WITH “NYPD BLUE” GOING through its biggest transition period since David Caruso departed, the Steven Bochco ABC drama will get one familiar face as Sharon Lawrence returns as a regular.

Lawrence, who made occasional appearances last season but mainly concentrated on starring in the NBC sitcom “Fired Up,” has signed with Bochco and David Milch to return in a major way through the first half of the season, possibly longer. The key was giving her the chance to again be more than just the Sipowicz spouse.

“Part of my agreement was to come back in a storyline that really involves Sylvia in a major way in terms of her profession,” said Lawrence. “We haven’t seen that side of her character in a long time.”

Lawrence began appearing early in the series as a feisty DA whose relationship with Sipowicz was anything but lovey dovey. They eventually fell in love and Sylvia’s role became that of a mother and spouse at home.

She has signed on for a storyline that will last 13 episodes, then will see what happens the remainder of the season.

Jimmy Smits is exiting the show, to be replaced by Rick Schroder. Lawrence said she drove in a Toyota Grand Prix with Schroder, and was impressed by his poise. “He’s so even-keeled, especially coming from a system that so often takes child actors and unbalances them,” she said. “He’s got real strength, and he was one of the few guys in the audition who so clearly held his own with Dennis.” “Once the character had the baby, we realized that for a show about homicide detectives, that domestic relationship automatically became a condiment to the meat and potatoes of the show,” she said. “Steven gave me the freedom to explore other opportunities, but I’ve always loved being part of the show, especially a real part of the show.”

Lawrence is repped by ICM’s Joel Shire and managed by Joan Hyler.

A MAN IN FULL SUBMISSION: Today begins phase two in the auction for screen rights to Tom Wolfe’s new novel “A Man in Full.” The author had given first crack at a preemptive bid to Irwin Winkler and Sony Pictures, but the studio didn’t bid. Sony’s reluctance had less to do with price — though asking prices up to $5 million have been circling, sources said that no pricetag has been placed on the book — than with other considerations.

Wolfe’s book runs 900 pages and sources said that SPE and Winkler, with only one weekend to decide, couldn’t figure out how to turn the sprawling tale into a film.

Wolfe’s agents, CAA’s Robert Bookman and Lynn Nesbit of Janklow-Nesbit, will send out the book to a select group of directors today and wait for response. A sale could take time; after all, the equally complicated “Bonfire of the Vanities” was initially passed on, and it wasn’t until the rave review in the New York Times that Guber-Peters ponied up $1 million to turn it into a film.

HANNAH IN KELLY TERRITORY: Daryl Hannah will star alongside Christopher Reeve in the Hallmark Films remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” inspired by the Cornell Woolrich short story. Hannah will play the role originated by Grace Kelly. Reeve plays a paralyzed man who thinks he’s seen a murder from his apartment window. Sheldon Abend and Robert Gaulin are co-producing, with a teleplay by Larry Gross. Jeff Bleckner is directing and Reeve and Steven Haft are exec producers. Production starts next week in New York for ABC.

Hannah just completed “My Favorite Martian” with Jeff Daniels and co-starred with Campbell Scott in the indie “Hi-Life” and “Speedway Junkie” for exec producer Gus Van Sant.

ACTRESS SHOOTS FOR NEW STATUS: Rosanna Arquette’s plans to star in the Misti Barnes script “Don’t Shoot ‘Til We Get to Flagstaff” was derailed when the project got delayed and was ultimately put in turnaround by Shooting Gallery Films. But she liked it enough to purchase the script herself and is trying to set it up — with herself still starring, and also producing.

Arquette has taken it to several people, including producer Lynda Obst, with whom Arquette has a project called “Access All Areas.”

“It’s a great story about a single mother and her two young teen daughters,” said Arquette. “The mom is a grifter, trying to survive with her daughters, and she runs into some interesting characters.” Arquette, who recently did stints in “Buffalo 66,” “Hope Floats” and the Bruce Wagner-directed “I’m Losing You” (which just got accepted in the Toronto and Telluride Film Festivals), will produce “Flagstaff” in association with her managers Mark Teitlebaum, Alan David and Alan Somers, who’ll exec produce.

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