Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Created in 1934 by mystery writer Rex Stout, Nero Wolfe was a wealthy, eccentric, short-tempered, self-indulgent dilettante who happened to be a genius at solving crimes. Weighing "one-seventh of a ton," Wolfe disliked working, socializing (particularly with women), and self-exertion, preferring to spend all his time in his elegant 35th Street brownstone in New York City, speaking in pretentious epigrams, raising his prize-winning hothouse orchids, eating rich gourmet food, smoking expensive cigars, and generously sampling his collection of rare beers. Only under certain conditions would he agree to accept a case requiring his keen sense of deduction and analysis: if the client could meet his exorbitant price, if his own sense of justice and fair play had been violated, or if his wisecracking assistant Archie Goodwin had insisted upon taking the case, usually at the behest of a beautiful damsel in distress. Almost never venturing out of his apartment, Wolfe dispatched Archie to do the legwork, collect the clues, and absorb the physical abuse which went hand in glove with "hard-boiled" detective work. Once Archie's work was done, Wolfe would assemble and analyze the clues, come up with the solution, and summon forth his "friendly enemy" Police Inspector Cramer to slip the cuffs on the guilty party. Nero Wolfe has been played on film, radio, and TV by such heavyweight actors as Edward Arnold, Walter Connolly, Sydney Greenstreet, Thayer David, and William Conrad, but so far as most mystery aficionados are concerned, the actor who came closest to capturing the "real" Wolfe was Maury Chaykin, who played the role in the A&E TV series bearing the blanket title A Nero Wolfe Mystery. Introduced as the two-hour movie The Golden Spiders on March 5, 2000, and launched as a regular, hour-long series on April 22, 2001, the A&E version also faithfully recreated the spirit and substance of the original Rex Stout novels, right down to the period atmosphere (the show was set in the '50s) and a to-the-letter recreation of Wolfe's brownstone apartment at 914 W. 35th Street (including the famous one-way mirror, allowing Wolfe to take a look at his clients before actually meeting them). Likewise, the series' take on Archie Goodwin was pure Rex Stout. As played by Timothy Hutton (who also narrated the episodes in first-person, in keeping with Stout's customary style), Archie was insufferably arrogant, chauvinistic, and slightly dimwitted, speaking in pure "film noir-ese" as he gathered clues and gave the stories' various "dames" the once-over. Other characters lifted from the novels included Wolfe's security chief and Archie's right-hand man Saul Panzer (Conrad Dunn), Fritz Brenner (Colin Fox), Wolfe's invaluable gourmet chef; and Bill Smitrovich as the long-suffering Inspector Cramer. The individual episodes of A Nero Wolfe Mystery were adapted from the classic Rex Stout Wolfe novels and short stories, bearing such titles as "The Doorbell Rang" and "Death of a Doxy."