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Struggling ABC has picked up NYPD Blue for an 11th season.

Steven Bochco's cop drama has continued to earn solid ratings and good reviews, despite the stepping aside of cocreator David Milch and numerous changes to the ensemble cast behind its key actor, four-time Emmy winner Dennis Franz as Detective Andy Sipowicz.

"I had my fingers crossed. I was hoping it would happen," said Franz, speaking from the set of the show Tuesday afternoon. Although not totally surprised by the network's decision, Franz told E! Online that "getting an early word" that your show will be back next season "is wonderful for the spirit of the cast and crew," whom he described as having being picked with special care by Bochco to "get along so well together."

"Actors are very optimistic. They dream of working on something successful like this, so when it's reality it's wonderful...and we are really grateful to the fans for their continued support," said Franz, before having to return to play another scene as Sipowicz, a character he describes as "not an easy person to take to change," but who will now continue struggling with his personal and professional demons into at least 2004.

"NYPD Blue is creatively as strong today as it was a decade ago, and it has consistently won its time period since its return to 10 p.m. Tuesdays," said Susan Lyne, president of ABC's Entertainment division, which, before her tenure in the top job, had upset Bochco by messing around with the series' time slot.

Bill Clark, the former New York police detective who is coexecutive producer of the show, told E! Online he learned the pick-up news when Steven Bochco called him from New York.

"It's a great sense of relief because this town is about working," Clark said, "but it's also a joy for the cast and crew."

But Clark, who has to come up with the story lines, noted there's also the realization of more hard work ahead: "Now I got it, now I got to do it." He said he likes to think the success of the show is "partly because of the writing, but, of course, it's also because of the fabulous cast and all the people who care about Dennis as Sipowicz."

NYPD Blue, which trails only NBC's Law & Order as the longest-running crime series in current prime-time, is slotted behind four half-hour comedies, which include three new successes 8 Simple Rules ..., Life with Bonnie (both picked up for their first full season) and Less Than Perfect. ABC programmers clearly view Tuesdays as a chance to shine for the first time for ages, especially against NBC, which only has an aging Frasier to anchor its current lineup.

Lyne called NYPD Blue "a tent pole of our new Tuesday lineup, and a key element in our effort to rebuild the schedule. Over the years, Steven Bochco, Dennis Franz and the other members of this incredibly talented team have maintained a level of quality in their work that has made Blue one of the most consistently powerful dramas on television. We look forward to seeing what they do with the show next season."

In its first 10 seasons, the series has translated its 82 Emmy nominations into 19 statuettes. So far this year, according to the Nielsen ratings, it's been winning its time slot with adults 18-49, and since returning this season to the 10-11 p.m. hour, Blue has improved ratings in that category by 18 percent over last season.

Added Bochco in a press release: "We're delighted to know we'll be coming back to ABC for an 11th season. We continue to believe that this is a show with many years of strong storytelling yet to come; and we're glad that ABC has seen fit to bring us back."

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