Adieu John Irvin - When NYPD Blue wraps up Tuesday it will be the end for gay PAA John Irvin
- The END Of PAA JOHN IRVIN
by Bill Abdul
"NYPD Blue" comes to an end Tuesday night with a two hour episode that will bring to a close the only network show with two major gay characters.
Bill Brochtrup, the gay actor who plays openly gay police aide John Irvin, is one of the few cast members to have been with the series since its inception. Currie Graham who plays the closeted commander has been with the series for several seasons as an Internal Affairs officer who then was promoted to commander.
The characters are complex for network TV and complete opposites. Irvin is sensitive and nurturing. Lieut. Thomas Bale is less emotional, to the point of being cold.
Since its debut in 1993, the landmark cop series starring Dennis Franz as grouchy, hard-boiled police detective Andy Sipowicz has piled up 84 Emmy nominations and 20 awards.
Despite the awards and the stardom the ensemble cast has remained particularly close.
In a recent interview Brochtrup heaped praise on Franz for the enlightened evolution of Sipowicz's attitude toward gays.
"The relationship between these two guys, from not really liking each other to becoming friends, has taken 10 years. I think that's the time it takes in real life sometimes for something like this to happen. At the end of the first season, he shook my hand, which was a big deal."
A couple of seasons later when Sipowicz's wife was killed Andy hugged Irvin. Then the PAA began baby-sitting Andy's young son Theo. In the last season, Irvin was the minister at Andy's wedding.
Franz too acknowledges the evolution of his character - something he credits to "NYPD Blue" co-creator Steven Bochco. But Franz has one regret, that he wasn't able to get the writers to create a double date for Andy and John, which would have been the ultimate benediction from a character who had once been an unabashed homophobe.
"The relationship with John Irvin was a real special one," Franz said reecently. "Irvin opened a door for Andy to explore. [John's] a good guy. He just likes to date people that I don't."
It wasn't until midway through this season that we found out Lt. Bale is also gay.
In a plot twist during a case involving a man who robbed and beat several men he had picked up in a hustler bar Sipowicz found Bale's credit card among the stashed loot at the robber's apartment. He pocketed the evidence and returned it to Bale, no questions asked.
It was a surprising episode. Up until that point Bale and Sipowicz butted heads on each episode.
"He and I really locked horns and I think it was something that Dennis personally welcomed,'' said Graham who played Bale.
The energy between the two characters revitalized the show for its final season.
"I wanted to play him less as a cop and more as a lawyer or a CEO of a company,'' Graham said of his aloof attitude that caused instant sparks with Franz's volatile Sipowicz.
Graham came to NYPD Blue with a long list of TV credits including stints on 24, CSI, Law and Order, The Practice, ER and Judging Amy as well as a starring role on the comedy Suddenly Susan.
But, the character who was first introduced several seasons ago as a tough Internal Affairs investigator wasn't the first time that Graham had appeared on the series.
At a recent party to mark the end of production on the final episode that past came up. In a 1997 episode Graham was cast as a racist killer.
"Jimmy (Smits) came up to me and remembered. He said, `Wow, I can't believe it. I busted you and they made you lieutenant'.
``I said, `That's the way this country works, man. It's the American dream'.''
The Hamilton, Ontario-born Graham fell into acting in high school, when he took a drama class figuring it was a good chance to get some down time before playing in big games for the basketball team. He ended up scoring on the stage as well as the court.
Graham, who has worked steadily in the 15 years since he graduated from acting school in New York, is weighing new offers now the series has ended.
Brochtrup was hired by Bochco to reprise the role of John Irvin from the sitcom, "Public Morals". It created the rare occasion for the same character to appear both in a drama and a comedy, and on different networks.
Following Public Morals, Brochtrup went on to star in the ABC series "Total Security", with James Belushi. Soon after the conclusion of that series, Brochtrup was signed to do "NYPD Blue".
A third-generation Californian, he was raised in Tacoma, Washington, and attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.
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