By Steven Zeitchik Los Angeles Times
On a soundstage in an industrial Brooklyn neighborhood, Tom Selleck sits at the head of a prop-heavy dinner table filled with three generations of actors.
As a crew goes about its preparations, there’s little wisdom that Selleck won’t dispense: his March Madness pick (Duke, because “Coach K is a great guy, and his players graduate”), his aversion to gourmet vegetables, his favorite lines from “Airplane.”
Then the cameras roll, and he’s doling out nuggets all over again.
“It takes guts to stand by your principles, not just when it’s easy but it costs you something,” he offers sagely, this time in character as police commissioner Frank Reagan.
Welcome to CBS’ “Blue Bloods.”
Now in its unexpectedly successful third season, the show not only has marked the “Magnum, P.I.” star’s triumphant return to series TV, but may very well be the most popular television show no one talks about.
Despite airing in prime-time’s semi-wasteland of Friday night, “Blue Bloods” is now watched by nearly 13 million people, making it one of the most popular programs on network television.
In a climate where network hourlongs tend to be either grisly crime thrillers (“Criminal Minds”) or soapy mysteries (“Scandal”), “Blue Bloods” is an anomaly: a family drama that just happens to wear procedural clothing.
“It’s easy to put it out of mind because it’s on a Friday night,” said Kelly Kahl, senior executive vice president of prime time for CBS. “But the numbers are extraordinary. “
If you’re not familiar with it, “Blue Bloods” centers on the crisscrossing plots — sometimes procedural, sometimes familial — of New York’s law-enforcement Reagan family.
There’s police commissioner Frank (Selleck), son and detective Danny (Donnie Wahlberg), daughter and prosecutor Erin (Bridget Moynahan), son and beat cop Jamie (Will Estes) and Frank’s father (Len Cariou, in real life just a few years older than Selleck), daughter-in-law and assorted grandchildren.
For one shooting day each episode, Selleck &Co. gather for the scene they call “family dinner,” hashing out professional and personal issues, all in the presence of their wisdom-dishing, frequently sighing paterfamilias.
The dinner scene is a fixture of the series, made at the insistence of executive producer Leonard Goldberg when he pitched it to Les Moonves more than three years ago. Its existence is highly symbolic.
Those who work on “Blue Bloods” take pride in the family dinner and believe it’s the type of scene that drives the program’s success.
And then there’s Selleck, who for nearly half the year uproots himself from his avocado ranch in Freedom, Calif., to work in a scruffy part of Brooklyn.
The actor — yes, a makeup person does brush his mustache between takes — is known for being seen about town, where he has a particular appeal to older women; Goldberg likes to say that some will come up to him and disbelievingly exclaim “You’re him,” to which he might quip back, “I used to be.”