The real story behind Jimmy Smits' departure from ''NYPD Blue''

By Bruce Fretts
October 23, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT
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Jimmy Smits stands beneath the Brooklyn Bridge and gives a simple explanation as to why he’s leaving NYPD Blue (ABC, Tuesdays, 10-11 p.m.). ”My contract was up,” says Smits, who’s in Manhattan for his final week of location shooting. ”I signed up for four years. I lived out the commitment like a gentleman, and now I just feel like it’s time to move on.”

Across the street in his hotel room, NYPD cocreator David Milch stretches out on a bed and offers a more complicated take. ”My work process may have had something to do with Jimmy’s feelings,” he says. ”He gets the material so late, and he’s so meticulous a craftsman and takes such pride in his preparation that it became a little exhausting for him.” As if to prove the point, Milch mentions that he hasn’t yet finished writing new NYPD star Rick Schroder’s first scene — which will begin shooting in only a few hours.

What’s more, Smits may have grown weary of playing such a passive character as Det. Bobby Simone, the calm counterpart to Dennis Franz’s turbulent Det. Andy Sipowicz. ”Jimmy felt that was constricting,” explains Milch. Adds cocreator Steven Bochco: ”As extraordinary as Dennis’ work is, I always felt Jimmy’s work was underestimated. You wouldn’t want two guys banging off walls, so it fell to Jimmy to be the solid one, and that’s always a subtler thing.”

Smits may not have any Emmys to show for it (Franz has won three), but it’s exactly that quiet, coiled power that kept the show on track, especially in the uncertain days after David Caruso’s 1994 exit. ”Jimmy’s like a Ferrari,” says Bochco. ”You tap the pedal and get this instant burst of power. You haven’t even begun to put your foot to the floor. You don’t have to — there’s always something in reserve.”

In his final NYPD episodes, however, you might get to see Smits put the pedal to the metal. ”He’s been extraordinary,” marvels Milch. But even though Simone gets stabbed by a suspect in the Oct. 20 season premiere, don’t expect that to be the reason he’s splitting. ”What starts out looking like why he’s going turns out to be a very different thing,” teases the typically cryptic Milch. ”People who look at the first episodes need to go to the end before they see what really happens.”

And even after Schroder joins the show in December, don’t think you’ve seen the last of Smits, who might return for guest shots. ”We’re counting on it,” says Milch. Kim Delaney lovers also needn’t fret: Det. Diane Russell (Simone’s spouse) is sticking around. When Smits announced his departure, the producers ”immediately came up to me and said, ‘You’re taken care of,”’ reports Delaney.

There’s reason to be hopeful that NYPD, which fell into a bit of a creative slump last season, may be reinvigorated by the addition of Schroder. Milch certainly seems pumped: ”If I can begin to improvise scenes in my head when I see two actors working together, then I know there’s something there. And we wrote about four scenes in 10 minutes when Rick and Dennis started working together.”

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  • 09/21/93-03/01/05
  • Steven Bochco,
  • David Milch
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