For 'Blue Bloods' and Donnie Wahlberg, success is easy as pie

By David Hiltbrand

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 3 2012 3:00 p.m. MST

Jennifer Esposito and Donnie Wahlberg in an episode of "Blue Bloods."

Craig Blankenhorn,

Enlarge photo»

NEW YORK — There are a number of theories on why "Blue Bloods" has been able to carve out such a substantial audience on Fridays, a night when viewers are hard to come by.

Some say the CBS series, now in its second season, is attracting an average of 13.6 million viewers because of its stellar cast, headed up by TV royalty, Tom Selleck.

Some say it's the gritty, streets-of-New York crime stories.

The sentimental majority opinion holds that it's the show's weekly dinner scene, during which four generations of Reagans — presided over by the patriarch (Len Cariou) — bicker, spar and celebrate one another.

"That scene is the favorite of so many people," says "Blue Bloods'" executive producer, Leonard Goldberg. "Italian people, Jewish people, Greek people — they all say the same thing: 'That's my family.'"

On this morning, as the cast runs through take after take at the long dinner table, one thing is abundantly clear: Donnie Wahlberg, who plays flinty NYPD detective Danny Reagan, can really put it away.

While the other actors are saying their lines, playing to the cameras, Wahlberg is shoveling in forkfuls of apple pie. With gusto. There's a crew member devoted to refilling Wahlberg's plate every time the director yells "Cut!"

Afterward in his dressing room, Wahlberg notes, "In the very next scene, which we already shot last week, I eat another slice of pie. The whole show is going to be me eating pie."

When you grow up, as Wahlberg did, the eighth of nine children in a poor working-class family in Boston's hardscrabble Dorchester neighborhood, the prospect of all-you-can-eat never loses its appeal.

So how would Sunday dinner at the Wahlbergs differ from the atmosphere at the Reagans?

"Wahlberg family dinner?" Donnie says with a snicker. "My old man would not be sitting at the table. He'd be sitting in the corner on a stool with a Schlitz in his hand, and if we started laughing he'd be screaming at us to shut up.

"We'd be fighting over who got the last piece of chicken. There wouldn't be any pie. There wouldn't be any dessert at all."

It was show business that airlifted Wahlberg out of some grim prospects. At 14, when most of his friends were learning the finer points of boosting cars, Donnie became the charter member of the proto-boy band New Kids on the Block.

"I was very lucky," he says. "I was the only one who didn't go down that road. I loved to perform. I had aspirations."

Nearly three decades later, the New Kids are still very much a going concern. In fact, three days before this interview, Wahlberg, 42, made an appearance at McFadden's, a Philadelphia bar/ restaurant.

"They ended up selling out to New Kids on the Block fans," he says. "It was a madhouse, but it was great. I'm pretty sure I took a picture with every single person in the place."

That gig may have escaped your notice. The advent of social media has allowed the New Kids to bypass advertising entirely (except for stadium tours).

"If we're doing an event, I'll just tweet," Wahlberg says. "It's unbelievable. It actually creates a little bit more of a fervor than the first time around. It's just a controlled, manageable fervor.

"It's not 14-year-old girls outside my house. I can stir up a woman in her cubicle at work in Baltimore and another one who's still lying in bed in Los Angeles and everyone in between."

The Philly performance was recompense for a favor.

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