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Father Dowling Mysteries

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Father Dowling Mysteries

Father Dowling Mysteries
Title screen
Based on Characters from the Father Dowling Mystery Books by Ralph McInerny
Developed by Dean Hargrove
Joel Steiger
Starring Tom Bosley
Tracy Nelson
James Stephens
Mary Wickes
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 43 + 1 TV movie (list of episodes)
Running time 60 minutes (per episode)
Production company(s) The Fred Silverman Company
Dean Hargrove Productions
Distributor Viacom
Original channel NBC (season 1)
ABC (seasons 2-3)
Original release November 30, 1987 (1987-11-30) – May 2, 1991 (1991-05-02)

Father Dowling Mysteries (also known as Father Dowling Investigates in the UK)[1] is an American television mystery series that aired from January 20, 1989 to May 2, 1991. Prior to the series, a TV movie aired on November 30, 1987. For its first season, the show was on NBC; it moved to ABC for its last two seasons.

The show features a Catholic Priest, Father Dowling, who solves murders, abductions and other mysteries in his Chicago parish, assisted by a young streetwise Nun, Sister Stephanie, in spite of hinderance by the Bishop's representative, Father Prestwick.

It is based on characters created by Ralph McInerny[2] in a series of mystery novels; but neither the pilot tv movie nor the subsequent regular season episodes are actual adaptations of any of McInerny's stories.

The series was developed for television by Dean Hargrove and Joel Steiger, and produced by The Fred Silverman Company and Dean Hargrove Productions in association with Viacom.


  • Cast 1
  • Episodes 2
    • Pilot 2.1
    • Regular series 2.2
    • Cancellation 2.3
  • Synopsis 3
  • DVD releases 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Father Dowling (Tom Bosley) and Sister Steve (Tracy Nelson)

The program featured many notable guest stars, some before they had achieved fame, including: John Astin, Jack Bannon, Roscoe Lee Browne, Steven Culp, Stacy Edwards, Fionnula Flanagan, Michelle Forbes, Kurt Fuller, Annie Golden, Grant Heslov, Laurie Holden, Stanley Kamel, Andreas Katsulas, Yaphet Kotto, Diane Ladd, Anthony LaPaglia, Scott Marlowe, David McCallum, Colm Meaney, William R. Moses, Craig Richard Nelson, Leslie Nielsen, Ethan Phillips, John Slattery, Brenda Strong, Robin Thomas, Tony Todd, John Vernon, Kate Vernon, Robert Walden and David Warner.


After its first season, NBC cancelled the show. It was picked up by ABC and aired for two more seasons. In total, Father Dowling Mysteries comprises a 2 hour TV movie plus 43 one-hour episodes.


The pilot was a two hour TV movie entitled Fatal Confession, which originally aired on NBC on November 30, 1987.

There were few similarities to the books written by McInerny, with the principal character even changing his name (in the novels, he was Roger Dowling), while the setting was moved from a rural parish in the small town of Fox River to the city of Chicago - a setting which was borrowed from another series of novels by McInerny, concerning a Chicago nun. For tv, the nun changed her name, became streetwise, lost many years of age, and metamorphosed into Father Dowling's youthful assistant.[3]

Father Prestwick did not appear in the pilot. The first episode of the series, The Missing Body Mystery, has him brought in to evaluate Father Dowling's parish, and Prestwick is initially appointed to replace him. At the end of the episode, Father Prestwick is reassigned to a parish in Alaska; but the character was brought back into the show subsequently.

Regular series

The show was due to begin in 1988, but because of a writer's strike it did not begin to air weekly until January 1989.

For the first season, on NBC, the episodes were principally written by Robert Hamilton, who contributed five of the scripts. But Hamilton was dropped when NBC cancelled the show after just eight episodes.

