These days he may play a spy mastermind on Quantico, but when Blair Underwood first set foot on the L.A. Law soundstage in 1987, “I was a baby,” he tells TVLine.
The 21-year-old had filmed guest spots on series like Scarecrow & Mrs. King and The Cosby Show and was a cast member on the short-lived crime drama Downtown (opposite future SVU queen Mariska Hargitay). But when he arrived at the legal offices of McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak, “I was a baby,” Underwood recalls, laughing.
And as a highly impressionable showbiz newbie, a bold word of encouragement from one of the series’ co-creators made an indelible mark on Underwood’s memory.
“I came at the beginning of the second season, and Steven Bochco came up to me… and put his arm around me,” the actor says. “And he said, ‘How does it feel to know you have a home for the next five years?’ I heard that, and I never repeated that to anyone until after five years [had passed]!”
Underwood wound up spending seven years at NBC’s hit legal drama, which “absolutely changed my life in every way. Professionally, financially. I’m here now, in part, because of that show and being able to have opportunities to build on that.”
While reminiscing, Underwood praised his former series for pushing broadcast network — and therefore societal — norms.
“One of the things we did was have interracial relationships. At the time, it was huge news,” he says. “Now, you see it all the time, and nobody complains… Also, we had the first lesbian kiss on television,” in a 1991 episode that showed C.J. and Abby locking lips. “Huge news, very noteworthy and newsworthy. Now, it’s not a big deal at all.”
L.A. Law‘s success, he adds, came from its ability to be many things to many people. “It was soapy enough where it made it fun to watch, but also just incredibly well-written [and] critically acclaimed,” he says. “It had dual purposes and worked on both levels.”