Friday nights on CBS, Donnie Wahlberg patrols the streets of Gotham as a member of the NYPD on the police drama “Blue Bloods.” But the New Kids on the Block singer-turned-actor and producer has his roots in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, six square miles with a diverse population ranging from long-established descendants of many immigrant groups to newly arrived hipsters.
But starting Wednesday, Feb. 27, on TNT, Wahlberg returns home as executive producer of “Boston’s Finest,” an unscripted eight-episode series that follows the beat officers, detectives, SWAT, fugitive, special task forces and gang unit of the Boston Police Department — which is not unfamiliar with the extended Wahlberg clan.
“That was one of my agendas with the show,” Wahlberg tells Zap2it, “to get them to love my family, because they arrested half of them my whole childhood. I had very few [run-ins]; I was the good egg. The family name is in the police blotter; there are a lot of mug shots in the Boston Police Department files.”
(He had at least one run-in, since a mug shot of Wahlberg was — for a time — the avatar for his Twitter account.)
“I hope to earn some of their respect,” Wahlberg continues. “They certainly earned mine.”
“Boston’s Finest” will air right before TNT’s critically acclaimed scripted police drama “Southland,” which focuses on the LAPD. Wahlberg knows he has a high bar to clear.
“I’m doing a very realistic reality show,” he says. “A, this is, to me, a very prestigious network to do a reality show for. It’s a prestigious show to do. And B, if I’m going to enter this realm, I’m glad it was with this and not remaking the boy band or anything.
“From the outside looking in, to do the first reality show — not a game show or stuff like that — for a network like TNT, and for it to be a cop show … only one person got that slot, and it was me. I’ve got to live up to a lot. I think of the other people who are producing shows who could have gotten that slot. I feel very fortunate.”
As to whether playing a police officer on “Blue Bloods” informs how he’s producing “Boston’s Finest,” Wahlberg says, “What it informs is just bottom-line stuff. I’ve played enough cops and been around enough cops to know what’s important. When I first started playing cops and talked to cops, the thing they say is, the most important thing is to get home safe.
“It informs my storytelling, being on scripted shows. It helps me think as a storyteller when I’m shooting this. It’s hard to find that through-line sometimes.”
Apparently, when Wahlberg’s camera crews hit the streets of Boston, the city was going through the exact opposite of a crime wave.
“We can’t make the bad guys rob a 7-Eleven, right?” he says. “You get what they give. We literally drove around for a few weeks, going, ‘This is great, the cops are awesome, but we have no crime’ – which is good, because the city’s crime statistics are spectacular.
“But the drama part gets a little dicey if you don’t have any crime going down. Then crime jumped off, and it got better. But the personal stuff is really what makes it special, makes it different.”
Unlike the iconic police departments of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, most Americans probably don’t have a clear image of what sets the Boston PD apart.
“Right,” Wahlberg says. “Well, when I met with Mayor Tom Menino, which was my first order of business, he gave me his blessing, but he said, ‘I want this to be a good promotional vehicle. I want to show how good we are, and I want kids to see this and say, “I want to be a cop.” ‘
“That became part of the mandate right there for me, because to get his blessing, he showed a lot of trust in me and the team I put together. I didn’t want to let him down. From there, it became meeting the officers and the trust they gave me.
“Boston has its share of crime, but they’ve done a good job. The gangs were really, really bad; now they’ve been proactive, trying to keep these kids from doing it before they do it. Don’t show up after someone’s shot; show up before.”
As for how the NYPD feels about him moonlighting with the home team, Wahlberg says, “They know I owed it to Boston. I’ve been hitting the stump for New York for the last three years, and I think Boston was getting a little fed up.
“New York said, ‘Go ahead, the Giants won the Super Bowl; go do something for Boston, cheer their spirits up.’ So they cut me some slack.”