'Ironside' Reboot Features Tough, More Self-Sufficient Hero

“It’s a crime drama wrapped in a character study,” star Blair Underwood said.
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images Entertainment
Blair Underwood and Spencer Grammer

NBC's Ironside is taking a page out of the police dramas of the past.

The Ironside reboot centers on the tough, sexy but acerbic police detective Robert Ironside, played by Blair Underwood, who is relegated to a wheelchair after a shooting. Hardly limited by his disability, Ironside pushes and prods his hand-picked team to solve the most difficult cases in New York City. (Raymond Burr originated the role in the 1960-70s TV series.)

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Imagery on Ironside seemed to pay homage to past television series of a similar ilk, and those eventual comparisons to the police procedurals of the past — specifically of the 1970s — were not lost on the creative team.

"Those are the shows and movies I grew up on and that was the moment when crime drama started to match the weight of crime literature, so I don't think if you're doing a contemporary show with real dirt under its fingernails, you can help but evoke that era of police stories and crime dramas without necessarily being a throwback," executive producer Ken Sanzel told reporters gathered Saturday at the Television Critics Association press tour.

"The show is tough-minded," he continued. "The character [of Ironside] is a tough-minded character and that's going to evoke that moment when our perception of police and police drama changed."

For star Blair Underwood, the discussions began when they were readying to film the pilot. "When we shot the pilot, we talked at great length in terms of the template of it, the texture of it," he said, highlighting The French Connection as a key inspiration. 

Though there are remnants of past shows and movies, there are some noticeable differences between this updated version of Ironside and the original series, one being that this Ironside is more self-sufficient than Burr's version (who required a driver). As Underwood told it, the only similarities from the original were his name, that he's a detective and that he's in a wheelchair. Everything else — including the new supporting characters and the New York City setting (the original took place in San Francisco) — were entirely new constructs.

“It’s a crime drama wrapped in a character study,” Underwood said, with the panelists distancing the show from being a standard procedural. At one point during the panel, panelists explained that Ironside explored the whys and not hows of crime.

Producers made a point to say that about 10 percent of each episode will exist in flashback form, informing Ironside’s personal and professional lives prior to his accident. The creative team behind the show voiced their lack of worry over doling out too much of Ironside’s back story over the course of the season. “They’re bouncing around over a lot of his history,” Sanzel said. “He’s been a cop for a while there’s a lot of places to go. … I don’t see those going away any time.”

When asked whether the original theme song by Quincy Jones will be used in the NBC update, the producers were coy. “We’re exploring our option with [re]visiting it,” Sanzel said. “I love the theme song too. We’re figuring it out.”

Ironside premieres Oct. 2 at 10 p.m. on NBC.

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