By Jefferson Graham
HOLLYWOOD -- Handicapping the new TV season,
few saw breakout status for CBS' Judging Amy,
which stars former NYPD Blue regular Amy
Brenneman as a single mother who leaves New
York City to become a juvenile court judge in
Yet it quickly became the No. 1 new drama,
attracting 15.4 million viewers and placing second
only to the NBC sitcom Stark Raving Mad, which is
sandwiched between Frasier and ER. Overall,
Amy is No. 13 season to date.
''Nobody saw it coming,'' says Brenneman, who
also serves as one of Amy's four executive
producers. ''But I'm glad it did.''
The show is based on the experiences of
Brenneman's mom, Frederica, a Hartford juvenile
court judge. Tyne Daly (Cagney & Lacey) co-stars
as Amy's social-worker mom, Maxine, with whom
Amy and 6-year-old daughter Lauren (Karle
Warren) share a home.
Interviewed over lunch in her trailer on the
Paramount studios lot, where the show is
produced, Brenneman says she knew when
growing up that what her mother did was unusual.
''In juvenile court the judge is much more active
because there's no jury,'' she says. ''That seemed
like a good lead character for a show. So I pitched
it as someone who has a lot of authority in her
work and comes home and gets yelled at by her
''How you're an adult in one scenario and a child in
another, and with the addition of my (character's)
child, it became all these questions about who has
Hartford native Brenneman, 35, is playing Amy as
she recalls her mom during her younger years.
Daly's Maxine is Frederica today.
Mom still serves as a juvenile court judge in
Connecticut, as well as a consultant to her
daughter's TV show. ''She digs it,'' Brenneman
says. ''She's part of the team. But she doesn't
really have any objectivity. My father (Russell, an
environmental lawyer) keeps calling it an ' insane
homage' to my mom. But they're both very
The show originally was titled Shades of Grey,
and Brenneman was surprised to discover later
that it had been renamed after her. ''I was so
embarrassed, '' she says. ''It seemed so totally
narcissistic to do that. I am featured, but so are
Tyne and others in the show.'' Still, Judging Amy
beats other choices the title-naming company
came up with: My Mom's a Judge and Home in
There have been comparisons of Amy to NBC's
Providence, also about a grown-up, curly-haired
professional daughter who returns home to live
with a single parent, but Brenneman says she was
working on Amy a good six months before
''What's infuriating is, why can't there be two
shows about women?' ' she says. ''There can be a
bunch of shows about male cops, and nobody
thinks twice about it.''
For Brenneman, Amy is a TV comeback of sorts.
On the first season and a half of Blue, she played
Janice Licalsi, the tied-to-the-mob lover of David
Caruso's John Kelly character. When that role
ended, she concentrated on film work, including
the widely seen Casper and lesser-viewed titles
such as Bye Bye, Love, Neil LaBute's
controversial Your Friends & Neighbors and the
recently released The Suburbans. She also did
four episodes of Frasier last season as Frasier's
And Amy almost didn't happen. The original script
was written by former Chicago Hope executive
producers John Tinker and Bill D'Elia, but CBS
was unhappy with what they turned in and
brought in Barbara Hall, who had served as
co-executive producer of I'll Fly Away.
''I had five days to get the script reworked,'' Hall
says. ''But I loved the idea, and as a single
mother, a woman working in a male- dominated
profession, I understood the subject matter.''
Marlee Matlin guest-stars on tonight's episode, in
which Maxine is featured in a case involving a
deaf child. We'll meet Amy's husband, from whom
she is separated, for the first time on the
Thanksgiving episode, airing Nov. 23.
Unlike her character, Brenneman is happily
married to director Brad Siberling, whom she met
when he directed episodes of NYPD Blue. They
have no children, but she says that building a
family is something they'd like to pursue in the
near future. ''Had the show not been picked up,
we'd be working on that right now.''
Brenneman is involved in casting and offering
input on scripts. After this experience, ''it's going
to be hard to go back to being an actor for hire. It's
not about control, but being part of the group that
has a say in how things are done.''