Father Dowling Mysteries

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Father Dowling Mysteries
Father Dowling Mysteries Title Screen.png
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
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 43 + 1 TV movie (list of episodes)
Running time 40 minutes (per episode)
Production company(s) The Fred Silverman Company
Dean Hargrove Productions
Distributor CBS Television Distribution
Original network NBC (season 1)
ABC (seasons 2-3)
Original release November 30, 1987 (1987-11-30) (TV movie)
January 20, 1989 (1989-01-20) – May 2, 1991 (1991-05-02)

Father Dowling Mysteries (also known as Father Dowling Investigates in the United Kingdom)[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 hindrance 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 Productions.


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, Sada Thompson, Tony Todd, John Vernon, Kate Vernon, Robert Walden and David Warner.


Season TV season Network Time slot Episodes Premiered Ended DVD set
release date
TV-movie 1987–88 NBC Monday at 9:00 pm 1 November 30, 1987 (1987-11-30) February 7, 2012 (2012-02-07)
1 1988–89 Friday at 8:00 pm 8 January 20, 1989 (1989-01-20) March 10, 1989 (1989-03-10)
2 1989–90 ABC Thursday at 8:00 pm 13 January 4, 1990 (1990-01-04) April 26, 1990 (1990-04-26) July 10, 2012 (2012-07-10)
3 1990–91 22 September 20, 1990 (1990-09-20) May 2, 1991 (1991-05-02) March 12, 2013 (2013-03-12)

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.

Production credits[edit]

  • Executive Producers Fred Silverman and Dean Hargrove
  • Executive in Charge of Production Mike Moder
  • Supervising Producer Robert Hamilton (season 1)
  • Supervising Producer Robert Schlitt (season 2)
  • Produced by Barry Steinberg (season 1,2)
  • Co-Producer David Solomon (season 1,2)


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: hence he does not appear in the next 5 episodes, reappearing only in the final Season 1 episode, The Pretty Baby Mystery (when it's said he had offended the Bishop in Anchorage, Alaska, and been kicked out there). From the start of Season 2 he becomes one of the regular cast.

Regular series[edit]

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 Supervising Producer Robert Hamilton, who contributed five of the scripts, but Hamilton was dropped when NBC cancelled the show after just eight episodes.

When ABC picked up the show for the second and third seasons (initially as a mid-season replacement), the show's executive producer, Dean Hargrove, together with Joyce Burditt, became the backbone of the writing team, frequently writing episodes jointly (Hargrove had begun his career as a scriptwriter, on the TV series The Man From U.N.C.L.E.). And Gerry Conway, whose career began 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 co-producer for the third season, as well as writing many of the episodes.

For the third and longest season (the show's only full 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 third season episodes - a number of them in collaboration with co-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 final, cancellation. Executive producer Dean Hargrove wrote several episodes which did not sit well with viewers of a religious disposition,[citation needed] nor with the network,[citation needed] moving the show away from being a murder mystery series and straying into theological areas, including 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's 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 pick any lock. She knows the language of the streets and converses fluently in it. She is much younger than Frank, and looks up to him as the father she never had, while he treats her as though she's his daughter.

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

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.

The other recurring character is a female Chicago police officer, Detective Sergeant Clancy (Regina Krueger), who is Father Dowling's friend and principal police contact in the two ABC seasons. In season 3, Dick O'Neill replaced her as Lieutenant Foster, an old friend of Frank's in the police force, whom Frank browbeats into doing favors during the investigations.

The mysteries usually begin with a mysterious visitor to St Michael's church, or the parish Rectory next door where Father Dowling lives (looked after by his elderly housekeeper, Mrs Marie Gillespie). Sister Steve takes all her meals at the Rectory, and acts as chauffeur for Father Dowling, who doesn't drive: Steve handles the parish station wagon like a professional stuntman. Marie takes phone messages for them, while they travel all over Chicago investigating the latest case. Meanwhile, Father Prestwick pops in and out of the Rectory, almost always at mealtimes. Marie and Phil provide light relief as a comic double act, forever squabbling over the domestic arrangements (a running gag is Phil's devotion to never missing a meal); but Marie always emerges victorious.

In the episode The Legacy Mystery (which aired on April 4, 1990), Bosley was reunited with his Happy Days co-star, Marion Ross who played the mother of a wealthy businessman accused of stealing valuable artwork.

DVD releases[edit]

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

On June 6, 2017, CBS DVD released Father Dowling Mysteries: The Complete Series on DVD in Region 1.[7]

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
The Complete Series 44 June 6, 2017 N/A N/A


External links[edit]