Tuesday, April 03, 2001

Sipowicz remains an original

        NYPD Blue fans know that Andy Sipowicz is a survivor.

        In eight seasons, the durable 15th Precinct detective has battled alcoholism, endured the murder of his wife and son, lost two partners, and watched another son escape a grave disease.

        After today (10 p.m., Channels 9, 2), he will reach another milestone: Sipowicz becomes the last original character on the ABC drama with the departure of Capt. Arthur Fancy (James McDaniel).

        “It will be sad. It's going to be a big loss to me personally, and to the show,” said actor Dennis Franz in an interview during the January press tour, as they were filming the pivotal episodes.

        “Some of my favorite episodes and scenes have been conflicts with Fancy,” said Mr. Franz, whose bigoted Sipowicz had an uneasy truce, at best, with Fancy, an African-American.

        Chances are his favorites are yours too — Sipowicz and Fancy duking it out in the squad locker room, or the two going to a ribs joint where Sipowicz was the only white man in the place.

        “I also like many of our quiet moments, when we try to understand each other,” he said.

        Mr. McDaniel's exit is no surprise to NYPD Blue fans. Fancy's wife and children haven't been seen for years, as he was reduced to keeping tabs on cases from behind a desk.

        Five years ago, he diplomatically explained his frustration with the series.

        “I always get asked the question about (the role) not being enough. I take it as a compliment,” he said after his 1996 nomination for an Emmy as best supporting actor in a drama. (He lost to Ray Walston of Picket Fences, while Mr. Franz won one of his four Emmys.)

        Mr. McDaniel told producers last year he would leave after the 13th episode, which airs tonight. He was replaced last week by icy Lt. Susan Dalto (Denise Crosby from Star Trek: The Next Generation), who has a central role in tonight's episode.

        Her first target is Sipowicz, the drunk shot while with a prostitute in the 1993 pilot. He has since redeemed himself, and emerged as the show's heart and soul. That's why producers have let so many cast members come and go since David Caruso quit one month into the second season in 1994. They know Sipowicz is the reason we watch.

        In the past three years, NYPD Blue has become a revolving door. Rick Schroder signed on as Danny Sorenson in 1998 after Bobby Simone (Jimmy Smits) died. The 15th Precinct also has said farewell to Sipowicz's wife, Sylvia (Sharon Lawrence); detectives James Martinez (Nick Turturro) and Jill Kirkendall (Andrea Thompson); and co-creator David Milch (CBS' Big Apple).

        In May, Kim Delaney leaves to star in her own series, an ABC legal drama by Steven Bochco. She joined NYPD Blue in the third season, after the departure of original cast members Sherry Stringfield (to ER)and Amy Brenneman (now in Judging Amy).

        “We don't have any indication as to what the story line is going to be, as to why (Ms. Delaney) leaves the show,” Mr. Franz said.

        Turnover is typical for long-running series like NYPD Blue or NBC's Law & Order. The churn has taken a slight toll on ratings, with NYPD Blue at No. 26 this season. It remains ABC's No. 2 drama to The Practice (No. 9), attracting more viewers than Drew Carey (No. 30) or any ABC sitcom.

        Despite the delay of its premier until January, NYPD Blue is winning the 10 p.m. Tuesday slot this season over CBS' Judging Amy (No. 28) and Dateline NBC (No. 56). NYPD Blue already has been renewed for a ninth season, with an option for a 10th, Mr. Franz said.

        In his eighth season, Mr. Franz suddenly finds himself as the dinosaur in a younger squad room.

        Garcelle Beauvais (The Jamie Foxx Show) arrived in January as assistant district attorney Valerie Haywood. Charlotte Ross (Trinity; Beggars and Choosers) became a permanent addition last month as Connie McDowell.

        Henry Simmons (Above the Rim) joined the squad last year as Baldwin Jones, partner for Greg Medavoy (Gordon Clapp), who came in the second season.

        All the new kids on the block have transformed Sipowicz from resident grump to a father figure of sorts.

        “You're seeing Sipowicz in a different light this year, somewhat of an older, wiser advisory capacity — oddly enough — if you can imagine seeing Andy giving advice to anybody,” he said.

        Mr. Franz welcomes the 15th Precinct changes, even if his character can't.

        “It's good for us. It pumps new blood into us,” he says. “In a perfect world, I'd love to be able to keep the old and add the new. But if that's not to be — then we have really done well with the replacements.”

        NYPD Blue fans may tolerate many changes — as long as Mr. Franz's Andy Sipowicz remains the central character.

        CBS' last Survivor may win a million bucks, but NYPD Blue fans know that Andy Sipowicz is worth much, much more.

        E-mail jkiesewetter@enquirer.com. Past columns at Enquirer.com/columns/kiese


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