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Series / Father Dowling Mysteries

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Adapted from the eponymous mystery novel series by Ralph McInerny and starring Tom Bosley, Tracy Nelson, James Stephens, and Mary Wickes, this show got its start as a TV movie in 1987. It became a series in 1989 and ran until 1991, running for one eight-episode season on NBC and two more seasons (a combined 35 episodes) on ABC.

Set in Chicago, it involves the main characters, Father Francis "Frank" Dowling (Bosley) and Sister Stephanie "Steve" Oskowski (Nelson), stumbling across murders and other such crimes, and solving them. Then there's Father Prestwick (Stephens), the assistant to the Archbishop who often finds himself filling in for Father Dowling in church matters when the latter is out investigating, and rectory housekeeper Marie Mulkin (Wickes).

The series also had three appearances by Father Dowling's identical twin brother Blaine (also played by Bosley), a Con Man who invariably caused trouble.

A production of Viacom, its distribution rights were acquired by Paramount Television, producers of Bosley's previous series Happy Days, following the acquisition of Paramount Pictures by Viacom. The subsequent 2006 split of Viacom gave the rights to both shows to CBS Studios.


  • Action Girl: Sister Steve
  • Amateur Sleuth: Dowling and Oskowski are definitely not trained investigators, but they do what they can.
  • Butt-Monkey: Father Prestwick
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Father Dowling's original Friend on the Force was his nephew, Lietenant Phil Keegan. Keegan was the son of the priest's deceased sister (and not Father's Dowling's Evil Twin Blain). Unfortunately for Lietenant Keegan, he suffers a fatal case fo Chuck Cunningham Syndrome right after the pilot, and is never seen or referred to again. Coincidentally, Tom Bosley, who played Father Dowling, also played Chuck Cunnigham's father on Happy Days.
  • Cool Old Guy: Father Dowling.
  • Delinquents: Sister Steve was one of these before she became a nun, hence her street smarts. Both her brothers also have histories.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Marie Murkin, the housekeeper.
  • Deal with the Devil: "The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea Mystery" was essentially a remake of The Devil and Daniel Webster, with Sister Steve making the deal to save her brother's life and Father Dowling defending her soul against a Jury of the Damned.
  • The Exotic Detective: Dowling is a priest, so a few of his adventures have started with someone talking about a crime during their confession so Dowling decides to do something about it.
  • Evil Twin: Blaine Dowling
  • Fixing the Game: In one episode, Sister Steve rigs an electromagnet to allow Father Dowling to win at roulette. Unbeknownst to him, the device breaks, but he nonetheless goes on a winning streak. Later, Sister Steve asks what happened, and he blithely states that he lost his initial stake.
  • Friend on the Force: In the TV movie, Phil Keegan. In the television series, primarily Sergeant Clancey, but occasionally Lieutenant Foster.
  • Hollywood Nuns: Sister Steve fits the visual criteria on occasion. Mostly a subversion, however.
    • Lampshaded in "The Hard-Boiled Mystery", where the victim is a writer friend of Father Dowling's who based his novel on one of the Father's cases. The Sister Steve Expy is a prim, humorless woman who faints at the sight of blood.
      Sister Steve: Talk about a wimp in a wimple.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Except for the pilot movie "Fatal Confession," every episode title followed the format "The _______ Mystery."
  • Pilot Movie: Fatal Confession: A Father Dowling Mystery
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Steve and Frank.
  • Pretty in Mink: When investing a crime scene in a house, there is a lynx coat around. Stephanie can't resist trying it on just once.
  • Signature Headgear: Father Dowling's fedora.
  • Something Only They Would Say: Blaine tries to trick the police into arresting Frank, the two dressed alike. Steve asks Frank about what a person told him in confession. Frank says he can't tell her that and Steve announces to the cops this is the real Frank as only a true priest would go to jail rather than break the sanctity of confession.
  • Tomboyish Name: Sister Steve
  • Unassuming Old Priest Investigates: The High Concept driving the show.