Jimmy Smits: Why can't the beloved TV actor catch a break in primetime?

outlawImage Credit: Jordin Althaus/NBCThe recent production hiatus on NBC’s Outlaw underscores an even bigger head-scratcher involving the drama’s star, Jimmy Smits: How is it the broadcast networks have yet to find the right show for one of TV’s most-beloved stars? (EW’s Ken Tucker said Smits “is an immensely likable actor, which only makes all the messy ideas and vainglory that clog Outlaw more disappointing.”) The 55-year-old actor has continued to find steady work over the last two decades, but he’s never been able to recapture the magic (or all those Emmy and Golden Globe wins and nominations) he earned while playing Victor Sifuentes on L.A. Law from 1986-92 and Det. Bobby Simone on NYPD Blue from 1994 to 2004. The closest he came was in 2008, when he guest-starred as Miguel Prado in 12 episodes of Dexter, a role that earned him yet another Emmy nomination.

He was a hit as Matthew Santos on The West Wing, but his two-year run as an appealing politician was not enough to ignite a huge ratings turnaround for the once-popular show. And his abbreviated run as liquor mogul Alex Vega on CBS’ family drama Cane was overshadowed by the 100-day writer’s strike in 2007. Those recent failures haven’t affected Smits’ value in the marketplace: Word is his asking price remains $175,000 per episode (though an NBC insider says he’s receiving closer to $150K for Outlaw). Either way, it’s a rich payday reserved for only the most sought-after stars in TV. But many believe he’s still worth it, and not just because he’s one of Hollywood’s most high-profile Latino actors. “He’s a big TV star,” agrees one studio executive. “People like him. He’s not an icon, but people really like him.”

For now, it’s unclear what will become of Smits’ latest gig on NBC. Outlaw only averaged 4.7 million viewers on Oct. 1, down from its premiere week average of 4.98 million. The network still has five original episodes in the can that are scheduled to air so its plan is to monitor the show’s performance in the coming weeks before deciding whether to resume production.


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  • ann

    The problem with this Outlaw show was that the premise was stupid. NO ONE would give up a seat on the Supreme Court to return to a life as a trial lawyer.

    • verylazy

      Exactly, the idea was so dumb I did not even bother to watch the show

      • Sam Puckett

        Also, Jimmy Smits is incredibly overrated, as bad as Star Wars prequels were – Smits lame acting just added to the stink

    • Hillary

      totally ridiculous, not to mention the fact that most justices were never trial lawyers

    • hech

      Yes, a person would if he or she has realized, like Garza did, that he could do more good for socially and legally marginalized people by becoming a defense attorney.

    • hech

      Ann, people are unpredictable. Rahm Emanuel left the White House just to run (no guaranteed seat) for the office of mayor of Chicago. The show is awesome. You guys need to loosen up a little.

      • Ginger

        The premice was a reach but the whole cast was interesting,especially Jimmy Smitts We were disapointed to find it pulled

    • BeachyNan

      I really liked the show and thought it was going to be a winner.Loved Jimmy in the part and it was a different theme, light and enjoyable. He was perfect in the part! Loved Cane too. Hope they can bring OUTLAW back.

    • rhea

      I REALLY LIKE THIS SHOW, THINK THE CAST IS GOOD,AS USUAL JIMMY IS GREAT AND STILL VERY SEXY.THE ONLE NEW SHOW I WATCH. PLEASE KEEP IT ON. IT GETS BETTER W/ EACH EPISODE.

      • Matt

        The show was interesting, but was executed badly. the whole season should have been about him leaving the supreme court, not just the first ten min of the pilot. If that was the premise: a judge finds conflict on the suprmeme court and ends up leaving, i think the should would have hit.

    • Brian

      Then there is ludicrous proprisition that an ultra conservative judge ala Renquist can switch to left of center over night. I know it’s fictional Tv but what is wrong even modicum of realism?

  • Al

    He had a good 20 year run followed by minor successes. That is a career that most actors would give their right arm for. I like him and I’ve heard good things about him from people who have worked on set with him, but there are plenty of beloved actors who have had worse luck.

  • Burnstar

    Throw him on “The Good Wife” and watch the fur fly as both Alicia and Diane get interested in him personally.

    • Dave

      Can you imagine Smits as the new partner? No disrespect to Chris Butler, but Smits would have been a great fit in this series.

      • BARB BONO

        GREAT IDEA!!! I LOVED THE OUTLAW, BUT MOST OF ALL I LOVED CANE!!! JIMMY SMITS WAS AND IS THE GREATEST. HE WOULD BE SUPER IN THE GOOD WIFE.

    • Jelana

      Outstanding suggestion. He would be an excellent addition on that show.

      • Carolyn

        I totally agree – he would be an asset to the show.

    • Via

      That is a great suggestion, I would love to see him on that show. Can you imagine?

    • Sue1

      This is a great idea.

    • Michelle

      That is an excellent suggestions. I love Jimmy Smits and Outlaw but I also like The Good Wife. He would be great on the good wife.

      • Isabel

        That is an excellent idea. Jimmy Smits and Chris Noth, that combo would be great. I would watch Jimmy Smits read the phonebook

    • rhea

      HECK YEA……….

  • TORRENCE5

    Problem has been with the roles/shows that he has picked. He may be a great actor & a popular actor, but if the show sucks people don’t watch.

    • jmo

      I always enjoy his performances but I think you’re right, he or his people pick wrong materials for him. His success (besides NYPD or LA Law) is really in those guest staring roles. He killed (no pun intended) in Dexter and West Wing. Maybe he needs to stay with that.

  • Lisa Simpson

    “Outlaw” was just another legal show with a really stupid hook (ex-Supreme who gave up his seat for what?). A fresher take would have been a behind the scenes drama about a Supreme, the way “The West Wing” showed the drama (and humor) of working in the White House.

