Remember the television series, Spenser: for Hire, starring Robert Urich as the crime fighting private detective who loved to cook alongside Julia Child? And his best friend, Hawk, played by Avery Brooks? I can still hear Hawk’s voice as he called out Spenser’s name in his extra Hawk-like syllables, “Spen-saaaar.” The hit show was adapted from the bestselling novels written by Robert B. Parker, and the novel and TV show’s success in the 1980s paved the way for four Spenser made-for-television movies in the 1990s.
In 1997, Robert B. Parker published the first in yet another series of nine bestselling novels featuring a new protagonist: Jesse Stone.
Night Passage (1997)
Trouble in paradise (1998)
Death in Paradise (2001)
Stone Cold (2003)
Sea Change (2006)
High Profile (2007)
Stranger in Paradise (2008)
Night and Day (2009)
Split Image (2010, published posthumously)
Before his death in January 2010, Parker saw television success again with his second adaptation: a made-for-television movie series, with none other than the great Tom Selleck portraying Jesse Stone.
Jesse leads a troubled life: he’s a former baseball star who quit playing due to an injury; his marriage to a movie-star, Jenn Stone, failed; he’s a disgraced former homicide detective fired from the force because of his drinking problem; and, now he’s the Police Chief in the small town of Paradise near Boston, despite having interviewed for the position while drunk.
The small town of Paradise grows on Jesse, and he works diligently to solidify his small police force (Deputy Suitcase: nicknamed after Jesse’s favorite baseball player “Suitcase” Simpson, and Molly: loyal policewoman, mother, and wife), and eliminates the big-city crime that has forced its way into the otherwise quiet community. He not only battles the bad guys, but he constantly teeters back and forth with his own personal demons: his ex-wife, alcoholism and depression.
Tom Selleck was first introduced as Jesse Stone by CBS in 2005. CBS started the TV movies with Stone Cold, the fourth book in Parker’s series, and then back-tracked with a prequel the very next year:
Stone Cold (2005)
Jesse Stone: Night Passage (2006)
Jesse Stone: Death in Paradise (2006)
Jesse Stone: Sea Change (2007)
Similar to most adaptations, the television movies differ slightly from the novels. For example, in the books, Parker writes Jesse’s character in his mid 30s, but Tom plays Jesse as bit older on TV. Also, in the televised Night Passage, Jesse is not drunk in his Paradise Police Chief interview, he’s only miserably hung-over from drinking the night before. Another difference on CBS’s adaptation of Stone Cold, Jesse finds the murder victim’s dog at the scene of the crime. Jesse adopts the dog, and the dog and Jesse share a close relationship throughout the rest of the movies. In the novels, Jesse never has a dog. Minor details though, right?
The remaining Jesse Stone television specials were not adapted from Parker’s novels, but writers Tom Selleck and Michael Brandman remain true to Parker’s Paradise and his flawed main character.
Jesse Stone: Thin Ice (2009)
Jesse Stone: No Remorse (2010)
The television movies are packed with familiar faces. Selleck and Brandman introduced a new member of Jesse’s team in Thin Ice: the fabOoolous Kathy Bates as Rose. Other recognizable actors frequent the movies in cameo roles such as Stephen McHattie as Captain Healy, William DeVane as Dr. Dix, Saul Rubinek as Hasty Hathaway, and William Sadler as mob-boss, Gino Fish.
Robert B. Parker was quoted saying, “Tom nails the character.” Selleck is Stone; Selleck delivers Jesse’s dry, matter-of-fact one-liners perfectly, and always portrays the best television detective (who will ever forget Selleck as Thomas Magnum in Magnum P.I.), and police officer (he does it again as Francis Regan in Blue Bloods). Tom Selleck gets better with age, doesn’t he?
This Sunday, May 22nd, Tom Selleck returns to CBS in Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost. Check it out!
What are some of your favorite novels that have been adapted to television or the big screen? Did the adaptation stay true to the book, or did they stray? Will Tom Selleck always be Thomas Magnum, or are you warming up to him as Jesse Stone? Which actor and/or actress do you imagine as a character in the novels that you read – and why? I’d love to hear from you!