Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
Just in case the presence of Blair Underwood in the lead role wasn’t enough to convince anyone that NBC‘s forthcoming reboot of the 1967 wheelchair-bound detective drama Ironside wasn’t going to be your father’s Ironside, the star spelled out the ways the new version would differ from the original that starred Raymond Burr. Whereas Burr was low key, quiet, cerebral and very white, Underwood is presented as surly, mega-intense, defiantly self-sufficient — and obviously quite African American. Underwood credits the show’s tech advisor David Bryant for the new take. “He’s the reason there are no handles on the wheelchair,” Underwood said this afternoon during a TCA session. He also called the new Ironside sensibility and cast as “bad-ass.” In terms of the original, the actor said, “We took his name, the fact he’s a detective, and the fact he happens to be in a wheelchair. Everything else has been reimagined. There are all new characters, new city, new texture, new storytelling, new audience, new expectations. We’re now a crime drama wrapped in a character study.” This Det. Robert T. Ironside also has the physical ability to have sex. You didn’t see Burr doing that in the 1960s.
However, one critic questioned why the producers felt the need to cast an able-bodied actor in the role rather than a disabled one. Exec producer Teri Weinberg explained that viewers were always meant to see Ironside both in the present-day and in flashback in his life prior to being paralyzed a few years before in a shooting. “So we needed an actor to be able to take on both of those roles — both on his feet and tied to the chair,” Weinberg said. Exec producer Ken Sanzel also noted that about 10-15% of the scenes are flashback. When the critic asked if maybe those scenes could have been done using CGI with a disabled performer, he was assured there would have been no way to pull it off.