“I WANT MORE CARROTS!” Tom Selleck announces from his seat at the dining table. Surrounded by his Blue Bloods brood, the actor is playfully ad-libbing dialogue for a family dinner scene, which is unfolding at New York’s Pier 59 Studios for a Watch! photo shoot. As legendary lensman Patrick Demarchelier snaps away, Selleck’s onscreen daughter, Bridget Moynahan, can’t help but respond with a little good-natured ribbing. Holding a breadbasket in one hand, she glances at Selleck’s plate, which already has a generous serving of the vitamin A-rich veggie, and cracks, “You sure you need more?”
Forget carrots. It’s Blue Bloods’ artful recipe of meaty police cases and slow-simmering character development that fans can’t get enough of. Since its premiere last September, the series—which revolves around a multigenerational clan of New York City cops headed by Selleck’s commissioner Frank Reagan – has emerged as one of TV’s most arresting new dramas. A hit with viewers and critics alike, Blue Bloods stands out as a modern throwback, a show that manages simultaneously to feel both incredibly fresh and comfortingly familiar. “This is like The Sopranos [in that] it’s about a family and the family business,” says executive producer Leonard Goldberg. “Only the Reagans are the good guys [whose] job is preventing the Sopranos.” The comparison to HBO’s mob hit is apt, considering two of the first-season executive producers, husband-and-wife team Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green, previously wrote for the Emmy-winning drama. The idea also fortuitously coincided with Goldberg’s unexpected return to the series world. As the veteran producer behind such classics as Starsky & Hutch, Charlie’s Angels and Hart to Hart remembers: “My longtime friend [CBS Corporation President and CEO] Les Moonves and I got to talking one day, and he said, ‘Why don’t you do a show for CBS?’ I said, ‘I’ve been out of series television for a long time. And besides, you seem to be doing just fine without me,’ ” Goldberg chuckles. “He said, ‘Come on, you can come up with a show!’ And as you know, [Moonves] is not to be denied.”
Once on the case, Goldberg found himself inspired by two formats he’d previously found immense success with: the police procedural and the family drama. “Finally,” says the producer, “I thought, Why not combine them?”
A clearer portrait of the Reagans emerged when Goldberg found himself leafing through a book of Norman Rockwell’s iconic illustrations. “One in particular struck me called Freedom from Want, which is probably his most famous cover from the Saturday Evening Post,” says the producer. “It shows a family gathered around a table at Thanksgiving, the father ready to carve the turkey, and it just hit me: We should do a family dinner scene every week.”
Those meals together—during which the Reagans eat, drink and debate the often-thorny issues raised by their respective cases—have become a hallmark of the series, one that resonates deeply with fans. “People will come up to me and say,‘Hey, I had dinner with you the other night. What did you think of the meatloaf?’ ” says Len Cariou, who plays Selleck’s retired cop father. “At first I’m going, ‘What are you talking about? I’ve never met you before.’ And then it’s, ‘Oh, right. The show.’ People always want to talk about those dinner scenes because they feel real. I think they see their own families in them, and that’s cool.”
These days, the cast looks forward to breaking bread on screen together. “I sit at the table in between takes, and I just look around and feel so fortunate,” Selleck says. “Everyone is a very accomplished actor, and we all like each other, which I’m thrilled about.”
“When it comes to the dinner table, I don’t stick to the script,” reveals Donnie Wahlberg, who plays eldest Reagan son Danny. “I add a lot
WHEN THE CLOTHING FROM YOUR FIRST HIT SERIES is considered such a national treasure that it’s displayed in the Smithsonian, deciding to star in another can be daunting.
“It’s pretty hard to beat the kind of success that [Magnum, P.I.] was,” admits Tom Selleck, who became one of TV’s biggest stars in the 1980s as the charming aloha-shirted, Detroit Tigers-capped title character. “You go, ‘Oh my God, they’re going to compare this to Magnum.’ But you’ve gotta fight that. Actors can be defeated if they don’t take risks.”
If playing widowed police commissioner Frank Reagan initially felt like a gamble, it now looks like yet another smart move in an enduring career that has spanned not only TV but also film and Broadway. As the soulfully commanding man who watches over his family and New York City with equal devotion, the actor has earned some of his most glowing reviews to date.
