The untold truth of Blue Bloods

Reliably airing on Friday nights since 2010, Blue Bloods is an understated police drama about the Reagans, a tight-knit, salt-of-the-earth family of good guys who also just so happen to basically run law enforcement in Gotham. TV legend Tom Selleck portrays police commissioner Frank Reagan, his father is retired commissioner Henry Reagan, and Frank's three kids are all involved with the law: Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) is a detective, Jamie (Will Estes) is a police officer, and Erin (Bridget Moynahan) works in the District Attorney's office. In other words, their blood runs blue. Here's a look behind the scenes of the hit CBS drama.

Its ratings are surprisingly huge

It doesn't get a lot of media attention or social media chatter, but the numbers don't lie: Blue Bloods is one of the most popular shows on TV. In the 2015-16 season, it came in at #10 for broadcast shows with the most overall viewers, and was the fourth highest-rated drama on TV. It's also completely revitalized Friday night primetime with high viewership rates not seen since the days of ABC's "TGIF" lineup: it's the first Friday night series in more than a decade to average more than 13 million viewers an episode. However, in the advertiser-coveted younger demographic of viewers aged 18 to 49, Blue Bloods ranked #59 amongst all shows and #26 in drama. The conclusion: Older people still watch TV, and they love Blue Bloods. In fact, the average age of a Blue Bloods viewer is 62.

Secrets of the Reagan family dinners

Probably the best known and most popular constant of Blue Bloods: the family dinner. Almost every episode has one, and it helps to maintain the sense of family that's really a through-line for the series. But the family dinners also take a tremendously long time to film—as long as five hours. Getting closeups and coverage of as many as nine different characters takes time, as does re-setting the table (and food) after each take in order to maintain continuity.

The actors tend to get a little stir crazy during the long shoots and react in different ways: Bridget Moynahan gets the giggles, while Donnie Wahlberg has to take a nap on a couch in the living room set next to the dining room set because he eats the prop dinner food all day long. "It's dinner, right? I gotta eat," he told Access Hollywood. Tom Selleck, on the other hand, tries to eat all the meat but uses a spit bucket for the rest of the meal.

Selleck also employs one other trick to get through the filming of the dinner scenes with his digestion intact. When he's delivering a line or the camera is otherwise trained on him, he'll often pick up a knife and start buttering his bread. This way, he doesn't eat too much food and continuity of his food props is maintained.

The show's creators were fired from The Sopranos

Blue Bloods was created by married writing team Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green. After penning episodes for Northern Exposure and Party of Five, they reconnected with David Chase, who they'd worked with on the short-lived 1988 series Almost Grown. He hired them in 1999 to write for a little mob drama he'd created for HBO called The Sopranos. Burgess and Green helped craft the show in its early seasons, and were instrumental in helping develop it—that is, until they left under murky circumstances in 2006.

Chase had reportedly grown frustrated that the duo weren't writing enough episodes anymore, and that what they did write indicated that they didn't understand "the wiseguy mentality" of the characters. Green says he grew alternately distant (Chase moved her chair at the writer's table to a far corner where she says he wouldn't have to look at her) and hostile (he gave the duo a list of grievances going back 20 years) until they were essentially fired. It's probably not even the weirdest job Green ever had, though: in the late '60s, as a teenager, she worked as the personal receptionist for Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee.

It was almost filmed in Toronto

Blue Bloods is a show very much about New York, and very New York people. It's hard to imagine why, or if it would even be possible, to film the show anywhere else. But just shortly after it started shooting in 2010, the production almost packed up and moved north to Toronto. Massive city and state tax rebates meant to lure film production companies had expired, and the show would've been hard to film with its budget in the very expensive Big Apple. The show's production company negotiated a deal with the state and city governments at the last minute, keeping Blue Bloods in New York and out of Canada.

Behind cast member Jennifer Esposito's controversial exit

Jennifer Esposito was an original cast member on Blue Bloods, portraying Detective Jackie Curatola. But early into filming of the show's third season in 2012, she collapsed on the set. It was a flare-up of Celiac disease, a condition she'd had for years. (It's a severe allergy to gluten, found in bread and grains, which leads to a number of ailments—such as passing out.) Esposito's doctor recommended she go on medical leave, and she immediately took a week off.

According to Esposito, CBS didn't think she was really that sick, and was just staying away from work as a ploy to get a raise. She asked for a medically-necessary reduced work schedule, which the network responded to by firing her and issuing a statement which read, "Jennifer has informed us that she is only available to work on a very limited part-time schedule. As a result, she's unable to perform the demands of her role." The press release also said that the sudden disappearance of her Blue Bloods character, Det. Curatola would be explained by saying she took a leave of absence. To vill the void, actress Megan Boone was cast to play a new detective; Esposito weighed in on that news on Twitter, saying that "CBS got rid of the only minority cast member so they can have an ALL WHITE CAST like CSI."

