While the dark-haired Wisconsin native lacked the conventional looks of a leading man, he proved a capable performer, finding stage roles in NYC, including the 1965 New York Shakespeare Festival production of "Othello" with James Earl Jones and opposite Sada Thompson in the 1972 Broadway play "Twigs".
At the beginning of his career, the actor was often billed as Dan Travanty, including many of his early TV credits as a guest performer on such series as "Route 66", "The Patty Duke Show", "East Side/West Side" and "Gidget". He continued as a journeyman actor throughout the 70s, making the occasional foray in features (e.g., "St. Ives" 1976) but predominantly continuing his string of guest roles in drama and sitcoms. After turning 40, Travanti found himself an "overnight success" thanks to Steven Bochco who tapped him for the anchor role of Furillo. He brought the needed gravity to the role but also displayed a romantic side in his scenes with Veronica Hamel. Capitalizing on his new-found fame, Travanti began starring in several TV-movies, most notably "Adam" (NBC, 1983), in which he was cast as John Walsh, the father who, after his son is kidnapped and murdered, founded an organization to help locate missing children. (He reprised the role in the 1986 sequel "Adam: His Song Continues".) He had the title role in one of HBO's first original movies, the biopic "Murrow" (1986), focusing on the career of the legendary news commentator Edward R. Murrow. After "Hill Street" left the airwaves, Travanti seemingly retreated from the public, attempting to downplay his celebrity and distance himself from being forever associated with Furillo. In 1990, he was a corporate executive who seeks revenge against a spy agency in "Tagget" (USA Network) and later played the husband of an alcoholic in "My Name is Kate" (ABC, 1994). Travanty briefly returned to series work twice; starring as the head of a special Chicago police unit in "Missing Persons" (ABC, 1993) and joining the cast of Showtime's "Poltergeist: The Legacy" for the 1995-96 season as the head of the team investigating paranormal activity.