Executive producer Leonard Goldberg says the goodwill audiences have felt for Selleck since his Magnum days only enriches their viewing experience. “[Selleck is] such a reassuring presence that I think people wish [Frank] were the police commissioner of their city,” Goldberg says. “He just brings that feeling of, ‘It’s gonna be tough, but in the end everything’s gonna be OK.’ ”
Like the Reagans, the Selleck family was a particularly close bunch. “My big brother, Bob, and I fought all the time,” the actor says, “but there was no doubt that if there was trouble, we were inseparable.”
The actor also admits to drawing on his late father while playing Frank. “I had a very good dad—I was lucky,” he says. “When I’m a little lost, stuff he said comes to mind, and it really grounds me in this character.”
Major research hasn’t hurt, either. While preparing for the role, Selleck spoke to former New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton and the current one, Raymond Kelly. He also pays close attention to every detail—no matter how likely the audience is to see it. Onscreen, “I’m carrying a gun that Frank’s grandfather would’ve carried,” he reveals. “I made sure it was made in the ’30s.”
And like his character, the role of family man is of utmost priority to Selleck. Thanks to an arrangement struck with producers when he signed on to Blue Bloods, the actor spends half of each month at home with his wife of 23 years, Jillie Mack in Los Angeles and dotes on his two grown kids. “I’m a little more consistent than any actor probably should be,” he says, breaking into a laugh. “My life’s kind of boring.”
RETIRED NEW YORK CITY POLICE CHIEF HENRY REAGAN may be one gruff granddad, but he’s got nothing on the man who plays him. Just consider Len Cariou’s blunt response when Blue Bloods producers asked him to come in for a third audition. “I said, ‘Go [expletive] yourself,’ ” Cariou recalls with a laugh. “I told my agent, ‘There’s nothing they could possibly throw at me that I couldn’t do, and if they can’t figure that out from what they’ve already seen, there’s no point in pursuing it.’ ”
It’s hard to argue, considering Cariou’s illustrious career. Since making his Broadway debut in 1968, the Winnipeg, Manitoba, native has become an icon of the theater world, winning a Tony (for the original 1979 production of Sweeney Todd) and racking up two other nominations, not to mention a 2004 induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame. Along the way, he’s also shared the big screen with luminaries as diverse as Elizabeth Taylor and Johnny Depp, taken direction from Oscar winners Clint Eastwood and Alexander Payne, and earned an Emmy nomination for his turn as Franklin D. Roosevelt in HBO’s Into the Storm.
In the end, it didn’t take a third audition for Blue’s executive producer Leonard Goldberg to realize that only an actor of Cariou’s stature could play opposite a TV powerhouse such as Tom Selleck. “Len is used to commanding the [room],” says Goldberg, “and we needed someone who had that kind of strong presence.”
But not even the 71-year-old actor, married for nearly 25 years to actress-turned-author Heather Summerhayes, was prepared for the recognition that comes with a hit series. “Fifteen million people see this show every week,” he marvels. “That’s more people than have ever seen me onstage—just in one week!” Now that’s nothing to swear about. of lines. Part of it is I like to keep things snapping along but the other part of it is Danny. It’s not enough for him to just say his point; he wants to keep antagonizing. So it works because neither one of us likes to play it safe.”
There was nothing “safe” about Blue’s inaugural family dinner. In fact, it was a major source of anxiety for all involved, because it was the very first scene shot on
the very first day of work—and apart from Wahlberg and Moynahan, who’d worked together previously on another pilot, the actors were strangers. “Here we’re playing people who’ve known each other all their lives, but we had no relationship between ourselves,” Selleck says. “I go, ‘My God! How can we shoot this the first day?’ Basically, I said, ‘Hi, I’m your father,’ and we went to work. It was a little scary.”
“It wasn’t smart of us as producers to put that scene first,” Goldberg admits with a laugh. “Normally you start off with a very small, unimportant scene just to get everybody, including the crew, used to shooting together. But that’s just the way the schedule worked out.”
The situation could easily have been disastrous. But much to everyone’s relief, “it all just fell into place,” marvels Green. “There was really good chemistry right away.”