The Catholic League protested an episode

Catholic advocacy organization the Catholic League once praised Blue Bloods as "one of the few TV shows to treat Catholicism fairly." That's mainly because straight-laced Frank Reagan has been depicted as a devoted churchgoer. That all changed in 2014, when Catholic League president Bill Donohue claimed his organization had been "bombarded with complaints" because of an episode in which Frank said that the Catholic Church was "a little behind the times" regarding its positions on homosexuality. The episode also featured a cardinal struggling with his sexual identity as well as an out lesbian nun. Donohue suggested that CBS was "turning on its audience" and that CBS was "committing suicide" with what he felt was an attack on Catholics.

A few more fun facts about the cast and show

When he was starring on the '60s-set NBC drama American Dreams in 2003, Blue Bloods cast member Will Estes played in the annual Celebrity Jeopardy! tournament, and he won. Estes beat country music star Brad Paisley and Star Trek: Enterprise actress Linda Park, securing $50,000 for New Leash on Life (a no-kill dog shelter) and CARE (a charity that fights poverty around the world).

At the 2014 PaleyFest NY, Tom Selleck noted that, unsurprisingly, some of the biggest fans of the show are real New York City police officers. He says they're so appreciative of the show that he'll even get a salute once in awhile, as if he's a real police commissioner.

Len Cariou (a Broadway icon who originated the title role in Sweeney Todd in 1979) plays the father of Tom Selleck's character. The age difference between the two actors: a little over five years.

When the show entered production in 2010, producers considered putting Selleck on the air without the mustache that helped make him famous. Selleck says executives from CBS specifically made him keep the facial fur.

Bridget Moynahan and Donnie Wahlberg were already friends before Blue Bloods, as they once shot a pilot together. (It didn't get picked up.) But the rest of the cast bonded in a very particular way—they all went and saw a reunion performance by Wahlberg's old boy band, New Kids on the Block.

A recurring actor is a real-life EMT

A Jersey City, New Jersey, emergency medical technician named Adrian Matilla appeared as an extra and background actor multiple times throughout the first few seasons of Blue Bloods, including the pilot. He liked the process of making TV so much that he decided to moonlight and began pursuing more acting gigs. Oddly enough, the real-life public servant got one of his first speaking roles on Blue Bloods, the show about public servants. But his part in 2014 wasn't that of an EMT or police officer — Matilla played a drug dealer.

Some people think Blue Bloods is a little too pro-police

While the Catholic League has claimed that the show exhibited a liberal bias when it came to the Catholic Church and the LGBT community, left-leaning pundits claimed a different bias: that a 2014 episode was excessively "pro-cop" or was even "fascist-cop" propaganda. In the episode in question, Danny Reagan (Donnie Wahlberg) chases an African-American suspect, who then jumps out of a third-story window. Danny is beset with cries of police brutality and even a conspiracy by African-American leaders to try and take him down for this, and past violent actions toward suspects. In a thinkpiece for Slate, Laura Hudson wrote that while the Reagan family "think of themselves as good people" who "believe deeply in the ideas of justice and equality," the privileged Reagans "exist within a system that is rigged to favor them, and to erase the problems experienced by people who don't look like them."

How Tom Selleck prepared for the role of Frank Reagan

On Blue Bloods, Tom Selleck plays New York City's police commissioner. To prep for the part, he didn't have to go far, as he's known real-life New York City police commissioner Bill Bratton for years. Selleck said that he considers Bratton's viewpoints to inform and provide depth as he portrays Frank Reagan's handling of difficult police and social issues. Selleck also read Bratton's book Turnaround, which covers his years as police commissioner under New York mayor Rudy Giuliani. "Though they were on the same page philosophically," Selleck says, "there was a lot of conflict between the mayor and his police commissioner," a scenario that plays out often on Blue Bloods.

The show's creators were fired

Not only were Mitchell Burgess and Robin Green fired from The Sopranos, they were fired from Blue Bloods, too — a show they created together. Despite the show being a smash hit right out of the gate, CBS parted ways with the show's creators at the end of Season 1 of Blue Bloods. Why? CBS wanted the show to be more of a formulaic, police procedural show — like Criminal Minds, CSI, CSI: Miami, Hawaii Five-O, NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Mentalist, or any of the other formulaic, police procedural shows airing on CBS in the last few years. The show's creative staff and actors wanted the show to be more of a blend of family drama and exploration of the broad issues facing police in modern society. Ironically, one of the show's first bosses, showrunner Ken Sanzel, left the show a few months earlier because he tired of fighting with star Tom Selleck, who often complained that the show's scripts were too formulaic and procedural.