As "Blue Bloods" reaches its second-season finale, Tom Selleck is looking ahead to season three.
On the CBS hit drama (which airs Friday at 10 p.m. EDT), Selleck plays Frank Reagan, the NYPD commissioner and patriarch of a family devoted to law enforcement and one another. His offspring include a detective (Donnie Wahlberg), a cop (Will Estes) and an assistant D.A. (Bridget Moynahan). On duty and off, they, along with the extended Reagan family, have each other's back _ even if it's not always easy to say it.
"We Reagans aren't real gushy, but I couldn't be more proud of you," Frank Reagan tells his daughter in one of his more expansive displays.
Frank is an upright, reassuring presence for his brood and for "Blue Bloods" viewers alike, especially presiding at the head of the table for the family dinners that have become a weekly staple of the show.
The role is a comfortable fit for Selleck, himself a family man wed to Jillie for a quarter-century and with a grown daughter, Hannah.
And yet the role poses challenges: How do you play a character who is strong and incorruptible without appearing too good to be true?
"A commander can't expose his weakness or doubt or concern or worry," says Selleck. "I have to show all those things to the audience without showing it to the cops I'm ordering around. When you get inside Frank's head, you realize that anybody with the weight of the world on his shoulders will exhibit flaws that come from dealing with that kind of pressure. I think next season we're going to get inside of him more and reveal more of them."
At the same time, Selleck hopes the show will find some lighter moments.
"I can't sit around giving orders all day," he says. "They cast me because I can play bosses. But I have other colors I can play."
No doubt. As the Vietnam-vet-turned-private-eye Thomas Magnum, Selleck knew how to play serious with a well-timed wink. And don't forget his guest role on "Friends," as well as such comedy features as "In & Out" and "Three Men and a Baby," the top-grossing film of 1987.
Still strikingly handsome at 67, the strapping, dimple-cheeked Selleck has had to work against those leading-man looks ever since his uncertain start as an actor.
"When I was 25 I sounded 15 and looked 35," he says with a laugh. "That clearly wasn't working. It was only when I kind of grew into myself that the quirky aspects of what I do became a strength."
In a pivotal step that led to his eight seasons on "Magnum P.I.," Selleck scored a lighthearted guest shot on "The Rockford Files." As the charming and charmed investigator Lance White, he struck the perfect comic contrast to the lovably bedeviled gumshoe Jim Rockford. Selleck considers "Rockford" star James Garner a mentor in showing him how to mine humor from drama.
"I think humor is an essential element of a long career," says Selleck, "and I miss actual comedy. If you want to tell everybody I'm available for the three months `Blue Bloods' isn't on, I'd LOVE to do a comedy!"
Of course, Selleck was busy during last year's hiatus. He was filming "Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt." Airing on CBS on May 20, it's the eighth in the series of Jesse Stone whodunits that began in 2005, based on characters created by the late Robert B. Parker in his best-selling series of books.
Selleck manages to wring sparks of humor from this melancholy lawman, who, as the film begins, has lost his end-of-the-line job as police chief of tiny Paradise, Mass.
The surface whodunit surrounds a mob-related double homicide, "but the mystery at the beginning of the tale is always Jesse.
"He's a totally decent guy who has a lot of issues, and deals with them every day," says Selleck. But Jesse is a man of few words _ words that often leaven with irony the pain he feels.
Selleck makes it work. Not for him is overacting as Jesse, who pines for his ex-wife and struggles for grounding in this backwater town.
"It's like crying on-screen," says Selleck, citing his cardinal no-no. "Actors are always proud when they cry. But what people do in real life when they're getting emotional is, they try NOT to cry. They're embarrassed about it."
As for Jesse, "he's had a real journey," Selleck says sympathetically. "Right now, in (film) number eight, he's trying to get his job back and put his universe back in order."
Like Stone, the future of the franchise is uncertain. CBS hasn't made its intentions known.
"But I don't think that this is the end," Selleck says. "If CBS doesn't want Jesse anymore _ and God knows that's their right, and bless them, they've produced eight of these _ I think there's a lot of people in line who'd like to do it elsewhere, who've expressed interest over the years."
If this sounds like a very gracious warning to CBS, so be it. Selleck wants to stay in the Jesse Stone game, saying he could probably do two films per season, plus "Blue Bloods."
Despite their many differences (item: New York City and Paradise are very different domains), the two characters share some traits: They are both in law enforcement, both are private men and both sport mustaches (supplemented with a goatee by Jesse Stone).
Selleck makes the most of it in both roles, working his mustache emphatically with every pensive grimace and moue.
Is facial hair standard issue for Selleck?
"I get a lot of mustache questions," he sighs, patiently explaining that he first sported one in the 1970s, "when they were common," and then kept it, of course, for Thomas Magnum.
"It becomes part of your look and it becomes baggage," he says, "but I never had any qualms about shaving it off" (and did, for example, to play Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in the 2004 TV film "Ike: Countdown to D-Day").
In fact, he was OK with the idea of a clean-shaven Frank Reagan, but says CBS felt otherwise.
"It's not a big deal to me," Selleck insists. "I hope people aren't just looking at the mustache when they see `Blue Bloods.'"
EDITOR'S NOTE _ Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at fmoore(at)ap.org