Franz accepts typecasting as part of the job

September 14, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It only seemed like a silly question.

Dennis Franz, who less than 24 hours earlier had won the Emmy as television's best dramatic actor, was asked if he thought viewers would buy into him as a newspaper reporter in "Moment of Truth: Caught in the Crossfire," an NBC made-for-TV movie airing at 8 tonight on WMAR (Channel 2).

"I think they will. I believe I've been able to get rid of Sipowicz and that they'll believe this guy is a journalist," Franz said. "But I know what you're asking. I've been typecast pretty good."

Franz has been typecast so well as the TV cop, in roles from Detective Norman Buntz in "Hill Street Blues" to Detective Andy Sipowicz in "NYPD Blue," that it is not unreasonable to wonder if viewers will ever again buy him in any other kind of role. But he's not complaining anymore.

Tonight, he plays a reporter named Gus Payne who cooperates with FBI agents in an investigation and winds up being charged with extortion and conspiracy by the government. Payne has to find his own way out of the nightmare.

"Caught in the Crossfire" is the kind of run-of-the-mill, made-for-TV film that most likely would have been caught in the crush of season premieres and largely ignored. But then came the Emmy for Franz-as-Sipowicz Sunday night, and now it's one of the TV events of the week. The conference call with Franz on Monday was a red-hot ticket -- even if neither the reporters nor Franz seemed much interested in talking about tonight's film.

There are so many far more interesting things to talk about with the actor who makes receding hairlines, paunchy midsections and middle-aged rage seem almost all right. For instance:

* What about co-star David Caruso, who lost to Franz on Sunday, and whether he and Caruso talked about the Emmys or Caruso's leaving "NYPD Blue" after the fourth episode this year?

"I have yet to have one word with David regarding that [the Emmys]. As for him leaving, that's a decision that David has made, and there's never been a set of rules or a book written about how you're supposed to play this game of show business," Franz said.

"He has chosen a certain path, and it's not my place one way or the other to pass judgment on his decision. If he feels like at any time he needs to talk to me, then I'm leaving it up to him to bring it up. But it's his business. It's between him and his people and Steven Bochco."

* As for how Bochco and the other members of "NYPD Blue" felt about coming in second to "Picket Fences" on a night when almost everyone thought they'd set a new record for Emmys:

"For me, it was a bittersweet evening, because we didn't win as a show. We -- everybody involved with the show -- felt pretty comfortable and confident that we were going to walk home with an Emmy for the show. When that was not the case at the end of the evening, it certainly put a damper on my celebration. We were all sort of baffled and sort of confused and disheartened by not winning, but we'll get past this," Franz said.

* His theory on why "NYPD Blue" didn't win: "I haven't the foggiest idea why it didn't win. But it seems pretty odd to me that when a show receives 26 nominations, sweeping the writing category and [nearly] sweeping the directing category, and they say the acting's great, that it doesn't win. The writing's great, direction's great, acting's great, but it's not the best show? I don't understand that philosophy."

* On what's ahead for "NYPD" without Caruso: How will Detective Kelly leave the show? How will the Jimmy Smits character be brought on in the fifth episode?

"I am anticipating the arrival of the new character Jimmy Smits is going to be portraying. But we have yet to get any information as to who that character is or how he's going to interact with the rest of the cast. . . . As for how Kelly leaves, I do know, but I'm sworn to secrecy, and I'm not going to let that out."

Later, though, Franz seemed to confirm rumors that the fifth episode would feature nude scenes -- perhaps involving both Sipowicz and the Smits' character. "I hope he's working out to get in shape for it, because I'm not."

* His thoughts on typecasting:

"Sipowicz, to the best of my count, is No. 28 in terms of cops played by me. And, after 27 [Buntz], I thought, 'Boy I've had enough of this and would really like to branch out and have an opportunity to do some other characters,' " Franz said.

"But when somebody I admire as much as Steven Bochco and David Milch call you and say that they are creating a new police show, that's a hard offer to resist.

"I do feel typecast. But, as far as the job goes, I can't think of another role that I'd be more satisfied in doing than Andy Sipowicz. So I can be happy with that for another five or six years, thank you very much."

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