Not too long ago an old clip surfaced of Peter Falk on David Letterman, in which he told an intriguing tale about recording a special Cold War message for Romanian state television. The clip went viral and got our attention — but was it actually true? Did a fictional American detective really help quell a communist revolt?
We donned the proverbial raincoat and started sleuthing—at which point Falk’s late night anecdote cracked open into an intricate geopolitical saga that stretches from DC to Bucharest; from a Los Angeles hotel room to the palatial estate of a despot. It’s a story that involves dueling ideologies, dozens of diplomats, and millions of viewers. It’s an honest-to-goodness cold war caper about American soft power behind the iron curtain, and it’s so involved it’s going to take two episodes to solve.
This podcast was written by Willa Paskin, who produces Decoder Ring with Katie Shepherd. This episode was edited by Joel Meyer. Derek John is Slate’s executive producer of narrative podcasts. Merritt Jacob is senior technical director.
A special thank you to Andrada Lautaru who translated and worked with me from Romania. Thank you to Carol and Joel Levy, Jonathan Rickert, Alan and Aury Fernandez, Katie Koob, Felix Rentschler, Richard Viets, Jock Shirley, Gabriel Roth, Cameron Gorman, Torie Bosch, Delia Marinescu, David Koenig, Don Giller, Forest Bachner, Corina Popa, David Langbart, William Burr, Asgeir Sigfusson, John Frankensteiner, Tom Hoban, and everyone else who helped with this episode. Thank you to Evan Chung.
For research into Romanian T.V., Willa relied heavily on the scholarly work of Dana Mustata, Alexandru Matei, Annemarie Sorescu‐Marinković, and the screening socialism project from the University of Loughborough. She also relied on the work of Dennis Deletant and Timothy W Ryback’s Rock Around the Bloc, a history of rock music in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union
You also heard a song in this episode from the Romanian band Phoenix.
If you haven’t please yet, subscribe and rate our feed in Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. And even better, tell your friends.
If you’re a fan of the show and want to support us, consider signing up for Slate Plus.
Slate Plus members get to listen to Decoder Ring without any ads. Their support is also crucial to our work. So please go to www.slate.com/decoderplus to join Slate Plus today.
Learn more about your ad choices. Visit megaphone.fm/adchoices
Surprised this never mentions Sod's law. which I always thought was the original version of this (in the UK at least)
Why did I get this show in my down loads? is it like U2 and iPod? They pay to have it automatically put in my down loads?
I had the whole set of Larry Wilde's books, they were hilarious
I loved those books! And I still do. Nothing is sacred... just laugh
Well please generalize a whole political party and tell us what the cool kids think so we can all agree and use that agreement to shame people. Cool.
The funny thing, as time goes on, pinot noir (of the $20 and under variety) has become more and more over extracted to the point of tasting pretty much like merlot. Most people just want to be told what to like. Few want to figure it out themselves.
I see what you did there with how the party is still young and flexible and we don’t know where it’s going. 😂
39:59 "I know a lot of people probably who listen to the podcast are humans..." 😆
I cannot even describe how thirsty this episode made me.
I hate the pretentious idea that being displayed in a hotel somehow strips art of its value. It sounds like the snobby man interviewed would only be happy if all "good" art pieces were completely unaccessible to anyone other than the wealthy and privileged few.
you instantly know this is pre-pandemic because the host had to explain what tiktok was 😂
Jesus Willa sounds like she's yelling
In The Tootsie Shot, I was disappointed they didn't even mention The Mary Tyler Moore Show. She did it in 1970, before any of the movies mentioned.
Love the subject matter, research is great. however I could not listen to the last episode about the color blue in food. The hosts voice is so lazy... The end of every sentence is filled with gravel. it's too bad because it is an excellent podcast but the lazy delivery makes it non-listenable
80’s Massachusetts we called it an Ape Drape.
Can you do an episode on Four Loco? 🙏
I'll never forget that poop game I used to play on my phone. It was adorable. I think it was called super poo. 💩💩💩
I'm from India and I remember my father hating laugh track on some Indian shows they used on. but I really enjoy them 😀
Fascinating history that is a good perspective to realize today is not necessarily hugely different from moments in the past.