when it sailed past the much-publicized “seaQuest DSV” (now “seaQuest 2032”) on NBC and ABC’s “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.”

Like the other networks, though, low-rated CBS is courting the prime 18- to 49-year-old audience that advertisers love so much. And “Murder, She Wrote” is looked upon as attracting an older crowd.

The four-time Tony Award-winning Lansbury, 69, is not happy with the move. She recalls being “terribly upset” when she received the news last May.

“Here we were going into our 12th season,” relates the gracious actress, relaxing in the living room of her Brentwood home.

“I don’t think I would have ever agreed to do this 12th season if I knew this was going to happen. I just couldn’t understand. I couldn’t find any logic to their thinking, and neither could anybody else.”

So Lansbury, who also is executive producer of “Murder,” and husband Peter Shaw escaped the Hollywood rat race by spending two months in Europe.

“To get away like I did this summer, forget about ratings and drop all this nonsense of watching the trades every day, monitoring everything, monitoring the shows as we do every single day, you realize what minutiae it represents in the whole scheme of things,” she says with a smile. “It’s so unimportant, so desperately unimportant.”

Cable’s USA Network has been airing repeats of “Murder, She Wrote” weeknights for several years. On Sunday, USA begain airing it in its traditional time slot - Sunday nights. Lansbury thinks USA’s schedule could confuse her audience “because they forget it’s USA. They assume it’s CBS because ‘Murder, She Wrote’ has always been associated with CBS on Sunday nights.”

Lansbury, though, is encouraged with the feedback she’s receiving from her fans.

The actress, who made her film debut in 1944’s “Gaslight,” said she feels a “tremendous responsibility and allegiance to my audience. That’s one of the reasons, really, I continued this long, because we are kind of an institution. We are something that’s a given for families, households, individuals, shut-ins, everybody from 8-year-olds all the way to 95-year-olds.”

Lansbury finds “farcical” all that’s been said about viewers 50 and over “being a non-viable proposition from the point of view of advertisers. We are very viable. My goodness, we control most of the money in the country, at least 50 percent of it. We also underwrite a lot of the young generation’s financial goings-on.

“There’s not a young family, I don’t think, today who would be able to move forward without the help of their parents. In my day, we had to do it on our own. We had to find the down payment.

“So you know it’s all wrong. It’s totally unjust.”

People, she says, are always asking her if she’s tired of playing her Emmy-nominated role of mystery writer and supersleuth Jessica Fletcher. And, in fact, Lansbury acknowledges that “in a way” she’s “very tired. I’m tired of doing a weekly show, but how can I turn my back on something that’s received with such open-hearted enjoyment by millions of people throughout the world?”

Not that Lansbury, as she puts it, is blowing her own trumpet.

“I’m just telling you this type of entertainment, which is family-oriented, is very popular not just here but everywhere,” Lansbury says. “They are all fascinated by this older woman who has it all together and solves these naughty little problems. Nobody ever thinks of Jessica as being a bloodthirsty woman who enjoys the gore and the horror of the murder. The murder is incidental. It sets the stage to solve the crime.”

After this season, she’s planning on pulling the plug on the series and will star in TV projects that her company, Corymore Productions, has in development. One is a sequel to her 1992 CBS movie “Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris.” Another is an original musical about Mrs. Santa Claus that was penned by Jerry Herman, who wrote the score of Lansbury’s 1966 Broadway triumph, “Mame.”

And she hopes to keep Jessica Fletcher alive by doing “Murder, She Wrote” movies.

MEMO: “Murder She Wrote” airs Thursday nights at 8 on CBS (KREM-Channel 2 from Spokane); repeats air Sundays-Fridays on USA.

“Murder She Wrote” airs Thursday nights at 8 on CBS (KREM-Channel 2 from Spokane); repeats air Sundays-Fridays on USA.

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