Franz still on duty in 'Blue's' 11th year

Sunday, September 21, 2003

— A decade after he first hit the streets, Detective Andy Sipowicz remains tough, tormented and, for millions of "NYPD Blue" fans, irresistible.

Meanwhile, Dennis Franz remains happy bringing Sipowicz to life as the ABC cop drama starts its new season at 9 p.m. Tuesday.


AP Photo

Daniel Benzali, left, William Dennis Hunt, and Dennis Franz appear in a scene from the season premiere of ABC's "NYPD Blue," in this undated publicity photo. The cop drama begins its 11th season at 9 p.m. Tuesday.

"I just know a good thing when I get it," Franz explains. "And this is a very good thing."

It's been a while since Sept. 21, 1993, when "NYPD Blue" arrived to critical raves along with ranting from pressure groups that branded the show "soft-core porn."

It's been a long haul since that first episode, when, in a character-defining moment, Sipowicz angrily confronted a female prosecutor played by Sharon Lawrence, grabbing his crotch and insulting her in terms surely never before uttered on a network TV drama.

Later on, Assistant Dist. Atty. Sylvia Costas became Sipowicz's girlfriend, then his wife. Then she died in his arms from a gunman's stray bullet in a courthouse corridor. Such turbulence has triggered Sipowicz's ups and downs.

Franz, an actor whose greatest prior success had been a supporting role on "Hill Street Blues," knew to keep his expectations in check during the early days of "NYPD Blue." After its third episode aired and the series won a full-season order, "I thought, 'All right! I got a solid year's work out of this thing!'"

Now, with 10 solid years' work under his belt, Franz is the sole charter member still in the ensemble that also began with Amy Brenneman, James McDaniel, Sherry Stringfield and Nicholas Turturro. (Gordon Clapp, who continues as Medavoy, had only a recurring role at the 15th Precinct the first season.)

Franz insists he wasn't too worried by David Caruso's rude exit after Season One, especially with Jimmy Smits filling the gap.

He saw Smits' departure four years later as a greater loss. But that hurdle, too, was finessed with the addition of Rick Schroder, who stayed 2 1/2 seasons.

The current ranks include Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon, Bill Brochtrup, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Esai Morales, Jacqueline Obradors, Charlotte Ross and Henry Simmons -- "from top to bottom, the strongest cast we've ever had," Franz declares.

The Chicago-area native, who turns 59 next month, attributes his work ethic to his Midwest background and his parents' example.

"My father was a German immigrant, a baker who over time developed an allergy to flour, then got a job in a factory," Franz says.

Like father, like son. It just feels natural for Franz to arise each morning and report for work. He hopes to remain at "NYPD Blue" through this, its 11th season, and beyond.

"I still love the show, and I see no reason to go elsewhere at this point," he says, and gamely adds, "This next year is going to be interesting: 'Law & Order: SVU' is in our time slot, opposite us. They're attacking! We'll see who wins."