High Bench Marks

Inspired by her mother's legal career,
Amy Brenneman dons a robe to dispense justice on
Judging Amy

By Tom Gliatto, Tom Cunneff in Los Angeles

A few years ago, Amy Brenneman decided to create a
special 70th-birthday present for her mother, Connecticut
Superior Court Justice Frederica Brenneman. Videocam
in hand, Brenneman interviewed lawyers, bailiffs and
clerks at the Hartford courthouse where her
now-73-year-old mother served for more than 30 years on
the juvenile-justice bench. "Everybody gets scared to be
in front of Judge Brenneman," says the actress, amused
but impressed. But in the end, "the impression I got is that
she is a benevolent despot."

An inspiring one, to boot. That videotape gave
Brenneman, 35, the idea for Judging Amy, her CBS series
about a high-powered Manhattan lawyer, Amy Gray, who,
6-year-old daughter in tow, moves back home to
Connecticut to take a job as a juvenile-court judge and
live with her blunt but good-hearted mother (Tyne Daly).
Brenneman's real-life father, Russell, 71, a retired
environmental lawyer, has jokingly called the show "an
insane homage," but Amy became the season's top-rated
new drama. "[Judge Brenneman]'s a little mystified by the
world of TV," says Daly, who has met the judge on her
occasional visits to the set. "To see her daughter in the
costume she wears when she goes to work, the same
mock-up courtroom--there must be a certain amount of
Twilight Zone in that." Brenneman's mother--only the
second female judge to be appointed in Connecticut and
one of the first women to graduate from Harvard Law
School, class of '53--helps shore up the show's
authenticity as an unpaid, uncredited consultant. "When
she'd first give us notes," says Brenneman of her mother,
now semiretired and on the bench in Bridgeport, Conn.,
"they were just blindingly critical."

She got over it. Besides, as executive producer,
Brenneman holds the show together during good times
and bad. In December, a few unattended candles started a
fire that gutted her trailer on the Los Angeles set while she
was elsewhere being fitted for a costume. "She was very
upset," says costar Dan Futterman, who plays her
brother, an aspiring writer. "It burned all of her Christmas
presents for us, so she went around telling everyone what
their gift would have been."

Brenneman's parents once hoped she would become an
attorney like older brother Matthew, 39. (Her other sibling,
Andy, 38, produces computer software.) But Brenneman,
who grew up in the Hartford, Conn., suburb of
Glastonbury, discovered in a grade school production of
The Music Man that she preferred to court an audience's
applause. She majored in religion at her parents' alma
mater, Harvard, and after graduating in 1987 put in her
time on the road as a fledgling theater actress before
making her series debut on 1992's short-lived Middle

The next year, Brenneman became watercooler fodder
(and an Emmy nominee) on ABC's NYPD Blue, where she
played David Caruso's girlfriend and appeared in the buff
in the premiere. Still, the most significant episode in her 1
1/2 seasons on NYPD was No. 6, directed by a new
acquaintance, Brad Silberling (City of Angels), 36, who
would become her spouse in 1995. With the series getting
started, those were hectic days, "but that's why it was
great," says Silberling, who shares a five-bedroom
lodge-style house in L.A. with her (the couple plan to have
a family someday). "We saw each other through the

That doesn't mean, though, that Brenneman is letting her
hair down anytime soon. "We decided that when I'm on
the bench it's always back and very slick," she says.
"There's got to be no sexiness. My mother has always
described putting the robe on as 'you're playing a role,
and that is that you're the boss, you're in charge.' That
image really appeals to me." Case closed.