Polished Stone

Published May 21, 2007

NEW YORK - Jesse Stone is police chief of a small New England coastal town where mostly nothing happens.

Stuck in Paradise, Mass., Stone is just about bored to death, which gives him ample time to brood about the ex-wife he still loves. He subsists on Scotch, coffee, scowling and impatient sighs.

All in all, he's not a very pleasant guy to know. Except he's played by Tom Selleck, who is always good company.

Selleck plays Jesse Stone for a fourth time in Sea Change, his new TV movie airing Tuesday on CBS. As before, he makes Stone worth rooting for, particularly when a pair of crises arise that make Paradise even less of a paradise.

Based on the bestselling novels by Robert B. Parker, the Jesse Stone franchise began two years ago with Stone Cold, followed in 2006 by Night Passage and Death in Paradise.

"This guy Jesse is a bit of a mess, " Selleck says, chuckling, his affable manner in marked contrast to Stone's. "Jesse doesn't say how he's feeling. He doesn't say what he's doing. He's very withholding. So the mystery of each movie, until the plot kicks in, is Jesse."

There's a challenge to playing this character, especially for an actor who used his natural charm to great benefit in his breakthrough role as Thomas Magnum, the Vietnam-vet-turned-Hawaii-private-eye.

"Self-pity isn't a good color to choose if you're playing a lead who you want people to identify with, " Selleck says.

"I did an episode of Magnum where, for once, he was feeling down and sorry for himself. It was a totally justifiable emotion, but a lousy episode" - Selleck laughs - "because of the choices I made. And I had enough power where the visiting director wasn't going to tell me, 'Tom, that (stinks).' "

By now, the 62-year-old has learned some different shades. He infuses Stone with an endearing trace of irony, a wisp of wry bemusement at his life.

"Nice car, " Stone says as an attractive stranger dashes up to him beside a sports car double-parked.

"Are you giving me a ticket?" the woman asks.

"That depends, " Stone replies.

"On what?"

"If this is your car."

The woman figures into one of the film's pair of mysteries, an alleged rape aboard an out-of-towner's yacht during the annual regatta. Meanwhile, Stone reopens a 12-year-old cold case involving the murder of a bank teller. Stone, a former Los Angeles homicide detective who lost his job for drinking too much, needs this case to give him something to do.

Selleck, on the other hand, has plenty going on. Continuing to serve as an executive producer, he already has a fifth Jesse Stone movie in development.

"I'd like to do 20 of 'em, " Selleck says enthusiastically. "And I still don't think we'd be out of ideas."

Then this fall he joins the cast of NBC's Las Vegas, replacing the departing James Caan in the drama set in a lavish casino-resort. Selleck, who has just begun production, has few details to offer about his character: a work-in-progress, he says.

TV preview

Sea Change

The latest Jesse Stone movie starring Tom Selleck is at 9 p.m. Tuesday on WTSP-Ch. 10.