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Jimmy Smits: 1955—: Actor

Returned To Television Stardom

In the early 1990s, Bochco asked Smits if he would be interested in playing a good-guy detective in an amoral world of New York City policing for a planned new television series. Smits declined, and Bochco rewrote the "Flinn" part into a "Detective Kelly" one for actor David Caruso. N.Y.P.D. Blue was the hit new show of the 1993-94 season, and it was nominated for 26 Emmys that first year. But there were problems on the set with Caruso, and he reportedly wanted out of his contract to return to film. Smits, meanwhile, had found that his own film career seemed to have stalled. He was appearing in made-for-television films such as Stephen King's The Tommyknockers and The Cisco Kid. He was in Morocco making a biblical epic for Showtime with Halle Berry, Solomon and Sheba, when Bochco called and again offered him an N.Y.P.D. Blue role.

This time Smits took advantage of the offer. He made his debut during the 1994-95 season as Detective Bobby Simone, the quiet, seemingly shy cop who served as foil for the more combative Detective Andy Sipowicz, played by Dennis Franz. Simone, assigned to be Sipowicz's new partner, was recently widowed, and raised pigeons as a hobby. Though it was considered a quintessential "nice-guy" role with little character development, Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker wrote, after the end of Smits's first year on the show, that the actor "has pulled off one of the acting coups of the season." Tucker admitted that he had been part of the chorus of naysayers when it was announced that Smits was replacing Caruso, asserting then "that Smits was a problematic, if not misconceived, choice for the costarring role in this knottiest of all current cop dramas." Tucker believed the show's award-winning team of writers had devised an ingenious ploy: "the writers placed us in the same position as [Sipowicz]—we were sizing up this guy Simone, looking to see how tough and how smart he was."

As N.Y.P.D. Blue evolved, Simone battled demons related to his wife's death and more deadly ones encountered in his line of work. He also fell in love with a colleague who was fighting her own battle with alcohol. He received another five Emmy nominations for his work on the powerfully charged drama series. Co-star Franz won the lead actor Emmy four times for playing Sipowicz—a character that, as Holloway wrote in the Austin American-Statesman, serves as "the Everyman lots of people identify with, the heart of the show. Smits' job was to provide powerful charisma and reaction, which he did with power to spare. It was a wonderful happenstance that he also gave TV a rare Hispanic hero. There've been enough Latino drug dealers to last a lifetime, so Simone was a treat." A critic for Entertainment Weekly also delivered praise for both the character and the actor. "Smits may not have any Emmys to show for it … but it's exactly that quiet, coiled power that kept the show on track, especially in the uncertain days" after Caruso's highly publicized departure, the article asserted. Bochco, the show's co-creator, likened Smits to "a Ferrari," in the same Entertainment Weekly piece. "You tap the pedal and get this instant burst of power," the producer asserted. "You haven't even begun to put your foot to the floor. You don't have to—there's always something in reserve."

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Nate Smith Biography - Fought His Way into the Union to Theodosius II BiographyJimmy Smits: 1955—: Actor Biography - Almost Bombed Out Of Hit Show, Returned To Television Stardom, Worked To Further Latino Arts