Patricia Brennan, The Washington Post
Judge Amy Gray is doing just fine, thanks, as a rookie in
juvenile court. Actress and executive producer Amy
Brenneman is doing fine, too, thanks to viewers who have
made CBS's Judging Amy the season's top new drama
Brenneman is one of the forces behind the series about
three generations of women in the same house -- the
young judge, her daughter and her mother.
Part of the series is based on the career of Brenneman's
real mother, a Connecticut judge; part is drawn from the
experiences of co- executive producer Barbara Hall, who
was a single mother for four years; and part, say both
Brenneman and Hall, is based on their relationships with
their own mothers.
But lest a viewer dismiss Judging Amy as simply a gentle
family drama, think again: The court cases the young
judge faces bring a harder edge to Amy than to other
shows with which it's been compared. And the formidable
Tyne Daly as Amy's mother, Maxine, lends a flinty and
sometimes- amusing touch.
That combination has made the new drama the
second-most- watched new series of the season, behind
only Stark Raving Mad, a show that benefits in ratings
from its plum slot between NBC's highly popular Frasier
In the series opener, Amy Gray got off to a shaky start her
first day on the judicial bench by hiding in bed until her
mother pulled her out. But as the episodes rolled on, her
confidence grew. And so did the show's audience.
The series -- the last pilot CBS ordered, said Hall, and
''never a shoo-in for the schedule'' -- debuted on Sept. 19
and by Jan. 2 ranked No. 15 among all shows. The series
proved formidable on Tuesdays at 10, and ABC decided
to move its new divorce drama Once and Again to
Mondays, leaving the more male-oriented NYPD Blue to
battle Amy for viewers. Up to that point, CBS said
two-thirds of Judging Amy viewers over 18 were women.
It was on NYPD Blue that Brenneman won an Emmy
nomination for her portrayal of druggy police officer
Janice Licalsi during the 1993-94 season, and where she
met director Brad Siberling, whom she married in 1995. He
went on to direct the Judging Amy pilot.
Amy's success has sometimes been linked with that of
NBC's Providence, another female-driven drama that
debuted last January and became a hit. Both feature
single professional women in their 30s who are close to
their families -- each has two siblings -- and are at a
crossroads in life. Both shows are set in mid-sized
On Amy, attorney Amy Gray returns from New York City to
Hartford, Conn., with her seven-year-old daughter after
her marriage to Michael Cassidy breaks up. Offered a post
as a juvenile-court judge, she moves in with her widowed
Hall, who rewrote the pilot last year after CBS rejected the
original script by two male writers, said she was given
one week to do it -- a task that didn't faze her.
''I loved Amy,'' said Hall. ''I thought, 'Oh, I know this show.
It's my life.' ''
The series, said, Hall, ''operates on a principle that you
never really finish growing up. So Amy at 35 has to go
home to learn some lessons she might have missed,
which led her down what was clearly the wrong path for
her. It's really a starting over for her. This is the notion that
you continue to change throughout your life and that
growing up doesn't just happen on shows where people
are 20 and 25 and 18 years old.''
Hall, who was divorced when she was 35, wants to show
that single mothers can survive on their own and that
divorce is not always tragic.
''It's a depiction of single motherhood that isn't bleak or a
struggle,'' she said. ''Divorce can be okay for kids if you're
responsible -- that's one of the things I want to show.
Homes can be equally broken if they're intact.
''I wanted to show a different kind of single mother who
wasn't actually suffering that much. It became very
important to me that there was a strong sense of family
and that all families don't have to look alike, can also be
friends and cousins and aunts and uncles. They're so
important to raise a child. Once you get divorced, you
have to ask for help.''
Besides Hall and Brenneman, the show has two other
executive producers, Connie Tavel and Joseph Stern.
''This is a very collaborative process, a collaborative art
form,'' said Brenneman. ''Everybody who joined in had a
sense of what it was. It's very productive.''
Brenneman was making a videotape tribute for her
mother's birthday when she first saw the possibility of a
series. She spent three days in the Hartford court, she
said, ''reacquainting myself with a lot of people that I had
known growing up -- social workers and judges and
probation officers. I kept thinking, 'I think there's a TV
show here.' ''
Judge Frederica Brenneman is the technical consultant
for the series. Named in 1967 to be the second female
judge in Connecticut's history, she dealt with many cases
''She's sent a lot of notes from trials, ideas she thought
would be good for stories,'' said Hall. ''It wasn't so much
taking stories directly, but I got a sense of her world and
Amy is the third series for Daly, who owns five Emmy
Awards, four for Cagney & Lacey and one for Christy.
''With Tyne, you get an all-purpose collaborator,'' said
Brenneman. ''I don't have any conflicts with Tyne that
can't be folded into the character.''
Daly's Maxine Gray has returned to her job as a social
worker and is waging a few battles of her own against a
younger female supervisor. And when Amy, who has
spent her day in a male-dominated profession making
tough decisions regarding juveniles, returns home, she is
likely to find herself on the receiving end of Mom's
Daly has her own take on her character: ''I'm beginning to
like her, but I don't know much about her yet. She doesn't
say 'OK,' she doesn't say 'kids.' I'm finding out about her
by the combination of the words they give me, and the
input of the director, and the imagination that I have about
But Daly has an additional view of her boomerang
children: ''When I first met with Barbara and Amy and
Brad, who directed the pilot, I'd read the material and
thought it was interesting. But I said to them, what you're
missing is how furious Maxine is because they're home.
Here she was, ready to put her feet up and have a scotch,
and they're back. And it's her fault because she invited
them back . . . It's four months later and she's still mad.''
Daly also sees the drama as ''an opportunity to talk about
this female dynamic, this grown-up mother and daughter
and the raising of the third generation, with some
seriousness and delight. We can see if these women are
of any use to each other . . . What's interesting to find is
how these women help each other and love each other
and get angry at each other as grown-ups, because each
of them has a reality and a persona.''
In creating those personas, Hall said, ''I took certain
elements of Tyne as a person, my own mother and Amy's
mother to create Maxine. Tyne's life helped me
understand that all our lives are constantly changing, if
we're lucky, and that she has that experience to pass on
to Amy. Tyne Daly is a strong, funny presence. And
there's a lot of humor in my family. We used humor to
defuse situations, instead of making up or talking it out.
The way my family would communicate is through
Karle Warren plays Amy's six-year-old daughter, Lauren
Cassidy, whose lines are occasionally drawn straight
from the mouth of Hall's seven-year-old daughter, Faith
Harding. Faith also appears as young Amy in the family
photos that appear with the series' introductory title