In a career that stretches back 35 years, Quaid has won two Golden Globe Awards and been nominated for the Oscar, the Emmy, the British Academy Award and the Independent Spirit Award, for a body of work that has included challenging dramas such as "Midnight Express" and "A Streetcar Named Desire," comedies such as "Quick Change" and the National Lampoon "Vacation" movies, and the sci-fi blockbuster "Independence Day."
This fall on CBS, Quaid heads a cast of solid performers -- including Mare Winningham, John Carroll Lynch, Elizabeth McGovern and Chris Penn -- in the latest drama series from Emmy-winning producer-writer David E. Kelley. "The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire" features Quaid, Lynch and Penn as brothers trying to hold their extended family together in the face of cultural change in their small New England town.
Like so many other actors who have raved about the joy of playing Kelley's scripts, Quaid told United Press International he is "in love" with his new show.
"So many shows talk down to the audience," he said. "I think this gives the audience a lot of credit."
Quaid plays Hank Shaw, a police chief who -- like his brothers -- is not above invoking situational ethics in the interest of protecting the family. It is not that the family lacks integrity, just that as they trudge through middle age the idealism of their youth seems to have lost its momentum.
It is the kind of adult-oriented drama that Kelley has specialized in with such Emmy-winning series as "L.A. Law," "Picket Fences," "Ally McBeal" and "The Practice."
Executive Producer Michael Pressman told UPI the characters and stories are intended to reflect the kinds of political and cultural challenges the country itself is going through.
"Underneath -- and it isn't something we can do right off the bat -- but underneath, this is a microcosm of our culture," he said.
Such ambition may seem increasingly rare, as success in prime-time more and more depends on blatantly playing to the youth market, but Pressman said "Brotherhood" means to be commercially competitive too.
"We do have an obligation in an important, serious drama like this to move people, to entertain people and to provoke them as well," he said.
"Brotherhood" airs at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, a tough time slot that pits the show against a firmly entrenched adult drama, NBC's long-running, Emmy-winning "Law & Order." Pressman said ratings initially were "fair," but he believes the show will develop a strong following.
"But it does take a lot of patience," said Pressman, "and unfortunately there isn't a lot of that today."
Still, both Pressman and Quaid said that CBS -- while not offering any guarantees -- is "committed" to giving the show a fair chance to connect with viewers.
Pressman -- a veteran producer-director whose TV credits include "Chicago Hope" and "Boston Public" -- said the casting of Quaid was "a gift" for the show.
"He brings humor to his drama and he brings deep emotion to his humor" said Pressman. "And he brings them in a balance that has three dimensions."
Quaid -- who received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame last week -- said the writing on "Brotherhood" is largely responsible for the balance of comedy and serious drama on the show.
"This show certainly will challenge the viewer," he said. "Humor is very prominent, but at the same time it is a drama."
Quaid's earliest credits include a 1970 appearance on the TV series "Night Gallery." In 1971, he was featured in the Oscar-nominated "The Last Picture Show." In 1973, he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for "The Last Detail."
He was nominated twice for the Emmy -- in 1984 for his performance as Mitch in "A Streetcar Named Desire," and in 1987 for his performance as a young Lyndon Johnson in "LBJ: The Early Years." He won the Golden Globe for "LBJ," and again in 1996 for his portrayal of Randy Weaver in "The Siege at Ruby Ridge."
Quaid provided some of the more memorable comics moments in the "Vacation" movies, as Cousin Eddie -- the carefree, clueless character who became so popular that producers have built a TV movie around him. "Cousin Eddie's Christmas Vacation" is scheduled to air during the upcoming holiday season, but Quaid said that will probably be the last of Eddie.
"It's nice to play a character that sort of infiltrates itself into the zeitgeist, people identify with it and relate to it," he said, "but we've kind of wrung that sponge."