It's tough being a TV character. Whether you're a crime-solving supersleuth or a wacky next door neighbor, the pressures are intense - villains that refuse to be caught, friends who don't share your enthusiasm for celebrating Festivus. When cigar-smoking had ceased, for a while, to be trendy - during the long lean years before the 1990s-era "cigar boom," cigar smoking enjoyed an abrupt, and steep, spike in popularity after years of quiescence - these iconic small-screen heroes turned to fine cigars as a relief from their pressures.
Created by Abby Mann - an Oscar-winning film writer who had raised the intellectual profile of television with his work for the 1950s drama anthology series "Playhouse 90" - Police Lieutenant Theo Kojak, played by Telly Savalas, fought crime from 1973 to 1978. He took refuge from the difficulty of his job in his cynical sense of humor, his personal incorruptibility, and, at least at first, a love of fine cigars. (In later seasons of the show, the character quit smoking and became addicted to lollipops instead; these sweet-tasting substitutions became a series trademark.)
Though in some ways a typical 1970s cop show, "Kojak" was noted as exceptional for the quality of some of its writing - one 1976 episode won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America - and for its occasional treatment of civil rights issues. The show's pilot, a TV movie entitled The Marcus-Nelson Murders, was a fictionalized look at a real-life 1963 murder case.
In that case, two brutal murders were pinned on a young African-American male, due to lazy police work and institutional racism; the young man would have been convicted, if a second investigation by a new detective team hadn't found the real killer. In adapting this story for television, Abby Mann didn't flinch from including its racial subtext, and he created a proudly Greek-American detective character to solve the case.
The Marcus-Nelson Murders were popular enough to inspire the network to commission a TV show dedicated to the adventures of this same Greek-American hero, Kojak, and the show has proven enduringly popular in syndication and reruns.
Another televisual detective with enduring popularity is Lieutenant Columbo, the cigar-chomping, trenchcoat-wearing, appealingly disheveled homicide detective whose TV appearances spanned the last four decades. First appearing in a 1960 episode of "The Chevy Mystery Show," then in a 1968 TV movie, a regular 1971-78 series, and then in sporadic TV movies until 2003, Columbo solved crimes in his own distinctive, faux-incompetent style.
Fumbling through one case after another, imperturbably polite to suspected criminals, Columbo uses his seeming disorganization to lure criminals into giving themselves away. His tireless attention to detail always resulted in the one killer question - the "Just one more thing" - that would cause a murderer's alibi to unravel. The show's creators claimed that they drew inspiration from Porfiry Petrovich, the dogged police investigator of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, and from G.K.
Chesterton's priestly detective Father Brown. (But Columbo's seeming bafflement and absent-mindedness, his obsession with details that seem trivial but turn out to be turning points, also bring to mind Hercule Poirot, the lovably fussy Belgian detective who waddled through dozens of Agatha Christie's mystery novels.)
The show's major innovation was its inverted structure - episodes often begin by identifying to the viewer (though not to the other characters) who the perpetrator is, while suspense is built through the rest of the story as viewers wonder whether, and how, Columbo will expose the killer. He smokes Toscano cigars.
Possibly the most famous next-door neighbor in television history, Kramer bedeviled the existence of Jerry Seinfeld for all eight seasons of the well-regarded existentialist sitcom "Seinfeld" (1989-98). His character is a bit of a mystery - he generally has no job, except for the occasional lunatic scheme (such as The Bro, a bra for overweight men) or the occasional gig as an extra in a Woody Allen movie ("These pretzels are making me thirsty!"). He resorts to guttural noises to indicate emotions, has "hair like the Bride of Frankenstein" (in Elaine's words), and wears clothing that looks like (and sometimes is) what you'd find in an old dead man's closet.
Candid to the point of tactlessness - as when he tells George's girlfriend she needs a nose job - he's in the habit of filching items of food from Jerry. Despite his apparent poverty and extreme oddness, he induces occasional jealousy in friends, as when George remarked that he ought to start his own fantasy camp: "People should plunk down two thousand dollars to live like him for a week. Do nothing, mooch food off your neighbors, and have sex without dating! That's a fantasy camp."
Along with all the other luxuries he enjoys without working, Kramer is constantly shown smoking cigars.
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