Title:"Columbo Cries Wolf"
Directed by: Daryl Duke
Written by: William Read Woodfield
Air Date: January 20, 1990
Previous: Murder, a Self-Portrait
Next: Agenda for Murder
Guest Starring: Ian Buchanan, Rebecca Staab, Deidre Hall
"Columbo Cries Wolf" is the second episode of the ninth season of Columbo.
Sean Brantley (Ian Buchanan) is the Not Hugh Hefner owner of "Bachelor's World", a men's magazine that is Not "Playboy". Sean lives in a lavish mansion like Hugh Hefner did and cavorts with scads of scantily clad "Nymphs" like Hefner did, but there's one big difference: unlike Hefner, Sean does not have full ownership of his magazine. In fact, 51% controlling interest in the magazine is owned by Sean's longtime lover and business partner, Dian Hunter (Deidre Hall). As it turns out, Dian has had enough of Sean bedding babe after babe while professing to love her. She is set on selling her stake in the magazine to Sir Harry Matthews, a British publishing magnate. Sir Harry will, when he buys the magazine, close the mansion and turn Sean and the Nymphs out, ending his sybaritic lifestyle.
Dian flies off to London to make the deal...and never shows up. Scotland Yard calls Los Angeles for help in the investigation, and Lt. Columbo is on the case. Despite airport security footage that appears to show Dian going through security and getting on the plane, Columbo becomes convinced that Dian was murdered in Los Angeles and the woman on the plane was an impostor. There's only one problem, though: he can't find Dian's body.
- And Starring: Diedre Hall of Days of Our Lives fame gets "Special Guest Star" credit.
- Artistic License Law: One of many episodes dating back to the original 1970s run of the show where Columbo is investigating a case before a murder has been established. It's hand waved as Columbo being asked to look into Dian's activities in Los Angeles by Superintendent Durk.
- Bland-Name Product: "Bachelor's World" is obviously "Playboy". It's a men's magazine featuring monthly pictorials of naked ladies, its owner lives in a huge mansion along with many of those naked ladies, and the magazine isn't actually that profitable because the owner's lavish lifestyle is so expensive (something that was true of Hefner back in the day).
- Chekhov's Gun:
- Repeated shots of the workmen installing a new shower in Sean's bedroom. The episode ends with Columbo finding Dian's body walled up behind the shower tiles.
- The discussion of how Dian and Sean both wear beepers, which must have looked really impressive in 1990, in the form of bracelets. Columbo finds Dian's corpse in the end by calling her number and following the sound of the beeps to her body.
- Continuity Nod: Columbo is on the case because, after Dian was reported missing in London, he was asked to investigate her life in L.A. by Superintendent Durk of New Scotland Yard—that is, Bernard Fox's character in Season 2 episode "Dagger of the Mind".
- Fanservice Extra: It's the Playboy Mansion, so, lots of swimsuit-clad women strolling around.
- Hard-Work Montage: An amusing montage of Columbo and the rest of the LAPD tearing up Sean's estate looking for Dian's body. Columbo crawls up on the roof to check the chimney; he puts on hip waders to inspect the koi pond.
- Imagine Spot: Three separate scenes have Columbo speculating on how the murder went down—once that the murderer was hiding behind the dumpster and shot Dian from outside, once that the murderer was hiding inside the limo under a seat, and finally the truth, that Dian fired the shot herself as part of the scheme.
- Majority-Share Dictator: Played straight, as Dian notes that her 51% share gives her control of the magazine, and that after she sells, Sir Harry will control the magazine and Sean and the Nymphs will be out on the street.
- Neck Snap: How Sean kills Dian for real after she tells him she's really going to sell the magazine to Sir Harry. In the true spirit of this trope, he makes it look about as difficult as twisting off a bottle cap.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: As noted above under Bland-Name Product, Sean Bradley is Hugh Hefner. He owns a nudie magazine and he lives in a gigantic mansion along with scads of models. Additionally, he is engaged to be married to one of those models—a couple of years before this episode aired, famous bachelor Hugh Hefner married one of his Playmates, Kimberly Conrad.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: A trope found in every single episode of this series, of course, but a Discussed Trope in this one, as Sean figures out Columbo pretty quickly.Sean: It's all an act with you, isn't it? You're not the naive detective you pretend to be.
- Oddball in the Series: A rare example of a Columbo where we didn't see the murder planned and carried out. And an even rarer example of a Columbo where there was no murder—not until the third act, anyway, when Sean kills Dian with 20 minutes left.
- Oh, Crap!: Many, many murderers did this during the run of Columbo but this is probably the only time Columbo did it, as he gapes at the sight of Dian coming home very much alive. The ear-to-ear grin Sean is wearing behind him only rubs it in.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Another Oddball in the Series moment. Columbo is following Tina around doing his usual Just One More Thing schtick. He finds her again and delivers his usual "I'm sorry to bother you, miss," line, only for Tina to spit back at him, "If you're sorry, why don't you stop doing it?" After a Beat Columbo says "You know, I think I will." He promptly has her handcuffed and arrested.
- The Reveal: Dian isn't dead! The "murder" was all a publicity stunt cooked up by Sean and Dian to goose circulation of the magazine. Dian fired the gunshot herself, wrapped herself up in a bunch of clothes that would look like a disguise, and even put cream in her coffee in front of a security camera to make Columbo think the woman on the video was an impostor.
- Title Drop: From Columbo, seething but holding back his temper, after finding out that Sean and Dian conspired to fool him.Columbo: You've put me in the position of the little boy who cried wolf.
- Toplessness from the Back: From that month's Nymph, Tina (Rebecca Staab), as Sean is photographing her, and afterwards as he's kissing her.