On the Spenser series

A Look at Spenser: For Hire

By Matthew Clemens, Max Allan Collins

In 1973, with the publication of The Godwulf Manuscript, Spenser put himself up for hire for the first time. This classic Philip Marlowe—style detective was wrapped in modern trappings that quickly built a major following for Robert B. Parker and his appealing hero. Almost immediately fans began to speculate on what actor might best portray the Boston knight in a big-screen or television incarnation. Similar questions were raised about supporting players Hawk, Spenser’s black sidekick (and id), and Susan Silverman, the detective’s love interest (and conscience).

That question would finally be answered on September 20, 1985, when ABC first aired a TV series based on the novels, adding a new household phrase to Parker’s already well-known detective–Spenser: For Hire. Though the show ran only three seasons, a modest success of sixty-five episodes, its impact was such that even some longtime readers of the series began to refer to Robert B. Parker’s Spenser: For Hire novels.

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The show snagged a decent time slot–Tuesday night, following the network’s up-and-coming spring replacement, Moonlighting, featuring Cybill Shepherd and somebody named Bruce Willis. Unfortunately, the Shepherd/Willis series was not yet a ratings juggernaut; though lead-in Moonlighting came in at number twenty-four in a year when The Cosby Show ruled the Nielsen ratings, Spenser: For Hire failed to crack the top thirty.

In season two, consigned to the no-man’s land of Saturday night where Star Trek had once been sent to fail, the program played out its run. Though the series had a devoted following and won  …

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