Gary Susman
February 07, 2004 AT 05:00 AM EST

Law-abiding citizens of New York can rest easy; Det. Andy Sipowicz and the rest of the 15th Precinct will be busting perps for another year. ABC announced Monday that it was renewing ”NYPD Blue” for a 12th — and probably final — season in 2004-05. The show, which returns to the air Tuesday after a brief hiatus that allowed ABC to try out struggling new series ”Line of Fire,” will shoot 22 more episodes next season before hanging up its badge and gun. ”It’s better to go out too early rather than overstay our welcome,” explained series creator Steven Bochco in a statement. Of course, if the show’s ratings continue to hold up, there remains ”the possibility of life beyond 12 seasons,” Bochco said, ”should we do brilliantly.”

The show that broke ground on primetime broadcast televsion with somewhat grittier language and rear nudity by such actors as unlikely babe magnet Dennis Franz, ”NYPD Blue” was initially not expected to last even one season, due to boycotts and skittish ABC affiliates who expressed squeamishness about its blue content before the series debuted in 1993. But audiences and critics took to the show immediately, as did the industry, which recognized the freshman show with a record 27 Emmy nominations in 1994.

Today, ”Blue,” like four-time Emmy-winner Franz (the only original cast member remaining on the series), seems more like an elder statesman than a daring rebel. Still, if Franz finds himself unemployed after next season, Bochco will not; ABC has already committed to a Bochco pilot called ”Blind Justice.” ”ER” vet Ron Eldard is attached to play a cop who loses his eyesight in the line of duty.

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