The mainstream TV audience would cite Jimmy Smits' five years on LA Law as the award-winning actor's first major role, one that elevated him from the ranks of character actors and guest stars to leading-man status. The acclaimed portrayal also led to stints on other shows such as NYPD Blue, Cane and The West Wing, where he ultimately played the first Latino president. But Simone's initial media burst came when he appeared in the pilot episode of Miami Vice. Indeed, he was Don Johnson's original partner who got blown away in a hail of bullets rather early.
Since then, Smits has been among TV's busiest and most distinguished actors, even though Cane, which CBS touted as a breakthrough dramatic project for Latinos, didn't make it through the winter of 2007. Highly visible, politically and socially active, Smits is a charismatic figure whose characters usually positively portray Latinos without overdoing or underplaying the cultural connection. His dignity and stature as an actor have also enabled Smits to make any character seem credible, no matter how removed from reality the role might be.
He'll need every ounce of that quality — and more — when his new show Outlaw debuts 8 p.m. Wednesday on WSMV-Channel 4. Smits portrays a conservative Supreme Court justice who suddenly resigns and decides to take controversial cases that put him on the opposite side of everything he's previously championed. While issue-oriented TV drama is almost as old as the medium itself, it will be interesting to see if Smits can convince audiences that a lifetime right-winger, appointed to the most important position in the American judicial system, would give that up and instantly become a liberal on gay marriage, immigration and the death penalty.
That's going to be hard for even hardcore leftists to swallow, while conservatives are sure to yell bloody murder at the notion that a Scalia type could only become a defender of the poor and downtrodden by switching political allegiances. Early reviews have been savage, and the show has been identified among the early leaders in the clubhouse for the season's first cancellation.
Some of television's finest courtroom dramas have spotlighted crusading lawyers, among them The Defenders, Judd For The Defense and Kaz. But none of these asked audiences irrespective of ideology to take the leap of faith Outlaw does, and it's doubtful whether anyone on the left, right or in the middle is going to buy the premise — no matter how persuasive Jimmy Smits can be as an actor.
Reality premiere and finales
• It seems like it's been around a lot longer than a decade, but season number 10 of The Apprentice gets underway Thursday night at 8 p.m. on WSMV-Channel 4. Donald Trump's latest collection of 16 candidates begins the 13-week elimination process with a test to create modern-day workspaces.
• Now that he's been officially named Larry King's replacement, Piers Morgan wraps up his other job for the season 7 p.m. Wednesday on WSMV as America's Got Talent completes another year — the fifth, for those watching and counting.
• Even more unbelievable — or maybe not — the 21st edition of Survivor gets underway Wednesday at 7 p.m. on WTVF-Channel 5. This year's twist involves dividing the 20 castaways into tribes according to their ages. Plus the appearance of current Fox sports commentator and former Super Bowl and NCAA champion coach Jimmy Johnson has already been heavily promoted.