When it comes to the TV career of Burt Reynolds, most of us who are in our 40s think of the opening title sequence of Dan August (ABC, 1970-1971), which saw him hurtle his body over the length of a car in what at the time had to be the most spectacular stunt ever attempted by an actor for network television. Depending on your age or demographic, you might also remember his work on Gunsmoke, Riverboat, his dead-on Brando impersonation from his guest appearance on The Twilight Zone, or more recently, his successful run in the early ’90s as the star of Evening Shade (CBS, 1990-1994). Chances are, you won’t think of Burt Reynolds in terms of B.L. Stryker (ABC, 1989-1990), the short-lived private detective series that marked his return to TV after a 20-year motion picture career… in which case, if you’re a Reynolds fan, you might want to check out TV Guide Presents B.L. Stryker: Season One, which was released on DVD earlier this week. While it doesn’t exactly break ground in terms of the TV mystery genre, B.L. Stryker is well made, well cast (the rapport between Reynolds and co-star Ossie Davis is particularly fun to watch), and certainly well worth watching.
I had an opportunity to preview the DVD package last week for Talking Television with Dave White. What interested me most about the series, besides the “Reynolds’ return to TV” angle, was its pedigree. Tom Selleck (Magnum, p.i.) executive-produced B.L. Stryker, along with Chas. Floyd Johnson (The Rockford Files), while Robert B. Parker, the best-selling mystery novelist who created Spenser and Jesse Stone, wrote for the show. In fact, Parker and his wife, Joan, co-wrote one of the five first-season episodes: “Blues for Buder” (directed by Reynolds), in which Stryker finds himself becoming a father figure to an obnoxious young boy (played by a pre-Doogie Howser Neil Patrick Harris). It’s a relationship with dynamics not unlike the one forged by Spenser with young Paul Giacomin in the brilliant Early Autumn, one of the earliest entries in the Spenser novel series.
Watching the episode also made me think back to August 1998, when my wife and I interviewed Parker at his home near Boston. At one point in the conversation, Parker brought up his association with Reynolds: “Joan and I did a couple of movies with Burt, when he was doing B.L. Stryker…. Burt gets a bad rap, in my view. I’ve never had anything but pleasant experiences with him. He did the audio for [some of the Spenser books on tape] and he read them well.”
One imagines the feeling is mutual. Reynolds not only has his moments as an actor in “Blues for Buder,” but does a nice job directing Parker’s script.
Pop Culture Critic and Television Historian
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