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The Real Reason You Don't Hear From Dennis Franz Anymore

Owing in part to two separate stints on NBC's stunning police drama Hill Street Blues, but mostly to his decade-plus on ABC's revolutionary cop show NYPD Blue, Dennis Franz is one of the most recognizable, popular, and awarded actors in television history. The actor scored eight Emmy nominations — and won four times — for his work portraying the brilliant, grizzled, sad sack homicide detective Andy Sipowicz for 12 years, seeing him through many stages of life, happy and sad, and hundreds of horrendous murder cases on the mean streets of Manhattan. 

Lots of NYPD Blue cast members parlayed their work on the highly rated and critically acclaimed show into long and fruitful careers, including TV mainstays like Jimmy Smits, David Caruso, and Amy Brenneman. But not Franz — since the series wrapped in 2005, he's been almost invisible. Here's a look into what TV's Andy Sipowicz has been up to for the past decade.

Give him a break

From 1993 to 2005, Dennis Franz anchored NYPD Blue, portraying Andy Sipowicz for a good chunk of the character's life, as well as his own. Twelve years is a long time to hold a job, and in Hollywood, that kind of span is almost unheard of. Nevertheless, making an episode of an hour-long cop drama each week is a grind, and by the end of it, it had left Franz quite spent.

"I was just tired. It was becoming a job, as much as I loved the work and the challenges and the creative process," Franz told the New York Post. Toward the end of NYPD Blue, he made up his mind that he "wanted to live an enjoyable, irresponsible, spend-time-with-my-family kind of life. I haven't regretted one minute of it. I'm pretty good at doing nothing." Franz and his wife, Joanie, spend a lot of time at their lake house in northern Idaho, "swimming and fishing and enjoying the lake" and hanging out with his grandkids. Some of the other "doing nothing" he does is travel to places like New York (to see plays) and Europe.

Twenty-eight is enough

Perhaps one of the reasons Franz needed a break (which stretched into a full-on retirement) was because he was tired of doing the same old thing. Not only had he been playing the same character for a while — and also nearly exclusively, with very little side work in movies or TV shows for most of that time — but he'd taken on similar work for more than 30 years. As Franz told the Los Angeles Times during the second season of NYPD Blue back in 1995, Andy Sipowicz was, by the actor's count, the 28th police officer he'd portrayed across television, movies, and theater. 

For example, just before NYPD Blue, he starred in an unsold pilot for a cop show called NYPD Mounted, and a few years prior to that, he played two different boys in blue on Hill Street Blues, crooked cop Sal Benedetto, and then, after that character's death, tightly-wound detective Norman Buntz. He'd played so many cops for so long that he almost didn't even take the NYPD Blue gig. "I told myself I was going to try to find another vehicle," Franz said. "It was time not to play any more cop roles." In 2005, Franz finally put his foot down.

He's a small-screen guy in a big-screen world

NYPD Blue generated some controversy in 1994 when, after just one season on the air, star David Caruso left the hit series to pursue a movie career. That idea notoriously fizzled out, with Caruso starring in flops like Jade and Kiss of Death, and then disappearing into obscurity until he scored a big comeback in 2002 — on TV — with CSI: Miami. Franz, a veteran working actor, knew he had a good thing going with NYPD Blue, and in the wake of numerous cast changes (his character, Det. Andy Sipowicz, had four partners on the force), Franz stayed with the show for its entire 12-year run, never falling prey to the siren song of potential big-screen stardom even after the series wrapped. 

That might be on account of how his NYPD Blue extracurricular career was a non-starter. In addition to some forgettable made-for-TV movies with titles like Texas Justice and Moment of Truth: Caught in the Crossfire, Franz appeared in just two feature films during his NYPD tenure: the big-screen adaptation of David Mamet's American Buffalo, and the supernatural romantic drama City of Angels. The former took in just $665,000 at the box office, while the latter earned a robust $198.7 million. But that was all moviegoers would ever get from Dennis Franz.