A vital component to that chemistry is the man who presides at the head of the table. From the start, Goldberg envisioned Selleck in the role, but the Emmy-winning actor—who’d brought to life one of TV’s most beloved characters in Magnum, P.I.—had reservations about returning to the weekly series beat. While he was a fan of Green and Burgess’ pilot script, Selleck was already content working on the big screen and on CBS’ Jesse Stone movies. What’s more, he and his family were based in California, where he owns a 60-acre working ranch, and Blue was set to shoot on location in either Canada or New York. (Ultimately, the East Coast locale won out.) “I said, ‘There’s a quality of life issue here,’ ” remembers Selleck. “On Magnum, my priorities were out of whack. The show was 90-hour workweeks, nine months a year, and ever since then, I’ve always asked, ‘What about the family?’—no matter how good the job is.”
Goldberg remained undeterred. “What we had going for us,” he says, “was a wonderful script and a wonderful part.” Surprisingly for someone of Selleck’s stature, the fact that the role wasn’t the show’s sole lead turned out to be another advantage. “He wasn’t looking to do ‘The Tom Selleck Show,’ ” Goldberg says. “He wanted to be part of a strong ensemble. That, to me, was very impressive.”
Ultimately, producers sealed the deal by pitching Selleck a compromise: The actor’s shooting schedule would be compressed so that he would still be able to spend half of each month at home in Los Angeles. Given that, “it wasn’t hard to commit,” Selleck says. “I love the work. This show is very character-driven in a television world right now that isn’t, and I think that’s why people are staying home to watch.”
BRIDGET MOYNAHAN HAS MORE THAN A LITTLE IN COMMON with Blue Bloods’ Erin Reagan-Boyle. Like the tough-as-nails prosecutor she plays, Moynahan grew up the only daughter in an Irish-American clan and now juggles a high-profile career with single motherhood. Still, the actress was originally hesitant about accepting the role.
Concerned about the long hours away from her 3-year-old son, Jack—as well as the possibility that the series would shoot in Canada, rather than on the East Coast, where she has family—Moynahan demurred when producers first sent her the script. Thankfully, co-star Donnie Wahlberg, who’d shot a cable pilot with the actress in 2008, refused to take no for an answer.
“I called Bridget and said, ‘You’re doing this!’ ” Wahlberg says. “I begged her—and I sold her on the fact that it would shoot in New York, even though I had no clue it would. I said, ‘Look, if it’s Canada, you can walk into the makeup trailer every day and slap me in the face.’
“Fortunately,” he adds with a laugh, “it didn’t come to that. I wouldn’t want her slapping me too much—she’s a tough girl!”
Moynahan comes by it honestly. Raised in Longmeadow, Mass., with two brothers, she was a self-professed tomboy who competed in both soccer and basketball. But she was also a 5’9•••”-stunner who at age 18 moved to New York and eventually landed on the covers of Elle and Vogue. Undeterred by the many models who’ve tried—and failed—to make the transition to acting, she studied the craft and wound up with a star-making turn as Mr. Big’s wife, Natasha, on Sex and the City. “[Executive producers]Michael Patrick King and Darren Star took a chance on me,” she says. “It was really supposed to be a nothing role but luckily, it developed into something people still talk about.”
A string of big-budget films—including The Sum of All Fears opposite Ben Affleck, The Recruit with Al Pacino and I, Robot co-starring Will Smith—also had fans buzzing. But it’s her current co-stars who seem to have become true-Blue friends.
Take Tom Selleck, whom she fondly calls “Dad” even when the cameras aren’t rolling. (“There are times that Dad is like, ‘You said that just like my [actual] daughter would!’ ” Moynahan says.) And as any sister would, she’s prone to giving onscreen siblings Wahlberg and Will Estes a hard time. “Unfortunately,” she says with a smirk, “I think I protect them more often than they protect me.”
ONE OF NEW YORK’S FINEST ISN’T FEELING SO FINE AT THE MOMENT. “I have a sore throat,” Donnie Wahlberg says between coughs. “I haven’t really been getting much sleep.”
That’s the price a guy pays for having not one but two full-time careers. While Wahlberg clocks long hours on the Blue Bloods set daily, he often spends nights and weekends rehearsing for a summer reunion tour with New Kids on the Block.
