'Blue Bloods': Why this police drama resonates with Long Islanders
These days, Peter King is a consultant (for Northwell), columnist (The Hill) and radio talk show host (WABC). But the former congressman from Seaford always has time for his show. Superfans always do.
King says he watches "Blue Bloods" reruns most days, or listens to them — episode after episode, with the volume turned down, as the thrum of NYPD cops going about their job or tending to family business around a dinner table drifts across the room "like background music," he says.
"Blue Bloods" — a CBS drama about a family with three generations of cops, centering on its famously mustachioed patriarch/Commissioner (Tom Selleck)— has been on the air 12 years and in reruns almost as long. Nevertheless, by his own estimate, King has never missed an episode.
The show's appeal is "among people who moved from the city to Long Island and is sort of a reminder of what we thought New York used to be like — the tight family structure, and the family of cops who basically have their own troubles but at the end of the day they all stick together. I can't tell you how many people come up to me and want to talk about 'Blue Bloods' and most of them originally did live in the city."
The 250th episode of "Blue Bloods" arrives March 11, and you now know what King will be doing come 10 p.m. He won't be alone either. "Blue Bloods" most likely would never have reached this milestone without the devotion of Long Island-based superfans like him. They're out there, or rather out here, and there are a lot of them.
Nielsen doesn't count them but these LI fans are nevertheless a reliable presence in chat rooms and Facebook pages where they share their love or often just emojis (like that heart-shaped one). When a favorite character left at the end of the 7th season — Amy Carlson's character, Linda Reagan, wife of Det. Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) was killed — a few dashed off real letters to real newspapers (this one, as a matter of fact) demanding explanations, or just seeking solace.
They tend to be older and also tend to watch TV the old-fashioned way, which is parked squarely in front of the set on Friday nights at 10. Increasingly, some watch the new fashioned-way too. The national average viewership of 6 million grows to around 10 million when delayed viewing (mostly DVR and Paramount) is factored in a few days later. That's almost certainly the pattern on Long Island as well.
Kevin Wade, the longtime showrunner, says "there seems to be a genuine affection for it" among some Long Islanders, "and if you meet a cop who knows you work on 'Blue Bloods,' you have the next 20 minutes of your life spoken for.
"There's gratitude for showing respect for police as a profession, as human beings, and when there are anti-police viewpoints, whether from politicians or the public, we try to build a soapbox of equal dimensions for that other side too. We don't want to become a pro-cop show but we do want to present them in the strongest possible light, which is 'if you say that, I will hear you and I will argue back with this or, I will take this action because it's my job.'" `
The real world has made this past season a particularly complicated one for "Blue Bloods." While the 12th season has unfolded in a COVID-free world, there have been extended storylines about the Defund the Police movement, police brutality and racism. There's a mayor (played by Dylan Walsh) who worries obsessively about public opinion polls and has tried to get Selleck's NYPD commissioner, Frank Reagan, to worry obsessively too.
A fans know, Frank's not a worrier, or that kind anyway:
"I do not do the weather here," he starchily replied.
Through 14 episodes this season, the Reagan family has been bowed, never broken, while the show's signature Sunday dinner scenes have remained a pause button for reflection and healing. Mostly they're reminders of the importance of duty, family, honor and faith, and not always in the same order.
Like most procedurals, the crime arrives before the opening credits and the stories that follow interweave professional and personal crises. There's Frank, who tries to remain above the political fray that constantly tries to undermine the department and his authority. Son Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) is also a widower and a dad, but just wants to be the best cop he can be. Youngest son Jamie (Will Estes) is a sergeant and something of a Boy Scout, while his wife Officer Eddie Janko-Reagan (Vanessa Ray) tends to be more pragmatic. Their sister, Erin (Bridget Moynahan), an assistant Manhattan district attorney, has spent the season mulling a run for DA, mindful that a victory would mean a Reagan in both top law enforcement jobs.
