Rick Schroder, of course, used to be known as Ricky Schroder. But - despite rumors to the contrary - he doesn't much care if you call him by that name with a "Y" on the end.

"It doesn't bother me at all," Schroder said. "My mother (and) my wife call me `Ricky.' "He said that going to Rick wasn't even his idea.

"I was, like, 18 years old. I'd just done a miniseries, and my agent comes to me and says, `It's time to drop the "Y." You should be `Rick.' We're going to create this new persona for you,' " Schroder said. "So I think about it for two seconds and I say, `OK.' And then some people took notice of it and started making fun of it."

And he didn't enjoy being made fun of.

"I got really torqued one day, being made fun of over it, so I kind of got (ticked) at them and it created this thing," he said. "This thing grew and everyone thinks I'm (ticked) off when somebody says to me on the street, `Hey Ricky!' It really doesn't bother me. It took on a life of its own somehow."

GOOD NUDES: This being "NYPD Blue," Schroder does, of course, have a clause in his contract specifying that he agrees to show various parts of his anatomy if he's called upon to do so.

"I got no problem signing it," he said.

Dennis Franz, of course, also has a nudity clause in his contract. And it has been exercised before. But will it be exercised again?

"For your sake, I hope not," Franz said, describing himself as an "average working-class guy with an average (butt)."

"When, in the past, I've been asked to (do a nude scene) - no pun intended - but I took it sort of tongue-in-cheek," he said. "We don't need to go there too many times, but it's also nice to see an average man have a sexual appetite and sexuality to him.

"Listen, we don't all look like Jimmy Smits."

STAYING PUT: The impending departure of Smits and his character, Bobby Simone, does not mean that Kim Delaney, who plays his love interest and fellow detective, is going anywhere.

"We love her," said executive producer David Milch. "She's a great character. She functions on the show independent of Jimmy. She's a wonderful detective."

SHE'LL BE BACK: And, since her sitcom "Fired Up" got the ax, don't be surprised if you see more of Sharon Lawrence as Andy Sipowicz's wife, Sylvia Costas, in the upcoming season of "NYPD Blue."

"I think she's going to be very much a part of what we're doing this coming season," executive producer Steven Bochco said.

But he didn't peg a number of episodes in which Lawrence will appearing, saying only, "We're having conversations about that."

SMOOTH TRANSITION: Bochco and Milch both said that the transition from Smits to Schroder is going more smoothly than the transition from David Caruso to Smits - because Caruso isn't involved this time around.

Whereas Caruso departed in the midst a bitter battle, Smits is leaving much more amicably.

"We knew less about Jimmy's character than we know about Rick's character at a comparable stage because that whole situation evolved so rapidly," Bochco said. "David and I - David, primarily - really invented Jimmy's character on the fly. It must have taken us the better part of a full season before we began to really feel comfortable with who this guy was and how he functioned in the unit."

Milch has never tried very hard to mask the bitterness - even contempt - he still feels toward Caruso.

"With Jimmy's predecessor, whose named escapes me, there was so much back and forth during the period over how many episodes he'd do and so on, I kept rewriting," Milch said.

"We had five scripts at the start of the second season that we had to completely tear up and start over," Bochco said. "I mean, relatively speaking, we have the luxury of some real time in creating this character."

THE RIGHT AGE: The producers reject any criticism that Schroder is too young to be playing a police detective. The actor is, after all, 28.

"Late 20s to 30 years old is an absolutely appropriate age," Bochco said.

And it fits in with the life story of Bill Clark, the former NYPD detective who is both a producer and the inspiration for much of what happens in the show.

"That's how old Bill Clark was when he became a homicide detective - 28," Milch said.

IS HE HARD TO WORK WITH? Franz is certainly one of the more popular actors working in television, both with the critics and with those working in the industry. Still, he'll be working with his third partner in just over four seasons when Schroder joins the cast.

"You first get involved with the creation of the show and you try to work it out with everybody," Franz said. "And you establish relationships and then - we didn't have much longer after the first year to continue on that course.

"So along came the first replacement and it was immediately wonderful. I mean, with Jimmy, it was great. And I'm looking forward to a wonderful relationship with Rick."

WHAT'S IN A NAME? At this point, Milch is still trying to come up with a name for Schroder's character. And he said it can be an odd process.

"A lot of the way we work is - I'm up in my office with my stupid bird, and I think of something and it gestates," Milch said. "And I decide it's perfect, and I run downstairs and Steven looks at me like I'm from another planet.

"So the other day I come down and I say, `You know what his name is? His name is Jack Wayne. And you know why his name is Jack Wayne? Because his real name is John Wayne. And when Sipowicz finds out, he calls him Duke.

"Silence. `Go back upstairs.' "

LESS IS MORE: Nobody at ABC will admit that they were at all disappointed with the quality of last season's episodes of "NYPD Blue," but there is at least a sense of relief that CBS canceled the other cop show Bochco and Milch were writing and producing, "Brooklyn South."

"I think the good news we know is that they're going to be able to focus a lot of time and attention on (`NYPD Blue') next year, and that's definitely going to only be good for the show," said ABC Entertainment President Jamie Tarses.

And Milch didn't exactly disagree.

"I really liked our shows last season and I was very proud of them. I thought we did some of our most challenging storylines," he said. "It's also the case that between Steven and me, we generated 57 hours of television last year - a lot of television.

"And I don't think there's any question that if you're doing 22 hours of television there may be a better chance of doing those 22 hours better."