The Greatest TV Moment Of All Time Is Waiting For You To Stream

By Joshua Tyler | Updated

The single greatest, 10-second television moment of all time didn’t happen on Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones or on some other modern prestige TV program. It happened in 1971 on the television show Columbo.

Greatest TV moment on streaming

The episode is “Suitable for Framing,” and it’s the fourth episode of Columbo ever to air. Interestingly, the show’s first episode was directed by a young Stephen Spielberg, but even Spielberg could not top what happens in the show’s fourth episode.

Keep in mind that I’m not trying to argue Columbo is the greatest show of all time or even that “Suitable for Framing” is one of the best television episodes of all time.

Neither is true. Columbo is a truly great show (that holds up), and “Suitable for Framing” is a truly great episode of television, but it probably doesn’t belong in the top ten on any all-time great lists, overall.

That is except for “Suitable For Framing’s” ending, which in the final ten seconds delivers what is perhaps the greatest single finish to anything on television ever.

If you haven’t seen Columbo (and you should), then you need to know right off the bat that this is not a typical cop catches the bad guy television show. Columbo is a detective drama that flips the script on the traditional whodunit. Instead of leaving viewers guessing the identity of the criminal, each episode kicks off with the crime itself, revealing the perpetrator right from the get-go. 

This format, known as the “inverted detective story,” focuses not on who did it, but how they’ll get caught and it was Columbo that popularized the style. Enter Lt. Columbo, an iconic character portrayed by Peter Falk, a seemingly bumbling, disheveled detective with a knack for lulling criminals into a false sense of security.

If you’re making a greatest fictional detectives of all time list, Columbo would surely be on it.

Peter Falk as Columbo
Peter Falk as Columbo

The series thrives on psychological warfare between Columbo and the perpetrator. Each episode is a battle of wits, filled with tension, mind games, and the gradual unraveling of the criminal’s meticulously crafted plans.

In “Suitable for Framing,” art critic Dale Kingston (Ross Martin) devises an elaborate scheme to get his hands on his wealthy uncle Rudy Matthews’ art collection, worth millions. Dale stages a murder scene to make it appear as though his aunt Edna, Rudy’s estranged wife, is the guilty party. 

He steals some of Rudy’s paintings and replaces them with replicas, then plants a glove and other evidence to frame Edna. After murdering his uncle, Dale establishes a tight alibi by being at an art event where he keeps asking people the time.

Dale Kingston and Lt. Columbo

Dale is cocky and self-assured, almost relishing the cat-and-mouse chase with Columbo. He doesn’t just want to get away with the crime; he wants to outsmart the detective. Dale invites Columbo into his world of high art and higher society, perhaps thinking the shabbily dressed detective won’t keep up. But this is Columbo we’re talking about—the man’s not easily dazzled.

In the end, it’s the little things that catch Dale Kingston off guard. Columbo traps him with minuscule details, like the mismatched paint used in a supposed “masterpiece” and a hidden key to his uncle’s safe.

Catching a crook
Dale catches Columbo napping

None of that is enough to close the case and Dale seems confident he’s about to get away with it and frame his aunt for the crime in the process. 

At one point early on, Columbo visits Dale and catches him coming into his house carrying a bag. As the audience, we know that in that bag are the stolen paintings Columbo has been looking for. Columbo starts talking about art and gets Dale to tell him there are cheap watercolors in the bag. Columbo acts interested and reaches into the bag as if he wants to see them.

Columbo sticks in his hand

Columbo gets his hand in but never actually sees what’s in the bag. Dale pulls away and makes excuses. The exchange makes Dale nervous, and we, the audience, assume that making Dale nervous was Columbo’s goal all along.

Columbo stopped

Dale, back to feeling secure, goads the police into searching the house of his aunt Edna. Earlier, he hid some of the stolen art there, knowing that if he could get the police to search his aunt’s house, the frame-up would be complete.

The police show up, and Columbo is nowhere to be seen. In fact, it seems like he’s been taken off the case. When Columbo does arrive, he hangs back and observes while others give orders. He slouches around with his hands in his pockets, stays out of the way, and seems to be acting very un-Columbo-like.

Columbo's hands in his pockets
Columbo slouching around

Then, the moment Dale has been waiting for happens. The police find one of the stolen paintings and bring it out. 

Dale acts distraught and moans, “How could you Edna?” playing to the crowd. It’s then that Columbo steps in. 

The bedraggled Lieutenant reveals he’s still in charge of the case and he’s been waiting for this moment. He affirms they have no intention of charging Edna with the crime, he knows Dale did it and says now he can prove it by dusting the painting for fingerprints.

Columbo dusting for prints
Columbo ready to dust for prints

Dale laughs and says, “I already told you my fingerprints were all over the paintings because I unpacked them.” And that’s when Columbo drops the bomb.

“I’m not looking for your fingerprints; I’m looking for mine.”

Columbo fingerprints
Oh I’m not looking for your fingerprints; I’m looking for mine.

That night at Dale’s house, Columbo reached into the bag he was carrying and touched whatever it was Dale had inside. If the bag contained the stolen paintings, then Columbo’s fingerprints would be all over them.

Dale panics and accuses the police of entrapment. He rages, accusing Columbo of trying to frame him by touching the painting just now while no one was looking. 

It's Entrapment!
It’s entrapment!

Columbo, who has kept his hands buried in his rumpled coat pockets the entire time, shrugs and pulls them out, holding them up for all to see. He’s wearing gloves and has been since he walked in the door.

Columbo's glove reveal

The episode ends. The audience is out there somewhere, rolling on the floor or possibly dead from ecstasy. Columbo becomes an iconic series and one of the greatest whodunits in television history, running for ten seasons and airing new episodes into the 90s.

Every season of Columbo, including season 1’s “Suitable for Framing” is available to stream online for free using Peacock.