Season eight of NYPD Blue began minus the services of longtime executive producer David Milch, who left to develop a project of his own. Steven Bochco, who'd co-created the series with Milch, took full charge of the series. This was far from the only eighth-season personnel change. Andrea Thompson (Det. Jill Kirkendall) had already quit the series in order to launch a new career as a TV news anchor. Kim Delaney, who played Kirkendall's partner, Det. Diane Russell, remained on the scene, the better to develop a new plot strand involving a steamy romance between Russell and her troubled colleague Det. Danny Sorenson (Rick Schroder). But by the end of the season, Delaney was gone -- as was Schroder. One of the series' mainstays since its 1993 debut, James McDaniel, announced his intention of leaving his role as 15th precinct skipper Lt. Fancy after the first 13 episodes of the season. Fancy's initial replacement, hypersensitive feminist Lt. Susan Falto (Denise Crosby), had such a negative effect on the 15th that she herself was quickly supplanted by Lt. Tony Rodriguez (Esai Morales), a by-the-book type who (surprise, surprise) almost immediately clashed with gonzo "I make my own rules" detective Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz). Andy's private life was no less turbulent than his professional one; the moment the bone-marrow tests of his son Theo (Austin Majors) came back positive -- thereby resolving one of the unresolved subplots set up by the previous season's cliffhanger finale -- Andy began considering a reconciliation with ex-wife Kate (Debra Monk), but instead became sidetracked with a blossomed May-December relationship with Cynthia Bunin (Juliana Donald), the niece of Andy's old cop pal Gibson (John F. O'Donohue).
Along with Esai Morales and Juliana Donald, Charlotte Ross, and Garcelle Beauvais-Nilon joined the series, respectively cast as Det. Connie McDowell and new Assistant DA Valerie Haywood. Initially shunned as a possible "spy" from Internal Affairs, McDowell quickly proved her mettle and earned the right to remain at the 15th -- and in the process set the foundation for future plot complications by revealing that, 15 years earlier, she had had a daughter out of wedlock whom she had given up for adoption. As for Haywood, she almost immediately got off on the wrong foot with the extremely touchy Det. Baldwin Jones (Henry Simmons), in the tradition of the first-season flareups between Andy Sipowicz and the late ADA Sylvia Costas. But also like Andy and Sylvia, Baldwin Jones and Valerie Haywood quickly found themselves extremely attracted to one another.
The opening episodes of season eight resolved a dilemma left hanging during season seven, that of the 15th precinct's possible complicity in the drug-smuggling operations of Don Kirkendall, ex-husband of the beleagured Jill Kirkendall. The closing episodes established a brand-new crisis, concerning a botched undercover operation which may or may not have cost the life of the missing-in-action Danny Sorenson (Rick Schroder). Viewers would have to sweat it out until the beginning of season nine before Danny's ultimate fate would be revealed. For the second year in a row, NYPD Blue's season opener was not seen until January, due to backstage hagglings between the ABC network and the producer. Also, only 20 new episodes were produced, rather than the standard 22, reportedly an economical rather than artistic decision. The late start and diminished output did not affect the series' popularity, nor prevent it from garnering another Emmy Award nomination for series star Dennis Franz. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi