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Steven Spielberg made movies thanks to this TV detective

Steven Spielberg is one of the most renowned movie directors in the world, but he got his start in television, on thriller and detective series.

Steven Spielberg's Duel

Steven Spielberg is one of the most iconic movie directors of all time, with 35 films in a wide range of genres cementing his legendary status for eternity. It’s somewhat surprising then, that he actually got his start in television – where directors have far less control. He discussed his start in the industry with the DGA in 2006.


“The fact that I was doing TV was going to be a postgraduate program on the way to making feature films; that’s how I regarded television. It was a learning process. I had never directed anything professionally. [Growing up] the crew on my films numbered nine or ten kids my own age. Now, I was doing my first TV series [Night Gallery], starring Joan Crawford, no less.”

“And when I showed up with my acne and my long hair…I think they took one look at me and they said, this kid better prove himself quickly or he’s out of here. The rank and file of the crew was just sending daggers my way, working as slowly as they could – not to get themselves fired, but maybe to get me pushed off the show. It was a real baptism by fire.”

“A director in television loses control the second that he walks off the sound stage and post-production begins. Then the producers get very involved and kind of over-cut you or re-cut you or second-guess the cutting of the film. And I realized that my goal was at some point in my life to have control over the movies I made.”

It turns out that it was Columbo, of all things, that gave Spielberg the chance to make his first movie. “I lobbied for it very, very hard [to make my first thriller movie Duel]. I had just finished directing [legendary detective thriller series] Colombo, the very first show of the series, and it turned out really well. So I showed George Eckstein, who was producing Duel, my rough cut and he liked it and then represented me to the network, and I believe he went to Barry Diller, who was then head of ABC, and Barry approved me. And so I got this amazing gig.”

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