Starring Blair Underwood. His Team. His Town. His Rules. coming Wednesdays this fall to NBC. Watch the premiere Oct.2 at 10/9c. (Published Tuesday, Sep 2, 2014)
The theme song of the original version of "Ironside" began with a synthesizer police-car siren that pierced through TV sets in living color 45 years ago. The jazz-infused Quincy Jones composition oozed with cool while lending a sense of urgency in heralding a cop show with a premise like no other before it: a detective who busts bad guys from the confines of his wheelchair.
Now "Ironside" returns to NBC Wednesday in a new incarnation, nearly four decades after Raymond Burr's iconic Robert T. Ironside cracked his final case. “Ironside,” embodied this time around by Blair Underwood, resurfaces not as a groundbreaker as much as a cop for his times, amid a wealth of U.S. TV crime shows that emphasize brains over brawn.
That’s turf “Ironside” helped cultivate with the original show’s 1967 debut. The drama proved a first of its kind, boasting a strong character who happened to use a wheelchair. “Ironside” also led a subsequent wave of cerebral mystery shows featuring crime solvers who were different from their peers, in various ways. All were more reaction heroes than action heroes.
There were outsiders (“McCloud”), brilliant oddballs (“Columbo,” the spiritual godfather of “Monk”) and those who ran the system while quietly working inside it (“McMillan & Wife”). But by the mid-to-late 1970s, action became the vogue, thanks in great part to the one-two punch of “Starsky & Hutch” and “Baretta” on ABC.
Subsequent years brought deeper explorations of cops’ inner turmoil via Steven Bochco (“Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue”), and a blend of violence and humor in crime fighting via the prolific Stephen J. Cannell (“The Rockford Files” and “21 Jump Street,” to name two). “Law & Order” redefined the genre in 1990 by harkening back to the old police procedural formula – one that the “CSI” later tweaked by building plots around advances in forensic technology. Both franchises rely on deduction reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, who is seeing a television resurgence on both sides of the Atlantic (even if the Robert Downey Jr. movie reimagining of the Baker Street star is as fast with his fists as with his thoughts).
The new “Ironside,” in key respects, isn’t like the old “Ironside.” He’s based in New York, instead of San Francisco. Nobody pushes around Underwood’s tough-guy Robert T. Ironside – he wheels himself. We see him throw some punches – and not just in flashbacks before getting shot on the job.
Underwood is an impressive and intense performer, as anyone lucky enough to have seen him on Broadway last year in “A Streetcar Named Desire” can attest. The “Ironside” pilot
, which debuted online, got off to a promising start – mixing action and sleuthing with hints that the character’s personal demons will play a significant role in what’s to come.
Check out a preview of the new “Ironside,” which is far from the same old song:
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.
Published at 2:20 PM EDT on Oct 1, 2013
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