Having done just about everything right so far, NBC's critically acclaimed freshman drama Boomtown makes yet another smart move Sunday night: Producers have wisely plucked hunky '80s TV crimefighter Joe Penny (Riptide, Jake and the Fatman) out of semi-obscurity to guest star as a washed-up actor who, ahem, once played a popular TV cop in the '80s. How closely did art imitate life in this case?

"I have to admit, it was a pretty ballsy move on my part," Penny tells TV Guide Online of accepting the job. "I thought, 'Are people going to think that I am a washed-up actor too — especially if I do it well?' But I said, 'That's their problem.' That stuff doesn't bother me.

"Once I saw the part, I really wanted to be involved in it," adds the 46-year-old, who, save for recent roles on The Sopranos and in the CBS telepic Two Against Time, has kept a relatively low profile since Fatman's demise in 1987. "I try and look for little gems in life. If I'm going to do something like this, let me make it worth my while. Because I'm not doing it for the money; you can't make a living doing this stuff."

How is Penny putting food on the table these days? Unlike his Boomtown alter ego, it's not by standing behind the counter at his local Foot Locker (not that there's anything wrong with that). Six years ago, the SoCal native formed Equity Management Group, a venture capitalist firm that invests in commercial real estate. "I never wanted to be one of those guys that counted on show business to make me a living," he says. "It's such a fear-driven, insecure, smoke-and-mirrors business. It's good when it's good, but when it's bad, it's real bad. You gotta be smart."

That said, Penny would welcome the chance to "do another long-term thing" on the small screen — and Boomtown may be just the high-profile gig that puts him back on Hollywood's radar. "That would be great, but I learned to keep my expectations way down; I've been around too long," he says. "But who knows? Stranger things have happened."