October 08, 2010 at 03:17 PM EDT

Image Credit: Jordin Althaus/NBCThe recent production hiatus on NBC’s Outlaw underscores an even bigger head-scratcher involving the drama’s star, Jimmy Smits: How is it the broadcast networks have yet to find the right show for one of TV’s most-beloved stars? (EW’s Ken Tucker said Smits “is an immensely likable actor, which only makes all the messy ideas and vainglory that clog Outlaw more disappointing.”) The 55-year-old actor has continued to find steady work over the last two decades, but he’s never been able to recapture the magic (or all those Emmy and Golden Globe wins and nominations) he earned while playing Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law from 1986-92 and Det. Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue from 1994 to 2004. The closest he came was in 2008, when he guest-starred as Miguel Prado in 12 episodes of Dexter, a role that earned him yet another Emmy nomination.

He was a hit as Matthew Santos on The West Wing, but his two-year run as an appealing politician was not enough to ignite a huge ratings turnaround for the once-popular show. And his abbreviated run as liquor mogul Alex Vega on CBS’ family drama Cane was overshadowed by the 100-day writer’s strike in 2007. Those recent failures haven’t affected Smits’ value in the marketplace: Word is his asking price remains $175,000 per episode (though an NBC insider says he’s receiving closer to $150K for Outlaw). Either way, it’s a rich payday reserved for only the most sought-after stars in TV. But many believe he’s still worth it, and not just because he’s one of Hollywood’s most high-profile Latino actors. “He’s a big TV star,” agrees one studio executive. “People like him. He’s not an icon, but people really like him.”

For now, it’s unclear what will become of Smits’ latest gig on NBC. Outlaw only averaged 4.7 million viewers on Oct. 1, down from its premiere week average of 4.98 million. The network still has five original episodes in the can that are scheduled to air so its plan is to monitor the show’s performance in the coming weeks before deciding whether to resume production.

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