Selleck puts his spin on TV movies
By MIKE HUGHES
Special to The Advertiser
Not long ago, made-for-TV movies engulfed the big networks.
Viewers could find seven new ones a week, hundreds a year. And now? "We're really the only one," Tom Selleck said.
He's talking about the Jesse Stone movies, the newest of which is airing Sunday. If you don't count "Hallmark Hall of Fame" films (which rent their slots from CBS), they're almost the only ones on a big-four network.
That's fine with Selleck, who says he's never been that interested in the standard TV films. "When CBS first came to me (about movies), I said, 'They all look alike and I don't like them very much.' "
He agreed to make one, if he could produce it himself and go for a different, movie-theater look. The Jesse Stone films began, based on a character by novelist Robert B. Parker.
Parker wrote camera-ready dialogue, Selleck said. "You could lift it right off the page and into the script."
Back in his "Magnum, P.I." days, Selleck almost made a movie based on Parker's detective character, Spenser. "I couldn't squeeze it into the three months I had." Later, Spenser was played by Robert Urich in an ABC series and Joe Mantegna in cable movies.
Then, about six years ago, CBS asked Selleck to do a movie. The timing was perfect; he had just read "Stone Cold," one of the first Parker novels to focus on Jesse Stone, a former Los Angeles cop who's now the police chief in the seaside town of Paradise, Mass.
He was also working on a mini-series in Halifax, Nova Scotia. That, he decided, could pass for Paradise.
Most of the "Jesse Stone" filming is done in Halifax, but the scenes showing a seaside downtown are done in Lunenburg, a nearby town of 2,600. This is the sort of place that Jesse moved to, bringing his big-city experience and big-city problems.
Those problems are crucial. Parker had two key rules, Selleck said: Jesse can never solve his troubles with alcohol and with women.
The rest was open. "He said, 'My books are 350 pages; your scripts are 90. They won't be the same."
The fourth Jesse Stone movie ("Sea Change") used the title of a Parker novel, but not the plot. The fifth and sixth ("Thin Ice" and now "No Remorse") even have original titles.
Parker — who died in January of a heart attack, at 77 — had written at least nine Stone novels, 40 Spenser ones and six Sunny Randall ones. The films will keep aiming for his terse dialogue, said Selleck, who co-writes the scripts.
That's a rhythm Selleck learned in cowboy films. "It's a different way of viewing things," he said. "Jesse's a listener; he doesn't do a lot of talking."
Jesse has old-West instincts. "He's sort of like the small-town sheriff who makes up his own rules."
Except that he has a town council to answer to. In "No Remorse," he's on suspension; he's been hired to probe some big-city murders in Boston, setting up a collision with a mob boss. Back in Paradise, he tries to subtly help his former deputies deal with a crime spree.
Jesse faces much of this alone — except for the company of a dog named Reggie (played by Joe the Dog).
Selleck, of course, is a master of minimalism. In their understated way, he and Joe are propping up the once-booming world of TV movies.