BILL SMITROVICH SAYS his portrayal of a "working class guy" on ABC's "Life Goes On" (Sundays, 6 p.m., Ch. 4) is patterned after a man who remains a symbol in his own life.

"I put a lot of my father into Drew Thatcher," he says. "He's a throwback to a man who's lived through tough times. I draw the spirit of Drew from my father. They're from the same kind of hard-working background.""Life Goes On" is about a family facing a financial struggle and the challenge of a son with Downs syndrome. It also stars Patti LuPone as his wife, Libby, Chris Burke as Corky, their son, and Kellie Martin as Becca, their daughter.

Smitrovich's father, William S. Smitrovich Sr., who died in 1965, moved his family from Connecticut to New Mexico to California in search of work as a tool and die maker. Bill, the actor, attended 12 different schools before the family returned to Connecticut.

His father had asthma "and often slept sitting up," he says. "But at 6 a.m. every morning he was up and at 'em. He had a sense of duty, pride and workmanship."

Smitrovich fulfilled his father's dream by getting a degree at the University of Bridgeport.

It was in college that he discovered his love of acting. And he gave some of his time to a cause he believes helped him prepare for his role in "Life Goes On."

While in college he minored in special education and tutored children with Downs syndrome. After graduation he was a leader in a work shelter for children with Downs syndrome and cerebral palsy.

"Drew's a high-principled man who tries to live for his family," Smitrovich says.

"I think he feels that when Corky came into his life that was a message. He's a God-fearing man. Part of him would like to have a `normal' son. And he's a frustrated man because he's never gotten to fulfill some of his dreams.

"He went into construction work because he couldn't become an architect. Now he owns a restaurant because he wants to be his own boss. He's a hard-working, middle-class American who believes in the union and buying American. He believes in the American dream but has probably been burned by it a few times."

On "Life Goes On," the Thatchers will have another child at the end of the season. LuPone, who is pregnant, filmed her scenes for three shows in advance of her absence for maternity leave.

She'll miss several episodes, but she will return afterward and wear a "fat suit" until the Thatcher baby is born.

"Life Goes On" is the second series for Smitrovich, who was Sgt. Danny Krychek in NBC's "Crime Story." He co-starred in "Crazy People" and has been in such movies as "Without a Trace," "Splash," "Maria's Lovers," "A Little Sex," "Silver Bullet," "Manhunter," "Her Alibi" and "Renegades."

In the "Miami Vice" pilot he was Sonny Crockett's partner who became corrupt to get money for his son who requires use of a wheelchair.

Smitrovich is living in Southern California for the series, but also has a home in Connecticut. He's married to Shaw Purnell, an actress he met while doing a play in New York.

She was his ex-wife in the play, "Never Say Die." His son, Alexander John, called "A.J.," was born in Nevada while he was working on "Crime Story."

"I was creatively frustrated doing `Crime Story' because it was more style than substance," he says.

"It was set in the 1950s with the old cars and clothes, and I worked with a great bunch of guys. But I wished we'd stayed in Chicago with the show. It got too glitzy in Las Vegas. I was hoping we'd be like a grand opera comic book, but it never reached those heights."