The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on October 6, 1996 · Page 43
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 43

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, October 6, 1996
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Page 43
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A little deodorant later, he's pulling on a clean shirt, an anti-hero with an anti- physique. "If every day were like this, I'd be in better shape," he says, briefly wistful but totally unvain about his lack of an exercise regimen. "I made an attempt to jog not long ago. I got up in the mornin', put on shorts, gym shoes. I stretched. I got three houses down, huffing and puffing, then stopped and said to myself, This is ridiculous.' I ran a few more blocks, sat down and said, "That's the end of my jogging career.'" Now come the pants, and we're talking about the time he showed 23.3 million viewers his rear end a few seasons back. David Caruso, the show's original star and a big pain to the rest of the cast, had shaken his bare booty and made TV history. People in cars would yell at Franz, asking when it would be his turn. "The producers let us know in advance, and I tried to get in shape. Had one doughnut instead of two." It didn't work. The crew wanted him to wear a contraption on the set for modesty's sake, but he refused. "It didn't fasten properly. Stupid." T HAT NO-NONSENSE Chicago accent and street- guy diction is almost its own archetype now, familiar not just to NYPD Blue viewers but to anyone who saw Franz as Norman Buntz on Hill Street Blues or as any of the 27 other cops he has played on TV or in the movies. It's there again in American Buffalo, in which he stars (as a junk dealer) with Dustin Hoffman in the newly released film version of David Mamet's classic play. Franz's gift is not just that he's real, but that he's so consistently subtle and credible. With 22 episodes a year—a new script every eight days during production—Franz and bis colleagues produce drama of higher quality than found in most movies. Milch tells a story that it turns out Franz hasn't heard before: "Dennis 1 character was supposed to croak early. Originally, Sipowicz represented a cop whose time was past. The idea was to kill off the previous generation to announce that this was a new show with a new sensibility. But old-timers bring so much depth and color that it was crazy to kill him off, not just dramatically but in terms of accuracy. Dinosaurs are still very important." That applies in the station bouse and in every other workplace in America, which may help explain some of Sipowicz's popularity. He's the older guy in the office who is experienced, confused, competent and angry all at once: a stand-up guy, in spite of himself. As a cop, Sipowicz represents a style so old it's new. "Everyone thinks community policing is an innovation. It's really a return to the way it was years ago," Milch says. While Sipowicz is a detective, not a beat cop, he takes a personal approach to the job that is the essence of good police work. One of the show's loftier aims, Milch adds, is "to complicate the public's perception of cops and get [the public] to realize the vast majority of cops take their jobs because they want to help people." But Americans have an ambivalent attitude toward police officers, and that confusion contains dramatic power. "Society wants cops to kick a-, but if they catch them they destroy them," concludes Milch, who has been hanging out in precincts for years. "That's why cops are tragic figures." Franz stars with Dustin Hoffman in the new movie American Buffalo, above. Left, as detective Andy Sipowicz in an upcoming scene from NYPD Blue's fourth season. T HEY DON! SEEM SO TRAGIC today, one of the 10 days or so a year the show shoots in New York. Mark Tinker, co-executive producer and this episode's director, is yelling through a megaphone: "MY NAME IS BILL CLARK AND I'M WEARING NO UNDERPANTS!" Clark, a 23-year veteran of the New York Police Department and the model for Sipowicz, is now retired and working as a supervising producer on the show. He, Tinker, Franz, Sraits and the rest of the cast have an easy rapport — even when they're trying to cram Ritz crackers down each other's pants. FRANZ: "Let me get this straight: I gotta run all the way around that corner?" CLARK: "If you're lucky, only seven or eight times." TINKER (as filming starts, and Franz takes off): "Cut! Cut!" CLARK: "Keep going! Keep going!" Clark is the real McCoy. "You can't get no better person than that guy to teach [Franz] how to do it," says NYPD detective Rick Tirelli, who, like many real cops, has wandered by the set to see friends. "He was the go-to guy in all the heavy cases in Queens." Like many cops, Tirelli says NYPD Blue is "about as real as you're going to see on TV." Clark, who is leaner and more polished than Sipowicz, says the wives of cops especially love the show: "It's almost as if they're with their husbands." When I suggest that cops glued to their TVs in the station house on Tuesdays at 10 might mean more crime at that hour, Clark gives me a Sipowicz fish eye and says acidly: "Maybe 1AD [Internal Affairs] will investigate." From his earliest days in the Chicago theater world, Franz studied cops like Clark for tips. "I'm a great observer of people. I really like to pick up pieces of behavior and consciously or unconsciously put them in my memory bank and try to draw on them," Franz says. "When I confront certain crimes [on the show] involving children in particular, I think of Bill. I can see the way his eyes soften." The powers of observation have turned up in Franz's writing (he coauthored with his close friend Joe Mantegna the late-'70s hit play Bleacher Bums, about Chicago Cubs fans) but pay dividends daily on the grueling set of this show. "Dennis is unbelievably good when he doesn't have the ball," says Michael Robin, an NYPD Blue director. I watch him stand silently just inside the camera frame as Smits' character, detective Bobby Simone, interrogates a witness. Franz's impatient expression and distracted glances tell you everything you need to know about the scene. A LL OF THIS STARTED modestly enough during Franz's junior year of high school in Maywood, 111., when a high school girlfriend took him along on her audition for a play and he tried out, too. He stuck with acting through college at Southern Illinois University. "I had the most middle-class upbringing anyone could hope for," says Franz, who was born Dennis Schlachta. His father, a German immigrant named Franz Schlachta — hence the stage name—worked in a bakery, his mother was a homemaker. Later, both parents became postal employees. They lived in what in the Chicago area are called "bungalows," small houses with stoops. Franz says there are "no skeletons in the closet" from his youth. Everyone in his family got along well. But he acknowledges that racial changes in his neighborhood shaped his outlook, not to mention the award-winning NYPD Blue episode in which he uses the "N word." "We were one of the last white families, and that was good for me. It was hard, but a good hardness. An education. "My father appeared in my eyes to be an Continued on next page WHERE THE COPS ARE NYPD B/ue is set in the Big Apple, obviously. Where other well-known cop shows are stationed: NEW YORK ; BCagneyand Lacey (left) I Kq/ak • Car 54, Where Are You? m Law and Order m New York Undercover m The Commish • Barney Miller LOS ANGELES • 21 Jump Street a CHIPs m Dragnet (right) • Columbo m Polke Woman mMam-12 m Hunter m The Mod Squad • Cop Rock m High Incident SAN FRANCISCO • A/ash Bridges • The Streets of San Franc/sco m Ironside m McMillan and Wife MIAMI m Miami Vice PITTSBURGH m Sirens ~ SPARTA, MISS. J8 • In the Heat of the • Night (left) CHICAGO 0986-87)/ LAS VEGAS 0987-88) • Crime Story 'LARGE AMERICAN CITY' m Hill Street Blues m Police Squad! m Police Story 'LARGE SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA CITY' • TheflooWes • Baretta • Starsky and Hutch MAYBERRY.N.C. mThe Andy Griffith Show HONOLULU m Hawaii Rve-0 BALTIMORE • HOT tode (right) USA WEEKEND • Oct. 4-6. 1996 8

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