Veteran producer returns with Selleck drama

Leonard Goldberg adjusting to changes in TV industry

Leonard Goldberg created -- with the late Aaron Spelling -- such hit TV series as "Charlie's Angels," "Starsky & Hutch" and "Fantasy Island," but the last time he personally produced a TV series, there weren't any DVDs or DVRs.

Goldberg returns in the fall with CBS' "Blue Bloods," starring Tom Selleck.

"It's a different world," said Goldberg, who has continued to produce longform TV and movies since his short-lived previous series, "Class of '96" in 1993.

After the pilot script for "Blue Bloods" was finished, Goldberg was surprised when CBS told him to cut a lot of pages.

"I asked why," Goldberg recalled. "I'm figuring we need about 60 pages for 52 minutes. They went, 'No -- there are (now) 43 minutes in an hour show.' "

That began his re-education.

Seventeen years ago, there were hundreds of TV distributors; today, there are precious few.

"That is the most significant change," he said. "We had some wonderful people then -- MTM, Lorimar, Norman Lear. They were willing to take chances on new talent, new ideas and weren't afraid to fail. That's all gone now. Today, the networks produce through their own studios."

CBS not only is airing "Bloods" but also producing and distributing.

Leonard Goldberg
"The networks now exert far more control than I was used to," Goldberg said. "Since they now put up the money, they have total control."

His return to series TV really began after he joined the board of CBS Corp. three years ago.

"Les Moonves said to me one day, 'Why don't you do a TV series for CBS?' " Goldberg recounted. "I said, 'I'm not in that business anymore. ... He said, 'Think about it."

Afterward, Goldberg pondered the suggestion and realized, "I loved all my cop shows, but I loved the drama 'Family' so much. (I thought), 'What if I combined the two?' "

He sketched out characters

for a multigenerational, character-driven police drama, set in an Eastern city.

"I grew up in Brooklyn, so I thought New York," Goldberg said.

He brought it to CBS Entertainment president Nina Tassler, who told him to hire a writer. The problem was he no longer knew any writers.

But he had been a big fan of "The Sopranos," which led to the HBO drama's writers and executive producers, Robin Green and Mitchell Burgess.

CBS loved their script, but for Goldberg, the key was finding the right family patriarch who also was chief of police.

"I thought and thought, and suddenly it popped into my head -- Tom Selleck!" Goldberg said.

CBS agreed he would be great but warned that Selleck wouldn't do it.

"They said he loves doing his TV movies," he said. "But he lives on his ranch, and you're talking New York City."

Selleck loved the script but said, " 'You're asking me to commit to seven years of my life in New York City,' " Goldberg recalled. "I said, 'We're only asking you to do the pilot.' And he gave me that Tom Selleck smile and said, 'With this script and I'm playing this part, the pilot's going to sell, and were going to be on as many years as we want to be on."

As the meeting was ending, Selleck asked who else Goldberg was considering.

"I said Clint Eastwood," the producer said. "He smiled and said, 'Clint would be real good at it.' Then he said, 'I think I'll do the show.' "

In fact, Goldberg didn't want to live in New York full time either. He committed to spending the summer to get "Bloods" launched but then wanted to return to Los Angeles. So CBS brought on "Numbers" showrunner Ken Sanzel to be showrunner.

"He's an ex-cop," Goldberg said, "and when we met, he told me he decided to become a cop after seeing 'Starsky & Hutch.' So that endeared him to me immediately."

CBS put the pilot on the fall schedule at 10 p.m. Fridays, one of TV's least-watched hours. Tassler told Goldberg that research showed "there is still a substantial audience if we give them programming they want to watch."

So with "CSI: NY" as its lead-in, "it will be like New York, New York," the producer quipped.

Goldberg also has other projects. He recently saw the first cut of the movie "Unknown White Male," being produced with Joel Silver, and has "The Exes" in development at CBS Films.