Say, Isn't That . . . ?

Susan King is a Times staff writer

When fans of writer-producer Steven Bochco tune into his two new TV series this season, they'll see a lot of familiar faces.

The gritty police drama "Brooklyn South," which premieres on CBS Sept. 22, features six actors in its ensemble cast who have appeared in other Bochco series. Ditto 11 of the guest stars on the first episode.

On "Total Security," another ensemble drama set in a high-tech Los Angeles security firm, which starts on ABC Sept. 27, four of the leads and five of the guest stars are Bochco veterans.

"The people we use over and over are usually people who just on their own have that special something," says Junie Lowry-Johnson, who has been casting Bochco's series since 1990's "Cop Rock." She also has cast such feature films as "Liar, Liar."

"[Producers] are much less open about that on other shows," Lowry-Johnson adds. "It's like if you have used them before, they don't want to repeat them. Steven doesn't think actors should be punished because they have done his shows before."

So "NYPD Blue" is the fourth Bochco series for Dennis Franz, who has won two Emmy Awards as Det. Andy Sipowicz. Franz also starred on Bochco's "Bay City Blues," "Hill Street Blues" and "Beverly Hills Buntz."

"Brooklyn South" will be the third Bochco series for James B. Sikking, who played Lt. Howard Hunter on "Hill Street Blues" and the father of "Doogie Howser, M.D."

Bochco's estranged wife, Barbara Bosson, was a regular on "Richie Brockelman, Private Eye," "Hill Street Blues," "Hooperman," "Cop Rock" and "Murder One."

Winner of 10 Emmy Awards, Bochco is one of television's most prolific and successful writer-producers.

Since 1981, he's co-created and executive produced "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law," "Bay City Blues," "Hooperman," "NYPD Blue," "Doogie Howser, M.D.," "Cop Rock," "Capitol Critters," "Murder One" and "Public Morals" and served as executive producer on "Civil Wars" and "The Byrds of Paradise."

Bochco says it's simply easier working with people he knows and respects.

"When you you write a role for an actor over a long period of time, you really get to know what that actor can do," he explains. "In the shorthand of television, that is an enormous advantage. When you bring an actor into a new environment and you have worked with that actor in the past, you just save so much time because you know that person."

What sets Bochco apart from other producers, says Lowry-Johnson, is that he's "comfortable with what he does. He's totally clear on the story and therefore he's very clear on the character. Through time you get to know who his tastes are and who aren't. He's always excited about new people, new faces."

If Bochco likes an actor, Lowry-Johnson relates, "he'll say, 'Keep this guy in mind for future stuff.' His expression is 'Put a pin in this guy.' Sometimes he'll let me know that he really liked the performance of somebody and I'll keep a mental note."

"A guest-starring role is a testing ground," says Michael DeLuise, who plays Officer Phil Roussakoff on "Brooklyn South" but is better known to "NYPD Blue" followers as Andy Sipowicz Jr. "When you hire someone, you want to see what they're like on a long-term basis."

Bochco, says Lowry-Johnson, gives her a lot of freedom when it comes to casting. "He doesn't make you hire TV names or TV stars," she says. "That's never a requirement on his shows and that's a huge freedom. He makes stars. He doesn't hire stars."

In the case of "Murder One," Bochco specifically was looking for actors with stage experience. "A courtroom is a theater," he says. "You really have to have a flamboyancy and tremendous craft because you have to take the stage. You have to own the courtroom. So there in particular you want actors with a real theatrical background."

Sikking goes back almost 30 years with Bochco. The actor was a guest on "The Name of the Game," when Bochco was a story editor on the NBC series. The two became best buddies more than 20 years ago when their daughters met in kindergarten. He also was a regular on the 1979 NBC comedy "Turnabout," on which Bochco was a writer.

Hiring friends is nothing new for Bochco. Charles Haid, who was a regular on Bochco's "Delvecchio" and played Officer Andy Renko on "Hill Street Blues," attended Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh with Bochco.

