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Series / A Nero Wolfe Mystery

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A series of TV adaptations of the Nero Wolfe mystery novels and short stories written by Rex Stout, broadcast on A&E between 2001-2002 and starring Maury Chaykin as Wolfe and Timothy Hutton as his legman Archie Goodwin.

The series is incredibly faithful to the original stories, remaining firmly set in the amorphous mid-40's-to-60's of the books while lifting large portions of Archie's narration directly from the text. The show was notable for its approach to guest casting — aside from Chaykin, Hutton and a handful of other recurring characters, one-shot characters would often be played by the same core group of actors, much like a repertory theater, so that the murder victim one episode might be the murderer the next.


  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Archie will occasionally break away from the action to address the reader directly. In the A&E series this usually takes the form of his narration, but in "Too Many Clients" he gleefully looks directly at the camera and announces "Ladies and Gentlemen, client number four!"
  • Comic-Book Time: A rare TV example. The episodes are set in roughly the same period as the novels and stories they were based on were published in while the characters, as in the original stories, always remained the same age. This meant that the series might be set in the early 1960s one week and in the 1940s the next, with Wolfe, Archie and the other recurring characters never ageing. This is often quite subtle, with an eagle-eyed viewer only able to tell through the fashions, cars and music roughly when it's set. Furthermore, Wolfe himself never really changes his look and is always seen in a tasteful yet downplayed and conventional three-piece suit with a yellow shirt and tie, giving him a timeless quality.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: The crux of the episode "Immune to Murder".
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • In the pilot, based on The Golden Spiders, we are first introduced to Nero Wolfe as he and Archie are sitting down to dinner. Wolfe reacts to Archie's news that he's overdrawn at the bank with barely a flicker of interest. A minor change to preparation of his favourite meal, however, sets Wolfe raging.
    • Later Archie delivers an epic What the Hell, Hero? speech to Wolfe after a young boy who came to Wolfe for help is killed, bellowing at him the same way Wolfe did over his dinner. This is what motivates Wolfe into taking the case seriously.
  • Ham-to-Ham Combat:
    • Any time Wolfe and Inspector Cramer start bellowing at each other. Which is often.
    • Wolfe and Fritz can also get rather dramatic when they start squabbling over food preparation.
  • Heroic BSoD: After a woman is murdered with his own necktie in his office in "Eeny Meeny Murder Moe", Wolfe spends much of the episode unusually flustered and unfocussed, attributing it to "a pimple on the brain" he has developed due to his sheer rage at the insolence of the murderer.
  • Insistent Terminology: Nero Wolfe has a wide vocabulary in general and a wide vocabulary of insults in particular. However, he only calls someone a "dunce" when he is revealing that person to be the murderer.
  • Large Ham: Nero Wolfe is a very dramatic man.
  • Narrowed It Down To The Guy I Recognise: Neatly played with. You will recognise most of the cast from something or other... however, the repertory nature of the cast means that the actor who played the murderer last week might be the victim this week and then might just be some schlub who turns up for a few minutes the next week, so it's not quite that easy to determine who did it based on this. Furthermore, when a notable outside guest star did appear, they were usually cast as the victim.
  • No Smoking: Wolfe ofter orders visitors to his office who are about to light up to extinguish their cigarettes or go outside to the stoop to do so. This is in contrast to the novels where, while not exactly Smoking Is Cool or Everybody Smokes, often reflected the prevailing attitude towards cigarette smoking of the times they were written; Archie often mentions people, including himself, either lighting up in the office or the presence of ashtrays. This actually works quite well, however, since in context it just comes across as another example of Wolfe's fussy, dominating and out-of-place nature.
  • Politically Correct History:
    • The adaptation of Too Many Clients has this to a degree. The original novel has Archie seemingly approve of a man who, after he learns his wife has been cheating on him, beats her in response (although it can be argued that there's some ambiguity). When presented with the same situation in the TV adaptation, Archie is visibly angered and disgusted at the man and concerned for the wife.
    • A more subtle example occurs in "Over My Dead Body". In the novel, the janitor of the fencing / dance studio which is central to the plot briefly appears in a scene where he's questioned by Archie. In this scene, he is depicted pretty much as a stereotypical lazy "Steppin Fetchit" African American stereotype. In the TV episode, the janitor is still African American, but the scene where he interacts with Archie doesn't take place.
  • Short-Runner: Was cancelled after two seasons.
  • Shown Their Work: Episodes set during World War II feature women who, rather than wearing stockings, have lines drawn up the backs of their bare legs to simulate stocking seams. This was an actual practice done during the war as silk and nylon were needed for parachutes and other military uses but it was still considered unseemly for women to have bare legs in public.
  • Universal-Adaptor Cast: Because the show utilized a repertory cast system, an actor (outside of those playing recurring characters) could go from playing a pivotal role in one episode to having a blink-and-you-miss-it bit part in the next.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Archie in the A&E series. Not only does he have more fabulously tailored suits and hats than many women have dresses, but he's also able to obtain any disguise he might need at a moment's notice.
  • The Unseen: Theodore Horstmann, Wolfe's botanist, doesn't show up, although he is mentioned a few times.