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New Ticket for 'NYPD Blue'

Catching bad guys is hard enough, but losing a top-rated costar twice in only five years is more than any cop show should have to handle. Yet, that is what New York City's 15th Precinct faces as the critically acclaimed dramatic series "NYPD Blue" heads into its sixth year.

Actor Jimmy Smits, who replaced breakout star David Caruso after only one season, is now leaving. Together with costar Dennis Franz, he formed the emotional center of the show for the past four years. The announcement of his replacement, former child star Rick Schroder, of "Silver Spoons" fame, has brought a wave of attention and speculation about the future of a show that garnered a record 26 Emmy nominations after its first year.

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Critics question whether the series can survive yet another major loss, not to mention the introduction of a much younger character into a show known for its treatment of mature, adult themes.

Executive producer David Milch has responded to the questions by pointing out that while the public's perception of Schroder may not have progressed, the actor has grown and matured. Over the past decade, he's played adult roles on both television and the big screen, from the miniseries "Lonesome Dove" to the movie "Crimson Tide."

Franz, whose character will work most closely with the new performer, admits that when he initially heard the news, he was dubious. But he is the first to acknowledge that after a spectacular reading together, he changed his mind. "He'd grown, and his honesty as an actor really knocked our socks off," laughs Franz. "He's not a kid anymore, and that could be a great addition for Sipowicz [his character on the show]."

The show's creator, Steven Bochco, reveals that the choice fulfills a promise of several seasons standing. Earlier in the show, the divorced Sipowicz had been given the opportunity to mentor his estranged son as he aspired to be a police officer. Bochco now says that killing the son, Andy Jr., was originally Milch's idea and that he had to be talked into it.

Bochco explains that after Franz's character was allowed to suffer such a profound emotional loss, which sent him back into an alcoholic spiral, he extracted a promise from his producer that they would return to that father-son bond in some form later.

Bochco sees the introduction of a much younger partner as a fulfillment of that promise, although, being a detective, the new character will not be a neophyte.

Schroder accepts the debate gracefully, pointing out that he himself is a father of three children. At a recent session with the Television Critics Association, concern was voiced over replacing a prominent Hispanic actor with what was dubbed yet another white male in a fall lineup of shows that appear to be "very male and very white."

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Bochco responded by saying that although he is sensitive to ethnically diverse casting, "quite candidly," he explained, "we looked for and always look for the best actors we can find." This time around, he added, Schroder was the performer who fit that bill.

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