Schroder: Bye, bye “Blue”

NYPD Blue‘s Rick Schroder has turned in his badge and gun.

Schroder announced Friday that he’s leaving the hit cop series because he wants to spend more time with his family.

“The long hours required to shoot NYPD Blue would prevent me from being where I really want to be at this time–which is with my family,” Schroder said in a statement.

But should Schroder‘s exit really shock fans?

Several months ago, Schroder, 31, who played Detective Danny Sorenson on the show for 2 ½ seasons, appeared displeased with his experiences on Blue, telling Entertainment Tonight in a Jan. 10 interview of his growing desire to be with his children.

“It’s too hard being apart … terrible. Every Friday night I caught a plane home, every Sunday night I caught a plane back, and it was very tiring,” he said.

But other clues soon surfaced concerning Schroder‘s unhappiness on Blue.

Earlier this season, former Saved by the Bell hunk Mark-Paul Gosselaar signed on for a role next fall, stripping Schroder of his title as series heartthrob. But the apparent nail in the coffin was Blue‘s season finale on May 22–in which Schroder did not appear.

For NYPD Blue producer Steven Bochco, parting ways with Schroder is bittersweet at best.

Rick Schroder is a gifted actor who has had a tremendous 2 ½ years with NYPD Blue,” he told Variety on Friday. “Rick is also a strong family man, and to honor his desire to spend more time with his wife and children, we are regretfully releasing him from his obligations to the show.”

ABC is distancing itself from whatever controversy may arise from Schroder‘s departure.

“This is something between the actor and [Bochco Productions]. The network does not officially have a comment on the matter,” ABC spokeswoman Lauren Tobin said Friday.

Bochco Productions could not be reached for comment Friday.

For die-hard fans of Blue, Schroder‘s early departure should come as no surprise. After its first season in 1993, costar David Caruso left the show. Jimmy Smits, Caruso‘s replacement, left in 1998. Last year, original cast member Nicholas Turturro bailed, followed by Andrea Thompson, who abandoned acting to pursue a career in TV journalism. This past season, James McDaniel, another original cast member, said farewell to the 15th precinct. Kim Delaney also left, but she will star in Bochco‘s new courtroom series, Philly.

Does this steady exodus spell Blue‘s certain doom? NBC’s Law and Order continues to thrive despite its constant cast changes. The X-Files fared slightly better in the ratings this past season despite David Duchovny‘s infrequent appearances and the addition of Robert Patrick.

If the change in cast doesn’t kill the aging show, then a move from 10 p.m. Tuesdays to 10 p.m. Wednesdays might. Bochco has already voiced his concern that the timeslot change could do irreparably damage to a show that will embark on its ninth season in November. Ironically, NYPD Blue will make way on Tuesdays for Bochco‘s Philly. Bochco told Variety last week that he fears that viewers may think he is focusing on his new project at the expense of the hit series and called the move “enormously dangerous.”