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TV Preview: Judging from relationships, Amy's moving on

Tuesday, February 13, 2001

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- Judge Amy Gray got an early Valentine's roll in the hay on last week's "Judging Amy." She'll get another tonight.

It's the third episode in the past month in which she's had sex (most recently with guest star Gregory Harrison), which when you think about the current TV environment, isn't surprising.

What is surprising is that it took this long.

"Judging Amy"

When: 10 tonight on CBS.

Starring: Amy Brenneman, Tyne Daly.


Save for a tryst with her ex-husband last season, Amy (Amy Brenneman) has been pretty much out of the romantic loop.

Last month on the Fox studios soundstage that houses the set for Maxine Gray's home, executive producer Barbara Hall said Amy's nonexistent sex life was by design.

"It was very important for me to do a full year about a woman that really didn't have to do very much with sex or relationships," Hall said, "because I felt that was where everybody goes with women. I wanted to keep it about women who have important jobs and relationships outside of men. Now we've done that."

This season Hall wants to explore relationships in another way, particularly with Tyne Daly's Maxine, Amy's mom.

"Maxine is in a phase where she's considering whether it's worth it to get involved in relationships," Hall said. "Sex is one thing, but having to deal with someone and all the baggage of grown children and jobs is another."

Amy finds herself in a similar situation.

"She's trying to figure out what the rules are when you're dating at 35 with a daughter," Hall said. "Do you get to be carefree and have a fling with a younger man or do you have to be more responsible? It's all about her weighing her relationship with a young guy with a relationship that makes more sense with a man more her age."

Just don't expect any of this hanky panky to lead to children. In real life, Brenneman is pregnant and due to give birth in mid-March, but Hall opted not to write a pregnancy into the show.

"This is about a woman starting over, being newly liberated in a way and starting the next phase of her life," Hall said. "I felt putting a newborn in the mix completely changes the tenor of the show and how much we're going to allow Amy to go out into the world."

And the show's workplace -- Judge Amy in her long black robes behind a big desk -- helps hide Brenneman's pregnancy from viewers more successfully than, say, Jane Leeves on "Frasier."

"God bless the robe," said Brenneman, barely looking pregnant.

In January, a visitor to the "Judging Amy" set happened upon Daly in Maxine's kitchen where she was knitting prior to a press conference.

"I can put it down and pick it up again," she said of her pastime. "Reading takes me too far out of the imaginary circumstances. Knitting is something to keep me from smoking, but it also prevents exercise, so it's a double-edged sword."

Then Daly led an impromptu tour of her character's home.

"I think I would have chosen a different color scheme," she said, nodding toward an old afghan in Maxine's den. "It's a little too junky for me."

But it's not just the house that's cluttered. Relationships on "Judging Amy" are sometimes mixed up, too.

In addition to Amy's love interests outside the workplace, there's always been a hint of something between Amy and her court services officer, Bruce Van Exel (Richard T. Jones).

"Bruce and Amy's relationship has developed. We're a little more comfortable with each other," Jones said. "We've become closer and I'm as dependent on her as she is on me and I respect her more as a judge and person."

But will he respect her in the morning? Looks like viewers will never know.

"I think I can safely say they're not going to be a couple," Hall said. "But if the show's on the air a really long time, obviously stuff has to occur, not just sexual tension, but mutual respect for one another. There's a push and pull of getting together as friends and then pulling back. We're going to keep going with that kind of dynamic because Bruce is a really enigmatic character."

But romance and sex are not the show's primary appeal. "Judging Amy" became a surprise hit last fall -- drawing more viewers than "The West Wing" -- because of a multi-generational family dynamic, particularly between Maxine and Amy.

"Maxine was resistant to having her grandchildren and children living with her," Daly said. "Maxine's life was in control. It was her, and her dog and her cigarettes. It's an invasion of her world, but I think Maxine has now gotten used to the family dynamic inside the house."

Hall said Amy and Maxine take turns acting childish this season, and though they get along better, they'll never fully reconcile.

"Nobody does in life, so what they've worked out is sometimes peaceful coexistence," Hall said. "But we have to be sure they don't come to a permanent understanding because you don't. And because that would be the end of the series."

Avoiding the temptation to flatten out the characters was sometimes difficult in the beginning.

"People were initially uncomfortable with the fact this mother and daughter were sniping at each other, but the network has been very supportive in letting these people be flawed and not making us iron out their relationships," Hall said. "I think people really tire of family issues that are completely resolved and wrapped up. No one lives that way. It's comforting to watch these people figure out a way to live together but not always get along and not reconcile and have different views of the past."

Though Hall is the show runner in charge of the series and its future plots, she doesn't believe in the David E. Kelley or Aaron Sorkin approach of writing every episode.

"There are so many varieties of experience we draw from," Hall said. "[All the writers] talk about what's going on in our lives and we pluck stuff out of there and put it on TV and then hope our relatives will still speak to us."

Brenneman, who is also an executive producer for the show, based the character in part on her mother, who is a family court judge in Connecticut. She said working on the series has diminished her faith in the system.

"I have great faith in individuals, and I'm not so sure about the system," Brenneman said. "The juvenile justice system is changing and not for the better, and I imagine the new administration will continue that trend. When it was started 100 years ago, the idea was juveniles should be treated separately from adults. The underlying philosophy was: We as a society are responsible for any of the things a child might do. That's really being thrown out the window."

Regardless of the course of the juvenile justice system, Brenneman said the role offers a full experience.

"If I look at any one script, I usually get something really funny to do and something very smart, and then she usually does something stupid in the same episode," Brenneman said. "The writers meld all the tones into one show and it's not abrupt, and you realize at the end of the hour you've been in very different places with the character."

Of course, lately those places have frequently been between the sheets.

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