Spenser: For Hire

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For the made for TV movies starring Joe Mantegna, see Spenser (TV movies).
Spenser: For Hire
Spenser For Hire title screen.jpg
Created by John Wilder / Robert B. Parker
Starring Robert Urich
Avery Brooks
Barbara Stock
(1985–86, 1987–88)
Ron McLarty
Carolyn McCormick
Richard Jaeckel
Country of origin United States
No. of seasons 3
No. of episodes 66, and 4 TV movies (List of Episodes)
Running time approx. 48 minutes per episode
Production company(s) Jadda Productions (season 2)
Warner Bros. Television
Distributor Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution
Original network ABC
Original release September 20, 1985 – May 7, 1988
Followed by A Man Called Hawk

Spenser: For Hire is a mystery television series based on Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels. The series, developed for TV by John Wilder, most notably differs from the novel in its lesser degree of detail. Similar to many TV detective series and the Spenser novels, the show is voiced over in first person.


The series ran on ABC from 1985 to 1988. Despite frequent time slot changes and occasional pre-emptions, the show garnered decent ratings. Location shooting ultimately led to the show's demise, with cost being cited as one of the main reasons why ABC cancelled it. Largely shot in Boston, which was considered one of the show's strong points, the show featured shots from all around town, even showing the harsh winters there (notably in the pilot). The music for the show was produced by Steve Dorff and Larry Herbstritt.



Spenser is the only name used for this character throughout the show. While it is clear in the novel that Spenser is the character's last name, this is never made clear during the show. According to a popular rumor, Parker was going to name the character David, after one of his sons, but changed his mind out of consideration for his other son, Daniel.[1] In "An Eye For An Eye," Spenser quotes Edmund Spenser, a 16th-century poet, which may be where the name originated since the spelling is the same. When introducing himself, he often said "Spenser with an 'S', like the poet." Spenser was surprisingly sophisticated for a private eye and former boxer. In "The Choice", it is revealed that Spenser did poorly in a professional fight 12 years ago, which might have contributed to his leaving the profession. However, he still boxes and exercises at Henry Cimoli's Gym. He is well-read, often quoting poetry in everyday conversation. He is also an excellent cook, often cooking recipes he picked up from watching Julia Child on his kitchen counter television.

Spenser lives in Boston and, like many detectives on TV, drives distinctive cars: at first a mildly-worn out ivy green '66 Ford Mustang (possibly a nod to Steve McQueen's Mustang in Bullitt) which is destroyed in the beginning of the second season, succeeded by a new 1987 Mustang 5.0 GT, which 5 episodes later is traded for a perfectly restored 1966 Mustang GT which gets banged up over the remaining run of the show. In the show, Spenser carries a Beretta 9mm whereas in the books. His weapon of choice is a Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol along with a 38 cal. snub nose revolver for casual carry. In the novels, Spenser previously served as an infantryman in the 1st Infantry Division during the Korean War. However, the television version of the character was younger than his literary counterpart and acknowledged being a veteran of the Vietnam War in the series' pilot episode. Spenser was also a former member of the Boston police force and occasionally cooperates with the BPD in the series. In "Children of the Tempest Storm", Ms. Silverman reveals that she is pregnant with Spenser's child. The word abortion comes up when talking with her doctor, and is discussed throughout the episode, though often not using the word. Susan and Spenser discuss the issue and are at odds over the moral dilemma before them. Spenser, a Catholic, doesn't know if he can stay with Susan, though he loves her deeply, if she aborts. He believes it's only for her convenience that she would choose abortion. In the end, she has the abortion, and he brings her flowers. They silently affirm that the relationship will continue. After Susan leaves the show, ADA Rita Fiore becomes Spenser's love interest during the second season, but they do not seem to develop the personal bond that was apparent with Silverman.

After his first place of business goes up in flames, Spenser moves into a "firehouse", given to 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 and Beacon Hill. 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 in Charlestown, near the old Boston Navy Yard which he now uses as his office.


Hawk is the street-wise black kid who grew up to become a smartly dressed enforcer. 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[edit]

Lt. Quirk and Spenser have an uneasy relationship but often do work together. In the episode "Heart of the Matter", Quirk suffers an angina attack 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[edit]

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 (right) as Spenser, Avery Brooks as Hawk


The series had three seasons (1985–1988) with a total of 66 episodes, and was followed by four made-for-TV movies (1993–1995).

DVD releases[edit]

On June 28, 2005, Rykodisc released the four TV movies on DVD that were made following the cancellation of the weekly series.[2] In 2007, Rykodisc re-released each of the four TV movies in separate collections.[3]

DVD Name Ep # Additional Information
Spenser: The Movie Collection 4
  • Spenser: Ceremony
  • Spenser: Pale Kings And Princes
  • Spenser: The Judas Goat
  • Spenser: A Savage Place

On August 26, 2014, Warner Bros. released the first season on DVD via their Warner Archive Collection. This is a manufacture-on-demand (MOD) release, available through Warner's online store and Amazon.com. Warner's website explains that the initial disc run was pressed traditionally "to meet expected high consumer demand."[4] The second season was released on May 12, 2015.[5] The third and last season was released on September 1, 2015.

DVD Name Ep # Release Date
The Complete First Season 22 August 26, 2014
The Complete Second Season 22 May 12, 2015
The Complete Third Season 21 September 1, 2015

Spin-offs and remakes[edit]

In 1989, after the show ended, Brooks received his own spin-off series, A Man Called Hawk.

In an April 23, 2009, entry of his blog, Robert Parker stated he was in talks with TNT to produce a remake of the series. However, Parker died in 2010 before these plans could take place.


External links[edit]