News Column

Blair Underwood becomes 'Ironside' in NBC series update [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA)]

September 29, 2013

YellowBrix

The chair remains -- but virtually everything else is different, including the character's attitude and the New York locale -- as Blair Underwood updates the role and the 1967-75 series when "Ironside" returns to NBC in a new version Oct. 2.

"I'm so excited about this," says the former "L.A. Law" and "Dirty Sexy Money" co-star, also a producer of the new show. "I get a chance to do the things I love doing ... colors and textures and tones, like the aggressive side that I've had chances to show onstage and in films but not necessarily on network television. It's nice to be able to do it on this platform, but it feels very familiar and comfortable to me."

It's not as comfortable for the felons the new, much edgier Ironside takes down. "There's a great love and nostalgia for what 'Ironside' was, and for what Raymond Burr brought to the character," Underwood acknowledges, "but at the same time, there's a whole new group of people who never heard of it."

After his long run on "Perry Mason," Burr established another iconic television character in 1967 as Robert Ironside, the San Francisco detective chief who conducted investigations from a wheelchair.

Like the first Ironside, the current one was made paraplegic by a bullet to the spine, but he's now a street detective rather than a supervisor. Pablo Schreiber ("The Wire"), Spencer Grammer (daughter of Kelsey and former star of "Greek") and Neal Bledsoe play his colleagues, with Brent Sexton ("The Killing") as Ironside's troubled ex-partner.

Kenneth Choi portrays the by-the-book captain they answer to ... named Ed, in apparent tribute to Don Galloway's character in the original version.

"I think the style of storytelling in television, certainly in crime dramas, has changed greatly since the '60s and early '70s," Underwood reasons.

"We really get into the psychology and the emotional aspects of this man, which are directly linked to his disability and the accident that happened only two years prior. That's a tremendous hurdle and journey."

The reason a paraplegic actor wasn't cast as Ironside was that "it was always meant to see Ironside both in present day and go back into his life prior to the shooting," explains Teri Weinberg, an executive producer of the show.

"In this particular situation, we needed an actor who was able to take on both of those roles. It was really about the best actor for the role, but it was one that required an actor to not only be on his feet in his previous life but also confined to the chair."

Jay Bobbin writes for Zap2it.com.

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