Dennis Franz & Joanie Zeck

UPDATED 02/13/1995 at 01:00 AM EST Originally published 02/13/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

If their romance were a TV series, it might be called NYPD True. As Det. Andy Sipowicz on ABC's NYPD Blue, 50-year-old Dennis Franz has been loud, liquored and lewd. But away from the set, he's a docile straight-shooter whose relationship with Joanie Zeck, 46, is amiably matter-of-fact. "We like to relax and read the paper," says Zeck, the owner of a corporate gift-buying firm in L.A. "Or we'll go to a movie and sit and hold hands. We grab time whenever we can."

These days, that isn't often. "She works too hard, and I work too hard," says Franz. Then he laughs. "We never see each other, and that helps a lot."

Time was not such a problem 13 years ago, when Zeck first eyed the little-known actor across the crowded floor of a Hollywood nightclub. "I thought he looked nice," she recalls. "His eyes are so gentle, they give him away." Two years later, Franz moved in with Zeck and her daughters from a previous marriage Tricia, now 20, and Krista, 18. When the actor won his '94 Emmy, all three women were seated beside him. "I think one thing that keeps us together," she says, "is that we are both very family-oriented,"

In other ways, the two are a clear case of opposites attracting. "She literally jumps out of bed in the morning and says, 'What do I have to do today?' " says Franz. "I'm laid-back." At the end of the day, they catch up in their antiques-filled Bel Air, Calif., home. "We try to cram everything into a half-hour conversation," says Zeck. "Our arguments are really misunderstandings more than differences of opinion."

All that's missing is a marriage license. Fast October the shy Franz popped the question at his half-century birthday party. "That shocked me," says Zeck. "If someone had told me that he'd propose in front of 175 people, I'd have said they were nuts." Adds Franz: "We thought if it isn't broken, don't fix it But this makes us much happier."

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