His biggest advocates died

Franz's most prominent roles came on two stone-cold classic TV dramas: Hill Street Blues and NYPD Blue, both the co-creations of writer and mega-producer Steven Bochco. In addition to those long-running shows, he also starred in Bochco's short-lived series Bay City Blues and Beverly Hills Buntz. Franz was clearly something of a muse for Bochco, or at the very least a guy he just really liked to work with. Earlier in his career, Franz similarly won favor with two of the most important and singular directors of the 1970s and 1980s: Brian De Palma and Robert Altman. Franz appeared in five De Palma movies during the director's peak: The Fury, Dressed to Kill, Blow Out, Scarface, and Body Double. He also joined Altman's ensemble films A Wedding, Popeye, and The Player. 

Perhaps some of the reason why Franz doesn't feel like working too much anymore is because those confident content creators aren't creating much content these days. Altman passed away in 2006, and Bochco died in 2018. De Palma's output has slowed down considerably, with only two feature films to his credit since 2010.

From televised police stations to real-life courtrooms

In 2007, a chandelier fell from the ceiling in Franz's house in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The huge, falling light fixture led to a hospitalization for Franz's sister, Marlene Schraut, standing under the chandelier (while holding a child) at the time of the crash. In 2009, Franz and Schraut filed suit against Edwards Construction, ACME Electric, and Aladdin Light Lift, alleging negligence. Franz also said the aftermath of the accident made him nullify a $16 million "personal services contract" (although the suit didn't say what kind of work that included). Franz also claimed that while Schraut was hospitalized, some of the defendants snuck into Franz's home and tampered with the evidence (e.g., the purportedly faulty chandelier).

In 2010, Franz cleared up another legal matter. A year prior, his production company sued Elite Aviation, a California charter jet company, over a 2004 matter in which Franz paid the firm more than $160,000 in advance for the use of a private jet, and that both sides agreed to refund Franz the value of any unused flight time. Franz says that he was owed $69,675 for flights he never took, and that Elite refused to pay up... until he got lawyers involved, who reached an agreement in October 2010, the same week the case was scheduled to go before a judge.

Goodbye Earl, hello Dennis

In the latter years of NYPD Blue, Franz took on less and less outside work. His only other credited role post-2000 was an appearance in a Dixie Chicks video. In the darkly humorous clip for the single "Goodbye Earl," Franz played Earl, the abusive husband who terrorizes the song's protagonist, Wanda (30 Rock's Jane Krakowski)... until she murders him by serving up poisoned black-eyed peas. Franz told the Washington Post that he got the role after he fawned all over the group backstage at The Rosie O'Donnell Show. "I oohed and aahed at them, and we both said, 'Big fans! Big fans!' And...they asked if I'd want to do a video." They initially offered him a role as a police officer, but Franz turned it down — he wanted to play Earl. Unsurprisingly, "Goodbye Earl" was a very controversial song (and video), and Franz got caught right in the middle of it. Twenty prominent country music radio stations refused to play it; CMT still aired the video, and displayed phone numbers viewers could call for help in ending an abusive relationship.

A comeback could happen

Dennis Franz hasn't acted onscreen since 2005, his last portrayal of a fictional character coming with the final episode of NYPD Blue. And while he may have opted to escape Hollywood for Idaho, he isn't opposed to getting in front of the camera every now and then, if the project is right. His presence at the 2016 Emmys was something of a surprise — he showed up with his old NYPD Blue co-star Jimmy Smits to present the award for Outstanding Drama Series to Game of Thrones. He'll also participate in nonfiction projects that are close to his heart, such as a Hill Street Blues documentary, and We Believe, a documentary about the Chicago Cubs. Will he ever act again, though? It's possible. "My agents have an understanding; they're still gonna knock on my door periodically to see if there are any home runs to get me off my butt, but so far that hasn't presented itself," Franz told the New York Post, "though I left my options open and didn't say I was, for sure, closing the door and not leaving it open a crack."