By James Endrst
Amy Brenneman's star is on the rise again. Brenneman
first gained fame, some notoriety and a couple of Emmy
nominations for her role as Officer Janice Licalsi in the
first season of ABC's ``NYPD Blue'' - a gutsy choice,
considering the controversial first episode, in which she
appeared partially nude. This month, Brenneman is back
in two high-profile TV roles. First up is ``Mary Cassatt:
American Impressionist,'' an hourlong drama on Tuesday
that is part of HBO's ``The Artists' Specials,'' a series that
focuses on the lives of great artists, their encounters with
young people and the resulting impact on the artists'
work. Cassatt, who defied 19th-century convention by
leaving her home in Philadelphia at age 22 to pursue a
career as an artist, settled in Paris and became best
known for her paintings depicting women and children.
Brenneman admits she wasn't sure initially what she was
getting into. ``At first,'' she said, ``I've got to be honest; I
had this moment of `Ewww . . . children's programming!'
But then I thought, `You know what? I could get behind
this.' I was very touched by what it was trying to do. ``The
more research I did about this woman,'' she said, ``the
more fascinating she got.'' Although Brenneman, 34, is
the star of the piece as Cassatt, the actress is bound to
get more attention when she shows up in the season
finale of NBC's ``Frasier'' on May 20 as star Kelsey
Grammer's girlfriend Faye Moskowitz. It will, in all
likelihood, be the last of several episodes in which
Brenneman has appeared, a stint that had already gone
on longer than she originally expected. ``They kept
saying, `You're one of the few viable women for `Frasier, '
so we have to keep you in the mix','' Brenneman said,
laughing, and adding, ``It seems like I'm not going to be
around [after the season-ender], but never say never.''
Her exit from ``Frasier'' may be for the best, because what
the actress (who has appeared in such feature films as
``Heat,'' ``Daylight' ' and, more recently, ``Your Friends and
Neighbors'') is waiting for is a go on what could be the
biggest project of her career. It's called ``Shades of Gray,''
a pilot for CBS that she hopes will be picked up for the
fall. (A formal announcement from the network is
expected this month.) ``Shades of Gray,'' which stars
Brenneman as Amy Gray, focuses on three generations of
women and is inspired by the real-life story of
Brenneman's mother, Superior Court trial referee
Frederica Brenneman. It's a drama that the actress, who is
also an executive producer, says is not unlike NBC's
``Providence.'' In the pilot (directed by Brenneman's
husband, Brad Silberling), Amy, a lawyer, moves back
home to her native Hartford, Conn., after separating from
her husband, becomes a judge and settles in - her young
daughter in tow - with her social-worker mom (played by
Tyne Daly). If ``Shades of Gray'' does see the light of day
in prime time, comparisons will certainly be made to
``Providence,'' which Brenneman says is not a problem.
Not in the least, considering that show's success.
Actually, says the actress, ``Shades of Gray'' is more like ``
`Felicity' for grown-ups.''