When "NYPD Blue" ends its 12-year run in March, creator Steven Bochco will put a new cop on the beat.
A blind one.
Ron Eldard plays Detective Jim Dunbar, who was blinded by a gunshot wound during a robbery, but has fought to keep his job. Now he works the beat with his Seeing Eye dog.
"Blind Justice" premieres March 8 at 9 p.m. and will have the considerable benefit of "Blue's" old time slot.
Eldard admits the concept may seem ridiculous. A blind cop with a gun is a tough sell, especially from a producer like Bochco, whose cop-show signature is gritty realism.
Eldard and his on-screen partner, Marisol Nichols, did ride along with NYPD officers to prepare for their parts.
What was the real cops' reaction to Eldard's character?
"Same as everyone else's: 'This is (expletive) ridiculous,'" Eldard said.
"But," he added, "they tried to be cool about it, because we were actors and they were taking us on ride-alongs, and we had the technical adviser for 'NYPD Blue' (Bill Clark) with us, who had been a cop, so I could see they were giving us respect. But then, after about an hour or two in the car, they're like, 'Dude, come on, you can't have a gun. There's no way."'
Dunbar is paired with a very reluctant, very tough female detective (Nichols), who views Dunbar as a humiliating baby-sitting assignment. In the squad room, Dunbar is the victim of constant hazing from a disgruntled detective (Frank Grillo). Dunbar's lieutenant (Michael Gaston) barely tolerates him. And his wife (Rena Sofer) is about to leave him. But still he soldiers on.
"It's a really ballsy metaphor," said Eldard. "Here is someone who has everything, who's at the top of his life, he's a tough guy, and then suddenly his arrogance and his hubris are tamed."
A continuing theme of skepticism, they hope, will ground the story in some semblance of reality, Eldard said.
"Bottom line, I could never be out there with a gun. There's no way a blind guy could draw the gun. But you know there's so many great pieces of art that are ... completely unrealistic," he explained.
"'Friends' -- I love them, they don't mirror reality in many ways at all. 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' -- in the real world, that guy would get his face punched in," Eldard said. "But you know what, I go with it. So here, if the audience is too worried about the gun, then we've totally failed. It means we're just a cop show about a blind guy."