Joe Spano made his acting debut in 1967, with a college production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. A year later, he appeared in Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s first production. He worked with them for ten years.
In 1972, he made his film debut with a role in the drama film ‘One Is a Lonely Number’. Two years later, he debuted on television, with a minor role in the series ‘The Streets of San Francisco’.
Following an uncredited appearance in the neo-noir action thriller ‘The Enforcer’ in 1976, the actor began voicing Pasqually the Chef in the food chain ‘Chuck E. Cheese's’ ad campaigns. He ended the decade with an appearance in the TV drama ‘Lou Grant’.
Spano commenced the 1980s with the role of Duff McCoy in the detective/comedy series 'Tenspeed and Brown Shoe'. He next starred in 'The Incredible Shrinking Woman'. Released in 1981, the sci-fi comedy flick was adapted from Richard Matheson's 1956 novel titled ‘The Shrinking Man’.
The year 1986 saw him in the crime drama film 'Brotherhood of Justice'. Starring Billy Zane, Lori Loughlin, Kiefer Sutherland and Keanu Reeves, the film is based on the real events that occurred at Texas Paschal High School in 1984.
During 1987 and 1988, the actor featured in the TV series ‘Valerie’ and ‘L.A. Law’. He ended the decade with the role of John Saringo in NBC's 'Midnight Caller', a role that won him an Emmy.
In the early 1990s, he was seen in the television shows ‘Blind Faith’, ‘Civil Wars’ and ‘Her Costly Affair’ along with the movies ‘Rave Review’ and ‘Primal Fear’.
In 1997, Spano joined the cast of the crime drama ‘Profiler’ as Detective Mike Ramdak. That year, he also played the role of Mike Millar in ‘The X-Files’. A year later, he had roles in various TV series, including 'From the Earth to the Moon', 'JAG', 'L.A. Doctors' and 'Nash Bridges'.
The actor concluded the decade with his appearance in CBS’ supernatural drama series ‘Touched by an Angel'.
In 2000, he was cast as Jonathan Freid in 'Strong Medicine', a medical drama focusing on feminist politics, class conflict and health issues. This was followed by a role in Steve Miner's action western flick 'Texas Rangers' and Albert Pyun’s ‘Ticker’, both of which released in 2001.
From 2002 to 2003, Spano portrayed the character of Det. John Clark Sr. in ‘NYPD Blue’. This period also saw him performing in the drama series ‘The Invisible Man’, ‘Hart's War’ and ‘Static Shock’.
Following an appearance in ‘Crossing Jordan’ (2006) as Captain Innis, he starred in 'Hollywoodland'. The period mystery film showcased a fictionalized account of the situations surrounding the death of star actor George Reeves in 1959.
In 2008, the actor got the opportunity to play Paul Faber in the legal drama TV series ‘Shark’. Two years later, he featured in the drama ‘In Plain Sight’ as Gabe Andrews. He then went on to star in the series ‘The Mentalist’ in 2012.
From 1981 to 1987, Joe Spano played Henry Goldblume in the police drama series ‘Hill Street Blues’. During the show’s seven-year run, he initially appeared as a detective sergeant and afterwards as a lieutenant. His stunning performance in the series later fetched him roles in many other television police shows.
Since 2003, the actor has been playing senior FBI Special Agent Tobias Fornell in the action police procedural drama series ‘NCIS’.