Still, the double-threat insists he’s hangin’ tough. “I love being busy,” he says. “With acting, I’m an employee, and with New Kids, I’m sort of my own boss. To go back and forth, it’s a great balance”—one he felt confident he could maintain.
That’s why, despite the inevitable lack of ZZZs, Wahlberg didn’t waffle when he was offered the part of Danny Reagan, the tightly wound detective who’ll do whatever it takes—even shove a perp’s head in a toilet—to solve a case. “There was a certain fluidity to the way he was written,” says the actor. “While he was a serious and intense character, he read to me like he was gonna be a lot of fun to play.”
But it was the pilot’s family dinner scene—which reminded Wahlberg of his own Boston-bred brood that included nine kids, including fellow actor Mark—that really sold him. “It was reminiscent of my life as a kid and the conversations we had,” says the entertainer, who himself is now the father of two sons, ages 17 and 9. “I was more the peacekeeper in my real life, trying to avoid arguments. But I know there’s always that sibling like Danny who will go a little too far.”
Wahlberg’s insight convinced producers that he had the right stuff for the gig and that, after a number of failed series, he’d finally found a perfect fit. Says executive producer Leonard Goldberg: “Remember how many pilots George Clooney did before ER? Then when he did [that show], you went, ‘Well, of course he’s a star.’ I think that’s what Blue Bloods is [for] Donnie.”
Whatever the benefits, Wahlberg believes he wouldn’t have been ready for them before. “I think it took my whole career to be in position to play this guy,” says the actor, who previously turned in critically acclaimed performances in The Sixth Sense and the short-lived TV drama Boomtown. “I think I’m a better actor now, because I have a better sense of confidence.I have a good grasp of playing the character and not letting the character play me.
“There have been a few moments in life where I look at where my career is and wouldn’t change a thing,” he continues. “This is one of those times. I’m in the sweet spot.”
Being bicoastal continues to be an adjustment. “The work is very consuming so when I’m in New York, I miss my family but when I’m in L.A., I miss the show,” he admits. “And when I come back [to the set], I go, ‘Who is this guy I’m playing?’ because I’ve been away two weeks. But those things will smooth out as time goes on.”
And make no mistake: Selleck would like to be racking up frequent-flier miles for many years to come. “Frank is a role I’ll always love,” he says. “I think the character has a limitless ability to grow and change and get more interesting, so I hope I can play him for a long time.”
As Blue prepares to wrap up its remarkable first season, the rest of the ensemble is feeling similarly gratified by its success. “Hit shows don’t come along every day,” Wahlberg says. “We all know we’ve got something pretty special here.”
WITH HIS ALL-AMERICAN LOOKS, Will Estes has often been called upon to portray men in uniform, be it an embattled member of the U.S. Navy in the film U-571 or a high school football star-turned-Vietnam vet on the TV series American Dreams. Still, he cops to getting a singular kick out of carrying the badge of Blue Bloods’ impressionable rookie, Jamie Reagan. “It harkens back to when you’re a kid playing cops and robbers,” he says. “There’s an excitement to catching bad guys that never goes away.”
But what if the bad guys are members of your own tight-knit clan? That’s a possibility the youngest Reagan, a Harvard grad who opted to forgo a lucrative legal career in favor of joining the family biz, has been forced to consider since embarking on a top-secret investigation into his brother Joe’s untimely death. Finding someone who could handle the multifaceted role was the producers’ “most difficult” casting task, says executive producer Leonard Goldberg: “He had to be a strong enough actor to carry the whole mystery [of what happened to Joe] on his shoulders, and you had to believe that he had the smarts to go to Harvard.”
To do his role justice, Estes visited New York precincts and talked to real cops on the beat. Focus like that has likely helped the actor—who landed his first series at the tender age of 11—avoid many of the pitfalls that often plague child stars.
“I think one of the biggest tricks,” he says, “is to engage in other things that have nothing to do with acting.” Throughout his career, Estes has taken his own advice. “I took a class on solar panel installation,” reports the actor who, shortly before moving out East for Blue, fit his Los Angeles home with the energy-efficient panels. “When I got my first power bill, it was, like, $3.95. I was excited about that.”