    • Sue

      Now that would have been a good idea!

    • Josh

      They are not called “Supremes” they are called “Justices”

      • Lisa Simpson

        If you haven’t seen them called the Supremes, then you haven’t read a lot about the Supreme Court lately. Yes, they are called Justices of the Supreme Court, but the Supremes is a short-hand moniker that people have been using for years.

    • Graeme

      There were a couple of shows like that a few years ago: “First Monday”, and “The Court”. Neither did well (13 episodes, and three, respectively).

      p.s. they’re Associate Justices.

  • derek

    I haven’t seen most of the shows he’s been in. Except for The West Wing, I’m what you call a yellow dog Democrat, I would sooner vote for a yellow dog than a republican. I despise the republican party and all it stands for. I don’t want to argue politics with anyone, I only say this because it’s important to this article. I’m sure Jimmy Smits is a nice man, and maybe he’s even a good actor in the right part. But when I watched him on The West Wing, he had me, an avowed republican hating, blue state, yellow dog democrat, rooting for his republican opponent. I know they stacked the deck to try and make us like his character, but if I lived in the Bartletverse, I not only would have voted for Alda’s republican candidate, I would have been out there campaigning my heart out for him.

    • Arlene

      I loved Outlaw. I like anything with Jimmy Smits in it. THey will take him off and put on one of those silly reality shows,. I would much rather watch something with a story behind it… Can anyone tell me what Jersey Shore is supposed to be about? Is this the junk people want to watch today? I need to get more books in this house and forget the TV.

      • rhea

        WAY TO MANY STUPID REALITY SHOWS.LOVE, LOVE JIMMY SMITS.VERY CLASSY MAN.GREAT ACTOR.WOULD WATCH HIM IN ANYTHING

    • rhea

      IV’E NEVER SEEN A PRESIDENT OR SENATOR LOOK LIKE THAT,MMMMMMM,WHAT A SHAME,HE WAS GREAT IN THE WEST WING. LOVED THAT SHOW.

  • Sue

    I like him, too, and I watched LA Law and NYPD Blue. But there are many more things to do now than there were in the 80s and 90s.

  • iggy

    I’m beginning to wonder if middle aged men in Hollywood are starting to suffer the same ageism that has plagued actresses for years. I don’t think his talent should be defined by his ethnicity (he was great on NYPD Blue and the West Wing), however, given that Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the country, some network should scoop him up.

  • Eric

    I love Jimmy Smits and it’s amazing that he never won an Emmy for his outstanding work on NYPD Blue (he just never stood a chance against Dennis Franz). That said, however, I’m not sure he can carry a show on his own name alone which is what so many of these networks try to do with shows like Outlaw that have no appeal outside of him. The mere fact that a show stars Jimmy Smits isn’t enough to bring in audiences no matter how beloved or well-respected an actor he his. Most of his success has come from being part of ensemble show that was already critically acclaimed (L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, West Wing). Instead of trying to build a show around him and just him, networks should focus on building a great ensemble show and cast him as one of the main characters. People will watch Smits, they just need a show that’s worth their time.

  • cjsm

    Incredible actor asked to be in a terribly unbelieveable show. The whole premise of the show is stupid!

  • Julia

    I adore Jimmy Smits (loved NYPD & West Wing performances) but I just couldn’t watch “Cane” or “Outlaw” although I tried because of him. A “beloved actor” (& I think he is) is only as good as the material he’s given and he hasn’t been given anything worthwhile in a long time.

  • Mr. Holloway

    Al’s right in that Smits has absolutely nothing to be ashamed of with his TV career and I wouldn’t exactly say he’s cursed (the way someone like Mark Feurstein couldn’t seem to find a hit show for the longest time).

    However, I think Ed hit it on the nose. Despite all his awards and acclaim, he’s never carried a hit show by himself. And that’s fine…not everyone is a #1.

    • Sue1

      I think he’s perfectly capable of carrying a show, but it has to be the right show. Outlaw is not that show, however I hope he gets another chance. Loved him in NYPD Blue, his acting in that was wonderful.

      • Mr. Holloway

        I hope he gets another chance too because he WAS terrific on NYPD Blue. (I still remember the episode where Bobby died like it just aired.)

  • Lyn

    Love him, and I guess I was the only person who watched and really enjoyed “Cane.” But I just CAN’T watch another show about cops, lawyers, or doctors. Please dare to show a character in one of the thousands of other professions out there!

    • Chris1215tine

      I too loved Cane. Was sorry it was cancelled.

  • AAR

    I agree with Lisa- if the show was about a Justice on the bench, I might have watched. But the idea of giving up a seat was just too ridiculous. I also didn’t care much for Cane- and I’m a half-Cuban from Florida. Not that I found anything offensive, I just got bored with it. Smits needs to just find the right script/idea. Maybe he should play against type and be a villain for once (If he did this in Dexter, let me know how it worked out). I know him mainly from West Wing as the earnest, honest politician. Maybe he could be the bad guy on the new Terry O’Quinn/Michael Emerson show.

    • Merideth

      He did play a villain in Dexter, and he was good but nothing compared to the genius of John Lithgow in season 4.

  • Peter Vee

    Smits’ career doesn’t have one explanation. Some of it is bad timing (jumping on West Wing just after audiences had already decided they were done with it), some of it bad luck (the writer’s strike that doomed Cane, along with many other shows), and some bad judgment (he should have asked Lawrence O’Donnell whether the plot of Outlaw made any sense.) But I wish him well.

    • Bebe

      Interesting that the writer’s strike killed so many shows. Why didn’t these shows just wait until the strike was over and resume production like everyone else did?

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