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Selleck returns as Stone on CBS

If you enjoy Tom Selleck as Jesse Stone, catch him while you can.

That's the word from the Emmy-winning actor himself. Having wrapped up the sophomore round of his CBS police drama "Blue Bloods," returning this fall for a third season, he's also appearing in the network's eighth film about novelist Robert B. Parker's small-town-loner New England sleuth. "Jesse Stone: Benefit of the Doubt" airs at 9 tonight, and Selleck says it could be his last time in the role for CBS, anyway.

"Bless them, they've done eight of these that always perform far above what's normally in the time slot," he acknowledges, "but they are constantly perplexed [by the thought], 'We're not in the two-hour-movie business.' That being said, that's not the end of Jesse, or at least I don't think so. There are a lot of other entities, whether cable or even feature films, but this is most likely the last one on CBS. I'm not done with the character, though."

For now, also as executive producer and co-writer, Selleck again delivers a mystery that stands on its own while building in familiar touches for fans of his previous "Jesse Stone" tales. One blows open the story, literally, putting Stone back in the job of police chief of Paradise, Mass.; among returning co-stars are Kathy Baker, William Devane, Gloria Reuben, Saul Rubinek, William Sadler and Stephen McHattie.

"They're hard movies to do, and they're expensive," Selleck notes. "I'm almost proud to say that with the last four, I've had to put in some of my own money to get them made.

"There are a lot of surprises in this one. We felt it was time for Jesse to try to put his universe back in order. We've done movies where there's been real jeopardy to that world, and if we do our job right, you get inside Jesse's head. And once you're inside, you're along for the ride."

That ride can take turns toward spurts of shock and violence, as with an on-screen probe of two corpses that marks Stone's official return to police work in "Benefit of the Doubt."

"We've pushed that envelope," Selleck says, "but I'm finding out over time that that's how a lot of cops work. Nobody's trying to exploit anything here. We couldn't afford special-effects corpses, but we've produced these for a long time and we know people so we called a guy who's done Academy Award-winning effects and said, 'Do you have any burned bodies lying around that we can use?' We got a real feature-quality look."

The loyalty of the other "Jesse Stone" cast regulars has been a big factor in ensuring continuity to the series. "We don't have deals with any of them," Selleck stresses. "We have to literally call them and say, 'We're writing something for you. If there's any way you can, please hold the time, or we're going to have to rewrite our whole script.' "

Rarely does one actor carry more than one television character over several years, but Selleck has achieved that by playing both Stone and Frank Reagan, the family-oriented New York police commissioner on "Blue Bloods." They represent different takes on being an effective law enforcer, but it's all part and parcel for the former "Magnum, P.I." star.

"Hopefully, people think they're very different characters," Selleck says. "The thing that always really gooses you is that the first day of filming is as important as the last, and the result is going to be out there forever, so you'd better be ready to do it."