He's big, he's black and he's mean. And he knows you didn't watch his show!!!
It's generally agreed that the best part of the Spenser: For Hire television show was Avery Brooks' frosty portrayal of HAWK, the cold, emotionless mob leg breaker who seems to have given it all up to serve as Spenser's best friend and guardian angel. Brooks nailed the dead-eyed cool of the character right to the wall, and provided a sense of real menace and presence to a show that badly needed it. So, when the show bit the dust in 1989, after three seasons, it didn't take long for ABC tried to try to recoup their investment by spinning off Hawk into his own show.
But how to have Hawk running around Boston without everyone wondering what had happened to his ol' pal Spenser? That was easy. They had Hawk pack up his guns, his long leather pre-Columbine trenchcoat and his shades and got him the hell out of there, moving him back to his hometown of Washington, D.C., slipping him more "depth" along the way than Parker ever gave him: most notably a Vietnam background, the ability to play some "mean jazz piano" and a whole touchy feely spiritual side that we never saw when he was shooting people in the face.
I guess all Spenser's Dudley Do-Right routines rubbed off on Hawk, because once he was back in D.C., he used his considerable street skills for good, not evil. He wasn't exactly a private eye or anything, but he seemed to make himself available on a regular basis for those who might be in need of his particular hands-on version of justice. His main contact and confidant was an elderly black man/father figure he just called "Old Man".
But even as an alleged good guy, Hawk was pretty frightening. With a taste for flashy clothes, fine cuisine and large firearms, sporting a shaved head, a goatee that made him look slightly Satanic, and a pure, fierce hatred blazing from his eyes, he was not a man to get in the way of.
Hawk busted heads and scared evildoers shitless (or at least poopless) for thirteen episodes before ABC pulled the plug. It never really attracted much of a fanbase, and, truth to tell, it was never that good, anyway, but it did draw the ire of Mississippi's Reverend Donald Wildmon (that ignorant, cynical, Bible-thumping ass from Mississippi," as Tony Randall called him) who denounced it for being vile and violent and immoral.
My gripe was that it wasn't vile and violent and immoral enough. ABC tried too hard to make Hawk seem like a nice guy. And what was all this New Age baloney? The Old Man would spout some vague voodoo/hoodoo-type blather every now and then, and off Hawk would trot, like some sort of mystical, mythical black crusader. It just never really worked for me, and ended up coming off like a bad Equalizer rip-off, with windchimes.
Still, the show was set in D.C., not New York or L.A., so that must count for something. But Hawk, such a strong character in the novels, deserved better.
There were a few attempts to revive Spenser for Hire as a series of made-for-TV movies for Lifetime, but they never really caught on. Brooks eventually landed a good role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and when A&E began a new series of movies in 1999, starring Joe Mantegna as Spenser, Brooks wasn't invited back. Too bad. Somehow, I think there would have been a lot of chemistry between Mantegna and Brooks.
Coincidentally, in Deep Space Nine, Brooks' character had a female officer working for him named Dax, who was supposedly some sort of reincarnation of an old friend. Brooks called her "Old Man".
NOVELS, SHORT STORIES
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Thanks to Gerald So and Bob Ames for kicking up a bit of enlightenment on this one, and keeping me posted on all manner of things Spenserian. Also, much thanks to our automotive expert, Jason, for helping us spot the Mustang,.
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