"[Bochco is] just the best," Sikking says. "You can look back at the people who were on 'Hill Street Blues' who became big stars and directors. To tell you once again about Steven's loyalty, the firstprofessional directing jobs in TV that Betty Thomas and Charlie Haid got were directing 'Doogie Howser.' "

Now Sikking's son, Andrew, is set to guest star this fall on "NYPD Blue."

"He went in and read for them," his father says. "I didn't even know about it."

Bochco frequently writes characters with certain actors in mind. Hunter and Dr. Howser, for example, were written for Sikking and "we certainly did [write Sipowicz] for Dennis Franz for 'NYPD Blue,' " Bochco says. "Having worked with him as much as we did in the past, we actually hired Dennis before we started to write. It's the only time I have ever done that."

Lowry-Johnson is careful about staggering actors' appearances on the series. But, she adds, "If you take a show like 'L.A. Law' and 'NYPD Blue' that have been on for so long, you will wipe out too many good people if you don't repeat anybody on the same show. Even though people are big fans of the show you don't remember everybody and every part."

A Bochco favorite, Peter Onorati, appeared on "NYPD Blue" last season for several episodes as a mobster. Onorati had previously been a regular on "Cop Rock" and "Civil Wars."

"We hadn't used him in a while," Lowry-Johnson says. "He stood out in 'Cop Rock,' so Steven immediately wanted to hire him for 'Civil Wars.' Then Pete went on and did a lot of other things. So enough time had gone by and he is such a good actor. When the part came up, I brought him back."

Lowry-Johnson says if Bochco sees something special in an actor, he lets them "spark" in that part. Sharon Lawrence, for example, was only set to make one appearance on "NYPD Blue," as assistant district attorney Sylvia Costas. But she complemented Franz so well, she kept being asked back.

"The same thing with Gail O'Grady," Lowry-Johnson says. "We didn't hire her until, like, the fifth or sixth episode. When they wrote the part, they were hoping that if the person was good they wanted that character to develop, which it absolutely did with Gail. If Gail hadn't brought that character [administrative assistant Donna Abandando] to life, they would have let it go."

Bill Brochtrup, who plays officer manager George LaSalle on "Total Security," is another actor who ended up fitting in perfectly in the Bochco fold. Two years ago, he was cast to play John Irvin, the sunny, gay office temp in "NYPD Blue."

"It was supposed to be two episodes," Brochtrup says. "Gail O'Grady had gone off to do a movie and I came on as a temp. Each week they'd say we'd like you to stay next week." Then he was asked to play Irvin as a regular on the 1996 CBS comedy "Public Morals."

"I was very flattered that they thought I could do it," he says. After that show was canceled after one episode, Brochtrup got a call from David Milch, who is executive producer of "NYPD Blue" and executive consultant on "Total Security."

"He said, 'We can bring you back to "NYPD Blue," but I think you are going to want to do something else, another character.' I thought that was pretty amazing that they had interest in what as an actor I might want to do with my career. They have been so good to me."

Because Bochco has been given complete creative autonomy, the actors he chooses never have to audition for network approval. "What's so amazing is that I haven't had to audition or anything since I started working for them," Brochtrup says. "They just call and say, 'We'd like you to do this.' It's almost like a gentleman's agreement."

Writers, directors and crews also go from series to series to Bochco. "You know everybody and they have worked together," Brochtrup says. "This crew [on "Total Security"] had done two years on 'Murder One,' which is a show that was beautifully shot."

"When people do good work you want to be able to keep them in your family," Bochco says.

"This work is so hard. We try to get so much accomplished in so little time. You can create a good environment for people and put people together who like each other and have worked with each other in the past. You've got to keep your focus on the work so you can get it done."

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* "NYPD Blue" airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. on ABC; "Brooklyn South" begins Sept. 22 at 10 p.m. on CBS; "Total Security" premieres Sept. 27 at 9 p.m. on ABC.

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