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Retro T.V. Reviews: Spenser for Hire (1985) (Part 1: History)

Updated: Jun 1, 2021

Show Name: Spenser For Hire

Developed by: John Wilder

Starring: Robert Urich, Avery Brooks, Barbara Stock (Seasons 1 & 3), Ron McLarty, Carolyn McCormick (Season 2) and Richard Jaeckel

Original Release: September 20th, 1985 to May 7th, 1988

Number of Seasons: 3

Number of Episodes: 66 + 4 Made for TV Movies


I used to have fond memories of watching this show when I was younger. I was too young for its initial release, but I did catch it on reruns from time to time.

Yes, this is another one of those shows that I would watch with my dad and brother. It was our style of TV show and we loved it. It was at a time where you needed to wait for it to play at a certain time every week. Something that is probably getting lost on today's youth.

I remember Hawk as being cool and I almost looked forward to his appearances more than Spenser. Has the show aged as well as I remembered? There were enough fans that they decided to reboot the series on Netflix. The new iteration of the franchise stars Mark Wahlberg. The name of the first movie is called Spenser Confidential and you can click on the link here for the review from our own Dino Teoli.

Has this aged well? Is it worth the time to watch? Let us find out!!

History / Background

The TV series was loosely based on a series of books authored by Robert B. Parker. The character first appeared in the novel The Godwulf Manuscript. I am fully admitting that I have never read the books. So, if you have, can you let us know how they compare to the TV series and movies?

The show is known for being shot on location in Boston, Massachusetts. It was rare for shows to be filmed there. However, a show that jumps to mind was Cheers. However, Cheers was filed mostly inside. Spenser for Hire was often filmed outside. In fact, you often see the harsh Boston winters. This is especially true for the pilot and most of the first season. Subsequent seasons were not too bad but it seemed rare that they filmed during the summer months. The characters always walked around with jackets.

The show ran on ABC for 3 seasons that included 66 episodes. After the show was off the air, there were 4 TV movies. I have tried to find the movies but they are rare. However, there was a DVD set of the movies available. I will try my best so that I can review them here.

The ratings for the show seem to be inconsistent. From what I can gather, the show started off very strong. However, seems that by the second season the show was not doing too well and was threatening to be cancelled. As fate would have it, they would be renewed for a final third season.

The critics at the time were not too kind to the show.

ALTHOUGH far from a blockbuster hit, ''Spenser: For Hire'' has been renewed for a third season on ABC. Using the private-investigator character created by the novelist Robert B. Parker and developed for television by John Wilder, the series got off to a solid start, then took a tumble into confusion and hack writing. Now the beleaguered network has at least one good opportunity to get back to the basics of entertainment.

Spenser is played by Robert Urich, a capable actor who you always feel should be doing something better than he's doing, but he never does. The show is shot in Boston and has a nice cinematic look. But the writing is so bad and the role so camp that you could substitute Bill Murray for Urich and not miss a beat.

During its run, there were changes both in front of the camera and behind it. In front of the camera Barbara Stock (Susan Silverman) was let go from the show. From what I can gather, the showrunners did not know what to do with her character. Due to this, in the second season Carolyn McCormick was brought on board as a DA. She would eventually become the love interest for Spenser. However, seems that fans liked the chemistry with Susan more, so Stock was brought back for the final season and McCormick was out.

Behind the camera, Juanita Bartlett replaced John Wilder as Executive Producer. No matter who was behind the camera, almost everyone universally criticized the writing for the show. I will get more into this, in the Part 3 part of the review.

According to what I could find, the low ratings and the high cost of producing the show, led to its cancellation. It was also victim of changing timeslots.

Having said that, there is quite a cult following for this series nowadays. I am not sure if Spenser Confidential on Netflix created the interest but it does seem that fans are looking to purchase the DVD's.

In part 2 we will be looking at the cast for the show and what they have accomplished in their careers.

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Jack Prowess
Jack Prowess
5 days ago

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