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For Blair Underwood, 'Ironside' Hits Close To Home

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BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Blair Underwood is returning to series television in a remake of "Ironside," which shares few similarities with the original series that starred Raymond Burr.

The character's name and job as a detective is the same, and he uses a wheelchair after being paralyzed from the waist down.

In a nod to Burr, Underwood's character ends the day by sipping a glass of bourbon.

"Everything else is re-imagined. All new characters, a new city, new texture, new storytelling, new audience," Underwood told the Television Critics Association on Saturday. "It's a crime drama wrapped in a character study."

The original series, set in San Francisco, ran on NBC from 1967-75. The reboot is based in New York City and filmed in Los Angeles. NBC has ordered 13 episodes of the show that debuts Oct. 2.

Underwood said he got used to the wheelchair by using one at home while learning his lines. The role is especially meaningful to him because his mother, Marilyn, is in a wheelchair as the result of multiple sclerosis.

In preparing for the part, Underwood is working with technical adviser David Bryant, who became a paraplegic after a skiing accident at 19. Bryant's self-sufficiency inspires the new "Ironside" incarnation, with the handles on the character's wheelchair removed just as they are on Bryant's chair.

"It's something I had to delve into and continue to delve into as often as possible," Underwood said. "Our job is to make you believe it and be authentic in that."

Ironside's personal life is noticeably spicier than it was on the old show, too.

"What David told me is every injury is unique, and everybody is different depending on where it affects your spinal cord," Underwood said. "So, yes, in Ironside's case, he is able."

Underwood returns to TV after a stint on Broadway last year. The 48-year-old actor has a long history on NBC, including a breakout role in "L.A. Law."

His co-stars include Spencer Grammer, the oldest daughter of Kelsey Grammer, a star on the NBC hits "Cheers" and "Frasier."

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