LOS ANGELES -- The more years Ken Howard works, the more of himself he sees in the characters he portrays.
"You unavoidably bring who you are to roles and who you are, we would hope, would be a little richer and a little fuller when you're older," says the 58-year-old actor.
He agrees with something the late Rosemary Clooney said when asked why, despite declining vocal range and breath control, her singing got even better as she aged.
"She said, 'Oh that's easy. I don't have to show off anymore. I just have to serve the song,'" recalls Howard. He adds, "I just have to serve the text."
In NBC's "Crossing Jordan" (Mondays at 9 p.m.), Howard plays Max Cavanaugh, an ex-cop with a lot of street smarts and some dark secrets. He's the father of title character Dr. Jordan Cavanaugh (Jill Hennessy), a medical examiner working in the Massachusetts state coroner's office.
The loquacious Howard is a veteran of many TV series, including the 1980s prime-time soaps "Dynasty" and "The Colbys," and most notably "The White Shadow," the 1978-81 CBS drama in which he starred as a basketball coach at an urban high school.
A decade earlier, he won a Tony Award for playing a similar character on stage -- a gym coach at a Catholic boys school in the drama "Child's Play."
"When it mattered, I was 6-foot-6-and-a-half," he says, noting "a bit of shrinking" in the 20 years since then.
He recalls his father, a successful New York stockbroker, responding gently, "Don't you think you are a little tall for this?" when he announced he was going to study acting.
Despite a well-established career, Howard had to jump through hoops to get the "Crossing Jordan" role.
Tim Kring, creator and executive producer of the series, believes Howard's "natural charm and likability" keep viewers sympathetic, whatever the plot twists might be.
"He has a very quiet strength, this big teddy bear of a guy, a quality we wanted the audience to fall in love with before revealing some really dark secrets."