Bob D'Amico
Josh Wolk
January 11, 2000 AT 05:00 AM EST

You know it’s the beginning of a new season of ”NYPD Blue” when you get your first glimpse of nudity. And on Tuesday’s long-awaited season premiere (10 p.m. on ABC), the honor goes to a newcomer: Sheeri Rappaport, who plays a steely cop who becomes the love interest for Rick Schroder’s Det. Danny Sorenson. The episode concludes with the two groping in a torrid bedroom scene, where she shows virtually everything BUT the traditional ”NYPD Blue” butt. ”That’s the first question everybody asks, ‘Are we gonna see your butt?”’ says Rappaport. ”I was like, No, you’re not. I wasn’t lying, but you will see other things. Just about everything else that could be shown on television.”

But Rappaport (a guest-spot veteran of such shows as ”Beverly Hills, 90210” and ”7th Heaven”) is confident that her fleshy debut isn’t purely gratuitous. ”What [the writers] are trying to do is show a complete character,” she says. ”This is a very respectful story of people with real lives and real emotions, and sooner or later in life somebody’s gonna take their shirt off. If I thought this was something that was just exploiting skin for skin’s sake…” She pauses and laughs, ”I probably would have kept my mouth shut anyway because it’s a really good show. But I would have felt less secure about it, and I would have had less respect for it.”

Rappaport — who describes her age as ”somewhere between drinking age and getting a pension plan” — has taped appearances for 6 episodes out of the 12 already completed this season. She doesn’t know how long her character will be around, since she has no long-term contract and the producers usually don’t call her until the day before they need her on the set. And while there’s been no hint that her character is about to be broken up with, or, in true ”Blue” tradition, killed, the true test will come in the next few weeks, when audience reaction to her performance will likely determine her future employment.

And the two-month delay of the show’s premiere hasn’t helped ease the suspense. ”From the beginning, I had every Jewish mother in my family and surrounding it saying, ‘Don’t screw this one up!”’ Rappaport laughs. ”So there was no pressure.” Nope, none at all.

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