I owe Tom Selleck an apology. The long-time genial hunk, famous as “Magnum, P.I.” and notable in show business lore for missing the career opportunity of a lifetime when contractual obligations forced him to turn down the role of Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” has guided his CBS police series “Blue Bloods” to five seasons, exploring tough ethics dilemmas in virtually every episode, and usually doing it very well. For some reason, I’ve only cited the show a few times, once critically, and it deserves better. Netflix started streaming the show, and my wife has been watching about three a day. I really hadn’t been paying sufficient attention, or respect. It’s a wonderful ethics show, the best since “Star Trek, the Next Generation’s” hay day, and one of the very best ethics TV shows of all time.
Selleck plays fictional New York City police chief Frank Reagan. The show could be called “The Conflicts of Interest Family, ” because law enforcement is the family business, and Selleck’s large brood includes two sons, one a patrolman and the other a detective, under his command, and a daughter who is an assistant district attorney. Reagan delicately balances the jobs a father, mediator and boss, all while being given back-seat advice from his father, who is retired but was also a NYC police chief.
I have found myself thinking about how Selleck’s character would react to the Ferguson ethics train wreck. Police shootings have been frequent topics of episodes, as have political efforts to demonize police. Frank was a fan of New York’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, and accusations of profiling do not reduce him to a mass of apologetic jelly. Meanwhile, he has forged a working relationship or trust with the City’s black mayor, whose loyalties to the black community, and more than a few dubious civil rights headline-seekers.
Selleck is a credentialed, if low-key, Hollywood conservative, and his show’s demographics are just short of Social Security territory. It’s too bad: teachers should assign the show and discuss the episodes in class. The episode I wrote about earlier was an entire ethics course on its own, but hardly unique in the series: What should an undercover cop do when a child is imperiled in a burning building, and he is the only one who can get to the kid in time? If his photo is taken by the media that arrive on the scene, not only is his cover blown, but his life and family may be in danger. He hands off the child to his partner, who is the on photographed and becomes a hero. The city is clamoring for the Chief to decorate him as a hero. Naturally, the real rescuer is a Reagan. Should the partner be willing to live a lie? Should the Chief deceive the public and preside over a fake ceremony to preserve an undercover operation that might bust the mob? This was a memorable “Bluebloods” episode. but many reach this level of ethics complexity, and the duds are far and few between. This season the show has explored many ethics problems that have been debated in the news, such as campus rape, police body cameras, the “blue line,” news media bias, and others.
I apologize, Mr. Selleck. I have neglected your excellent efforts to present ethical dilemmas in law enforcement, leadership and parenting to the public in an intelligent, balanced, courageous and entertaining manner. Great job, on a great show. Please keep it up. I promise to pay closer attention.