Then, there's the former commish and Frank's dad, Henry (Broadway legend Len Cariou). From his seat at the head of the dinner table, Henry always has a way of soothing troubled waters.
That's the formula, and it's been ironclad over 12 seasons. But what binds "Bloods" so closely to many Long Islanders is more subtle and complicated, say fans and producers. It's generational but also cultural. It's nostalgia but also about that real world circa 2020-22, from George Floyd to the fatal shootings of NYPD officers Wilbert Mora, 27 and Jason Rivera, 22 on Jan. 21.
Longtime viewer Toni Pressimone — former secretary to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Platt, and now retired and living in Oakdale — says "the show is pro-blue which is nice especially nowadays with so much bad press about cops." Her husband, George Kennedy, a former lieutenant with the Nassau County Sheriff, says "there is no respect for law enforcement anymore but everyone on this show, beginning with the commissioner, takes in the whole picture. You have to step out of it and look at all sides. That's what 'Blue Bloods' does."
"I'm usually not up at 10 o'clock so I have to watch it on demand," says Rose Wallfield Bruy of Jericho, a former New York City teacher. "But I really really enjoy it and the reason is because the people are real. You relate to their conflicts and they care for each other."
Both showrunner Wade and executive producer Brian Burns are Long Islanders themselves — Locust Valley and Valley Stream, respectively — and had extensive careers in movies and television before they arrived here in the early days. Wade wrote the screenplays ``Working Girl'' and "Meet Joe Black." A former playwright, and briefly, a New York stage actor, Wade moved with his wife to Locust Valley 22 years ago (mostly for the schools, he explains). Burns is a member of the famed Long Island Burns clan — Ed ("The Brothers McMullen'') is his older brother while his father Edward J. Burns was an NYPD sergeant and spokesman for the department.
The show has shot on Long Island. Wade took the crew and production out to Young Farms in Old Brookville "at the end of last season and it was only the second time we've traveled from our base [at Stage 23] in Greenpoint," he says. "There's a cap on how far out you can move your company and get them back in a single day without busting your budget."
At Youngs Farm "you can put the camera anywhere and make it pretty much anything you want. It does not look like it's off 25A." (Indeed: For the eleventh-season finale, "Blue Bloods" staged a wild shootout at this location that was supposed to be in New Hampshire.)
Wade has name-checked a favorite imported food store — Glen Cove's Razzano's — in a couple of episodes and Burns places the occasional Easter egg in scripts too, partly for friends' amusement or to see how many viewers really are paying attention on Long Island and in "the 6th borough" (Florida), where his father now lives.
"Little things in episodes like the names of kids I grew up with or names of pizza places on the Island." When he does, "I get a ton" of reaction.
Otherwise, the Long Island ties are tangential, or a product of culture and osmosis rather than by design, both producers say.
A lot of cops moved north to Rockland or east to Long Island during the '60s and '70s when they got priced out of New York City, Burns explains, including "both of my parents who grew up in the city [and] when I was born moved out to the Island. It was always instilled in us: New York s the place where you were going to work and Long Island was the place where you were going to live. The lines have now blurred, with so many people from my generation [he's 53] who grew up on Long Island then moved into the city during their twenties or thirties and have come back to Long Island. We're all New Yorkers."
Those "Blue Bloods"' family dinners, meanwhile, have become the common bond on the show with LIers. "I grew up in a neighborhood that was mostly Irish and Italian, and cops and firemen for the most part," says Burns. "All of the families on my block had family dinners every single night while the only real distinction between families was what time we had dinner."
Much like the Reagans' weekly sit-down, discussions were "topical and got to the news of the day, and issues that were most relevant at that time along with the moral lessons attached to those. But it was also about [family members] making fun of each other. You needed to be quick and you had to be funny without being critical and had to develop a thick skin."
Burns says this specific type of family dinner culture "is very Long Island and we just naturally infused the storytelling with it."
