Created by Robert B. Parker
Developed for television by Stephen Hattman
and William Robert Yates
“You push yourself till you can’t stand the pain, then you push yourself a little bit more.”
— Hawk counsels black youth
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 coldly enigmatic, charmingly emotionless mob legbreaker 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 moderately successful 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 pretty much ignored anything to do with Spenser (or Parker), and had Hawk pack up his guns, his long leather pre-Columbine trenchcoat and his shades and got him the hell out of there, shipping him back to his suddenly conjured up 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 mumbo jumbo? The Old Man would spout some vague Afrocentric blather every now and then, and off Hawk would trot, like some sort of mystical, mythical Black crusader who just got off the boat from Wakanda. Which is fine, but where was our Hawk?
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 and vivid character in the novels, Brooks and the TV show itself, deserved better.
The show crashed and burned after just thirteen episodes, despite a small but loyal cult following. There were a few subsequent attempts to revive Spenser for Hire as a series of made-for-TV movies for Lifetime, with Urich and Brooks reprising their roles: Spenser: Ceremony (1993), Spenser: Pale Kings and Princes (1994), Spenser: The Judas Goat (1994), and Spenser: A Savage Place (1995), with anything about A Man Called Hawk conveniently forgotten, but the TV movies 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.
- In Star Trek: 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.”
- Moses Gunn later played Avery Brooks’ father in Deep Space Nine.
- “I liked the few episodes of A Man Called Hawk I saw, but it didn’t last very long. The show’s page on http://www.imdb.com has one fan’s theory on why that was, because America wasn’t ready to see a Strong Black Man as the lead in a series. He makes a pretty good argument.”
— Mark Sullivan
- “A Man Called Hawk? Eeek! I hope you all missed that.”
— Robert B. Parker to an audience in Washington, D.C., at the Library of Congress
NOVELS, SHORT STORIES
- See Spenser
- A MAN CALLED HAWK
13 60-minute episodes
Character created by Robert B. Parker
Developed for television by Stephen Hattman & William Robert Yates
Original music by Stanley Clarke
A Warner Bros. Television production
Starring Avery Brooks as HAWK
and Moses Gunn as Old Man
Guest stars: Vondie Curtis-Hall, William Aylward, Angela Bassett, Cynthia Bond, Keith David, Charles Dutton, Earle Hyman, Samuel L. Jackson, Delroy Lindo, Joseph C. Phillips, Joe Seneca, Wesley Snipes
- “The Master’s Mirror” “January 28, 1989)
- “A Time and a Place” (February 4, 1989)
- “Hear No Evil” (February 11, 1989)
- “Passing the Bar” (February 18, 1989)
- “The Divided Child” (February 25, 1989)
- “Vendetta” (March 4, 1989)
- “Choice of Chance” (March 11, 1989)
- “Poison” (March 25, 1989)
- “Never My Love” April 1, 1989)
- “Intensive Care” (April 15, 1989)
- “If Memory Serves” (April 29, 1989)
- “Beautiful Are the Stars” (May 6, 1989)
- “Life after Death” (May 13, 1989)
- See Spenser for Spenser For Hire series and TV movie listings.
- Robert B. Parker
Parker’s official web site.
- The Beers of Spenser
This site’s valiant effort to trace the Spenser series through his brews of choice.
- Spenser and Hawk: A Study of Good and Evil in the Fiction of Robert B. Parker
An essay by our own Gerald So.
- Looking for Robert B. Parker
The Rap Sheet’s “Fond Farewell to the Man Who Saved P.I. Fiction.” Includes Cameron Hughes’ must-read introduction.
- Looking for Robert B. Parker: A Fond Farewell to the Man Who Saved P.I. Fiction.
Cameron Hughes’ must-read intorduction to The Rap Sheet tribute. Reprinted, with permission.
- His Spenser Novels Saved Detective Fiction
Tom Nolan’s tribute from The Wall Street Journal, January 20, 2010.