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Spenser: For Hire is a mystery television series based on Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" novels. As is typical, the series, developed for TV by John Wilder, differs from the novels, mostly in its lesser degree of detail.

Like many TV detective series, the show is voiced over in first person, just as the novels are written.


The series ran on ABC from 1985 to 1988. The two-hour pilot movie was an adaptation of the fourth novel in the book series, Promised Land. The show garnered decent ratings, (however, it was placed against CBS's Falcon Crest and NBC's Miami Vice in its first season), despite frequent time slot changes and occasional preemptions. In the end, all of the location shooting contributed to the show's demise, with cost being cited as one of the reasons why ABC canceled it. The location shooting, mostly Boston was one of the show's strong points, showing all around town, even showing the harsh winters there (notably in the pilot).

While the show had a loyal following, Parker was disappointed with the final product (though he said it was not the fault of the performers). This was odd as Parker was a consultant on the show. Urich, however, indicated it was his favorite acting role. Music was by Steve Dorff and Larry Herbstritt.


Just the name Spenser is used. There is no indication whether this is a first or last name, though in the novels, it's clear that this is the character's last name. In An Eye For An Eye, Spenser quotes something from Edmund Spenser, a famous 16th century poet, so that may be where the name originated as the spelling is the same. When introducing himself, he often said "Spenser with a 'S', like the poet." Spenser was surprisingly sophisticated for a private eye and former boxer. In The Choice, we find that 12 years ago in a professional fight he did badly, which probably contributed to him leaving the profession. However, he still works out, boxing and such at Henry Cimoli's Gym (which Hawk also uses). He is well-read, often quoting poetry in everyday conversation. He is also an excellent cook, often cooking recipes as he watched Julia Child on his kitchen counter television.

Spenser lived in Bostonmarker and, like many detectives on TV, drove a distinctive car, an ivy green '66 Ford Mustang (possibly a nod to Steve McQueen's Mustang in Bullitt). Spenser used to be on the police force and occasionally goes to them for help, as they sometimes rely on him for help. Hardnose Lt. Quirk seems to view him as a necessary evil while Sgt Belson (portrayed as a bit of a slob) takes Spenser as he comes. Ms Silverman reveals she is pregnant in Children of the Tempest Storm with Spenser's child. The word abortion comes up when talking with another woman but is rejected. However, there is no more mention (or sign) of her pregnancy in the first season (she was missing in the second season). Spenser is a catholic.

After his first place of business goes up in flames, and losing a second place of business in the pilot episode, Spenser moves into a firehouse, given him by grateful local firefighters for saving the life of a firefighter (at his first place of business). It is situated on the corner of River Street, near Mt. Vernon Square. In the second season, we find that the Fire Department took the station back as they needed it and Spenser finds himself in a small top floor apartment which he now uses as his office.

Hawk is the street wise black kid who grew up to be a smartly dressed enforcer but though he is for hire, he has a code of ethics and generally works on the side of good. In the Pilot show (Promised Land), he and Spenser obviously have respect for each other, and he switches over from King Powers (Chuck Connors) side to Spenser's side when he doesn't like the way Powers is doing things. Hawk carries a nickel plated .357 Magnum Colt Python 8" barrel revolver as his weapon of choice.

Lt Quirk and Spenser had an uneasy relationship but often did work together. In the episode Heart of the Matter, Quirk suffers an attack of angina and reluctantly accepts the fact that he must retire after 35 years on the force. Belson having passed the lieutenant's exam 3 years previously had expected to move up, especially after being recommended by Quirk for the job. But it was said there was no money for a promotion so they drafted in a Lieutenant from Lincoln Heights. Lt. Nick Webster is a hard nose from day one and the first thing he does is order Spenser out of the station.


Robert Urich played Spenser. The other major characters were Hawk, played by Avery Brooks, and Susan Silverman, played by Barbara Stock. Stock left the show in its second season and was replaced by Carolyn McCormick as Rita Fiore. Stock then returned for the final season, her character having been in San Francisco for a year to try and get over Spenser. The character Rita Fiore just vanished without explanation as Silverman had at the end of the previous season.

Character actors Richard Jaeckel and Ron McLarty also co-starred as Spenser's police contacts, Boston homicide detectives Lt. Martin Quirk and Sgt. Frank Belson. Spenser was a cop himself 8 years previously (mentioned in the first season).

DVD Release

Rykodisc released the four TV movies that were made following the cancellation of the weekly series, on DVD for the first time on June 28, 2005. It is unknown if the series will ever be released on DVD.

Cover Art DVD Name Ep # Additional Information
Spenser: The Movie Collection 4 Features the four TV movies:

Spenser: Ceremony

Spenser: Pale Kings And Princes

Spenser: The Judas Goat

Spenser: A Savage Place

  • Spenser essay

Sequels and spin-offs

  • During the early 1990s, Urich and Brooks reunited for four made-for-TV films. The movies were based on four of Parker's novels. Parker and his wife Joan co-wrote the first two screenplays. Barbara Stock was replaced as Susan Silverman in the first two movies by Barbara Williams and in the other two by veteran actress Wendy Crewson (Air Force One). Parker's son Daniel appears in all four movies as a waiter in Spenser's favorite restaurant. Unlike the series, which often filmed in Boston, the new movies filmed in Toronto.

  • In an April 23, 2009, entry of his blog at, the author has stated he is in talks with TNT to produce a remake of the series.

See also

External links

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