As it would happen, Peter King says the dinner scenes are his favorite as well.
King recalls the couple of times he was invited him to the Brooklyn set where he got to know cast members like Selleck ("great guy"), Wahlberg ("terrific") and Steve Schirripa (Det. Anthony Abetemarco, who works for Erin Reagan) "who should get paid for acting the same way off-screen as he does on."
"And the dinner scene! It's maybe four minutes on the show but takes two hours to tape. Every person's lines has to be done separately and they constantly have to change out dinner plates to make sure there is the same amount of food on them. All Donnie eats is asparagus."
Is there anything that King would nitpick about his favorite show — the one he has watched countless times, and can almost recite dialogue from?
He nearly sputters in indignation. Of course not. "That's sacrilegious."
TALKING WITH TOM SELLECK
After 250 episodes and 12 seasons, Tom Selleck has played Frank Reagan longer than any other character over this storied career ("Friends"? Ten episodes. "Magnum, PI?" 158 episodes.)
So long in fact that "NYPD Commissioner" and Selleck — who just turned 77 — almost feel conjoined. (He is also an executive producer of the show). But for how much longer?
He spoke to Newsday recently to answer a few other questions. (This was edited for brevity and clarity):
What are your feelings about the NYPD, and theirs about you?
We're not a cheerleader for the NYPD but I think we're very supportive of the organization as a whole, and I certainly am. Sometimes I'll be on the street and a cop will see me and kind of come to attention and give me a salute! The fact that cops like us and respect the show — and they don't respect all the ones that are on TV — and the fact that we have touched a chord with them is a real validation and one that I've enjoyed.
This season has explored in various ways everything from the tragedy of George Floyd to the Defund the Police Movement. Where does it go from here?
The show can go anywhere but I don't know where it's going and in some ways, Frank Reagan doesn't either. The problems come up for Frank without warning and so do the issues.
Some of the storylines — with Frank, or sons Danny and Jamie — do have that pervasive sense of "damned if you do, damned if you don't." What's behind that?
Watching the season as a whole, there is a cumulative sense of that — that the NYPD is under siege and losing good people right and left. Frank has gone through a string of situations where he had a good cop who screwed up a little bit but then asked 'how can I bend the rules to keep this person?'
It's been a difficult year for the real NYPD — most recently the deaths of Officers Wilbert Mora and Jason Rivera. How will the show reflect this going forward?
Yes, it has been and will greatly influence the writers, but we don't rip from the headlines. We stick to protocols and issues and more to the zeitgeist than to a specific incident. But this year will greatly affect us and we'll be telling those stories or reflecting them sideways, if you know what I mean by that.
Fans have long wanted to know what happened to Amy Carlson (her character, Linda Reagan, wife of Danny, was killed off in a helicopter accident before the start of the 8th season).
Amy wanted to leave the show, sadly. She sat at my left at the dinner table for a long time. I don't think — and I'm not privy to this — that she was interested in doing a goodbye episode and their relationship was such that you couldn't end it any other way than the way we did. That was difficult and what you ended up with was a bunch of widowers.
You own that ranch in California and have commuted from there for years. How much longer will you do the show?
I do have a lot of responsibilities and don't like the commute, but the show is forever young and we all like each other. There are a lot of shows where you have to walk around on eggshells — not on 'Magnum' and not on this — and I think everybody else would like to continue. No reason not to.
Do you have a final wrap scene in your head?
No, and I don't think there is a finality to this. There is no ending plan at all, and I can't imagine an ending. This has been so much a part of my life, longer than I could have ever imagined. How do you do a show for twelve years and not get bored?
I understand you're writing a book (with former Newsday columnist Ellis Henican). The title?
'Don't Know Where I'm Going But No Use Being Late.' I had an accidental career with a lot of twists and turns, and you realize that I didn't have success until I was 35. There's a lot of that in that title. — VERNE GAY