When ABC took up the show for the second and third seasons, the show's executive producer, Dean Hargrove, together with Joyce Burditt, became the backbone of the writing team, frequently writing episodes jointly. And Gerry Conway, who had begun his career as a well-regarded writer at Marvel Comics, was now appointed as a script consultant, initially acting as script editor on the series, before being promoted to producer for the third season, as well as writing many of the episodes.

For the third and longest season, Brian Clemens, who had been producer and executive producer on The Avengers and had written many of its best episodes, was added as a script consultant, and wrote or co-wrote many of the third season episodes - writing a number of them in collaboration with producer Gerry Conway.

The theme music for the regular series was composed by Dick De Benedictis.


The show courted controversy with viewers in its third season, which led to a second, and this time final, cancellation. Executive producer Dean Hargrove wrote several episodes which did not sit well with viewers of a religious disposition, nor with the Network, moving the show away from being a murder mystery series and straying into theological areas that were perhaps best avoided, including featuring actual appearances by the Devil and by Angels, presenting them as real characters within the storylines.


Father Francis ("Frank") Dowling is a Catholic priest who continually stumbles over murders, abductions and other felonies in his parish (the fictional Parish of St Michael's) in Chicago, Illinois. Because of the Chicago connection, many of the cases are mob-related. The name Francis is revealed in the episode The Movie Mystery, when he is talking to the Detective in charge of the case.

He's assisted by Sister Stephanie ("Steve") Oskowski, who does much of the legwork in the investigations. Sister Steve is a streetwise nun, who grew up in a rough housing project in the diocese, so can hotwire a car and handle firearms. She knows the language of the streets and converses in it fluently.

Father Philip Prestwick, who provides comic relief, is a social-climbing assistant to the Archbishop. Father Phil just happens to drop in before every meal, prepared by housekeeper Marie (Mrs Gillespie).

Father Dowling has an identical twin brother, Blaine (also played by Tom Bosley). A thief and con artist, who isn't above framing his brother for his crimes, Blaine appears in three episodes: The Face in the Mirror Mystery, The Woman Scorned Mystery, and The Fugitive Priest Mystery.

The other recurring character is a female Chicago police officer, Detective Sergeant Clancy (Regina Kreuger), who is Father Dowling's friend and principal police contact.

A famous line of Father Dowling's occurs when he asks Father Prestwick: "Father Phil, could you take 10 o'clock Mass? I've got a murder to solve."

DVD releases

CBS DVD (distributed by Paramount) has released all three seasons on DVD in Region 1.[4][5][6]

In Region 2, Acorn Media released the first season on DVD in the UK on June 18, 2012. However, it was released under the title Father Dowling Investigates.

In Region 4, Madman Entertainment released the first season on DVD in Australia on November 2, 2011.

There was also a VHS released in region 1 on the 24 of January 2000 of the "Fatal Confession" TV movie.

DVD Name Ep # Release dates
Region 1 Region 2 Region 4
The Complete First Season 9 February 7, 2012 June 18, 2012 November 2, 2011
The Complete Second Season 13 July 10, 2012 N/A N/A
The Complete Third and Final Season 22 March 12, 2013 N/A N/A


  1. ^
  2. ^ Biography of Ralph McInerny - Notre Dame Website
  3. ^ Obituary of Ralph McInerny
  4. ^ "Father Dowling Mysteries DVD news: Announcement for Father Dowling Mysteries - The 1st Season". 2011-11-21. Retrieved 2014-04-25. 
  5. ^ "Father Dowling Mysteries DVD news: Announcement for Father Dowling Mysteries - Season 2". 2012-04-16. Retrieved 2014-04-25. 
  6. ^ "Father Dowling Mysteries DVD news: Announcement for Father Dowling Mysteries - The 3rd Season". Retrieved 2014-04-25. 
  • Lovece, Frank, The Television Yearbook: Complete, Detailed Listings for the 1990-1991 Season (Putnam / Perigee, 1991) ISBN 0-399-51702-2

External links

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