The naked, the new and 'NYPD Blue' TURNED ON IN L.A.

January 13, 1995|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Los Angeles -- "NYPD Blue" star Dennis Franz says he knew it wasn't going to be easy replacing David Caruso when his sexy co-star left the ABC hit series for feature films earlier this season.

"That transition was going to be rough no matter who or what was involved. And people are going to make comparisons," hTC Franz said. "But 99 percent have accepted the change. Yes, they admire David Caruso, but they accept and welcome Jimmy Smits."

Smits and Franz, who won an Emmy last season for his work as Detective Andy Sipowicz, met with television critics here yesterday to answer questions about life-after-Caruso at "NYPD

Blue." It was the first time Smits has talked publicly about joining the cast as Detective Bobby Simone. Ultimately, the talk went beyond Caruso to nudity, racism and sexism -- topics that have made the police drama one of the more controversial series on network television.

Smits said he was in Morocco making a film for Showtime last summer when Steven Bochco and David Milch, the series' creators, asked him to replace Caruso.

"So, I wasn't aware of everything that was going on about it back here. But, when I got back to New York, my sister had a big stack of newspapers with all the stories. I was smart enough not to read them," he said, adding that he gasped at the sheer volume of stories.

Smits says the fact there was almost no time to prepare for the role caused problems because he had to figure out who his character was while in front of the cameras.

"It's still evolving. But, now I'm comfortable with Bobby Simone," said.

Franz added, "As far as a working relationship between Jimmy and Dennis, it's wonderful. But we had obstacles we had to get over for Sipowicz to get on with anybody as a new partner, and that was hard work."

Franz said some of his hardest work as Sipowicz this year involved the nude shower scene.

"As an individual, it was a very difficult thing. But it was an interesting situation because I was able to use some of the

discomfort I had as a person being naked in a roomful of people who were not naked and incorporate that into Sipowicz's reactions," he said. "And I think we accomplished that . . .

"Obviously, I'm not Arnold Schwarzenegger," he added. "I have mirrors in my house, and I see what my body looks like. It's a usual, everyday body, unlike those exceptional bodies on a few exceptional people. So, I thought letting people see that was my contribution to the art of nudity."

On a more serious note, Franz was asked about co-creator Milch telling a screenwriting class last fall that he himself was a racist and that he created Sipowicz as a racist. The remarks became public.

"I don't think Sipowicz is a racist," Smits said quickly.

But Franz said, "Well, I don't know that I would say that. It's been a study period for Sipowicz. Since he almost met his death in the very first episode, he's been learning about himself and realizing his shortcomings and good points. His possible prejudice and recognizing that in other people is one of the things that he's having to come to deal with.

"As far as David Milch's comments, I'm certainly not up here to comment for him," he added. "There's a separation between what I happen to feel about the situation and the way Sipowicz operates in his world."

The actors were also asked if doing nude scenes gave them any insight into the way women's bodies have been used in popular culture as an object of pleasure for male spectators.

"If women have to give it up, men should have to give it up, too," Smits said. "We should expect to see it from both genders."

Franz went for laughs rather than sociology. "I've seen the

discomfort sort of dissipate for other actors, men and women, on our set as the day goes on. The first take is always the most uncomfortable. Then, the second take is a little easier. And then after that, you don't even need the robe anymore. You're just running around naked."

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