Picket Fences is an American family drama television series about the residents of the town of Rome, Wisconsin, created and produced by David E. Kelley. The show initially ran from September 18, 1992, to June 26, 1996, on the CBS television network in the United States. It sometimes struggled to maintain a stable primetime audience and had fluctuating ratings, due in part to its Friday night time slot. In its first season on the air it placed 80th in the prime-time Nielsen ratings and in its second season it moved to 66th. The show's exteriors were shot in the L.A. suburb of Monrovia, California, with many of the townspeople appearing in the background of episodes.
|Created by||David E. Kelley|
Holly Marie Combs
|Opening theme||"Picket Fences" by Stewart Levin|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of seasons||4|
|No. of episodes||88 (list of episodes)|
|Executive producer(s)||David E. Kelley|
|Running time||42 minutes|
|Production company(s)||David E. Kelley Productions|
20th Television (1992-1995)
20th Century Fox Television (1995-1996)
|Original release||September 18, 1992 –|
June 26, 1996
The series follows the lives of the residents of the small town of Rome, Wisconsin, where weird things happen, including cows' udders exploding and a spate of people turning up dead in freezers. The show dealt with unusual topics for the primetime television of the period, such as family, relationships, and careers. Illustrative of the subject matter is that the regular cast included a judge, two lawyers, and a medical examiner. Religious issues were frequently discussed, and the town's Roman Catholic and Episcopal priests were frequently recurring characters, as well as lawyer Douglas Wambaugh's relationships in his local Jewish temple.
The Brock Family
Struggling to maintain order in the community is Sheriff Jimmy Brock (Tom Skerritt). Sheriff Brock is a 52 year old, married to the town doctor, Jill (Kathy Baker), his second wife. They attempt to raise their three children, Kimberly (Holly Marie Combs) (from Jimmy's first marriage to Lydia Brock (Cristine Rose)), Matthew (Justin Shenkarow) and Zachary (Adam Wylie).
Maxine 'Max' Stewart (Lauren Holly) and Kenny Lacos (Costas Mandylor) are impulsive and slightly immature sheriff's deputies. Kelly Connell played medical examiner Carter Pike (who regularly begged to be deputized) and Zelda Rubinstein portrayed police dispatcher Ginny Weedon.
Bombastic lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel) usually irritated Judge Henry Bone (Ray Walston). Wambaugh refused to hear any confessions of guilt from his clients as he feared that it would only stand in the way of adequately defending them in court; and Bone's rulings seemed to be directed more by his own moral compass than by points of law, though his decisions were almost never reversed. After several prosecutors came and went, Don Cheadle joined the cast as John Littleton.
Other actors who were in the cast included Marlee Matlin as Mayor Laurie Bey / The Dancing Bandit, Richard Masur as Ed Lawson, Roy Brocksmith as elementary school principal Michael Oslo, Jack Murdock as ethically challenged city councilman Harold Lundstrom, Roy Dotrice as Father Gary Barrett, a Catholic priest, and Dabbs Greer as Reverend Henry Novotny, minister of the local Episcopal church.
The town frequently changed mayors, who often met strange fates:
- Mayor Bill Pugen (Michael Keenan): spontaneous human combustion after his murder conviction
- Mayor Rachel Harris (Leigh Taylor-Young): hounded from office for starring in an adult film
- Acting Mayor Howard Buss (Robert O. Cornthwaite): suffered from Alzheimer's Disease, fatally shot by his son
- Acting Mayor Jill Brock (Kathy Baker): jailed, dropped out of bid for re-election
- Mayor Ed Lawson (Richard Masur): entombed in a freezer by his wife, then decapitated
- Mayor Laurie Bey (Marlee Matlin): mayor at end of third season, despite bank robbery convictions as "The Dancing Bandit." She was offered the job as part of her 3,000 hours community service sentencing
- Acting Mayor Maxine Stewart (Lauren Holly): shot and wounded by a shock jock's fan (while Mayor Laurie Bey was on maternity leave).
- Mayor Laurie Bey (Matlin): returns as mayor at series' end.
Main cast and characters
- Tom Skerritt as Sheriff James "Jimmy" Brock
- Kathy Baker as Dr. Jill Brock
- Lauren Holly as Officer Maxine Stewart
- Costas Mandylor as Officer Kenny Lacos
- Holly Marie Combs as Kimberly "Kim" Brock
- Justin Shenkarow as Matthew Brock
- Adam Wylie as Zachary "Zack" Brock
- Fyvush Finkel as Douglas Wambaugh
- Kelly Connell as Carter Pike
- Zelda Rubinstein as Ginny Weedon
- Don Cheadle as D.A. John Littleton
- Marlee Matlin as Mayor Laurie Bey
- Ray Walston as Judge Henry Bone
Picket Fences had a total of 88 episodes and four seasons.
The series had two crossover episodes with another David E. Kelley series, Chicago Hope, one occurring in each series. In the first, on Picket Fences, Dr. Jill Brock accompanies Douglas Wambaugh to Chicago Hope Hospital over concerns of his heart. In the second, Wambaugh is back at Chicago Hope Hospital causing trouble for the doctors. Lauren Holly later joined the cast of Chicago Hope as Dr. Jeremy Hanlon and Tom Skerritt appeared in a different role as a guest star.
|Show||Episode #||Episode Name||Airdate|
|Picket Fences||3–7||"Rebels with Causes"||November 11, 1994|
|Chicago Hope||1–13||"Small Sacrifices"||January 23, 1995|
Also, as the story goes, David E. Kelley and Chris Carter (creator of The X-Files) were talking in a parking lot on the Fox lot one day and thought it might be interesting to have Mulder and Scully visit Rome, Wisconsin for an X-Files episode. Originally, the two shows would be shot with different viewpoints– one from the X-Files perspective and the other from Picket Fences'. The official approval was never given by Fox and CBS, so the only remnants remaining of this effort are the X-Files episode "Red Museum" and the Picket Fences episode "Away in the Manger" having similar plotlines involving cows. While every reference to Picket Fences has been purged from the X-Files episode, there still are some small winks left in the Picket Fences episode referring to the happenings at the X-Files and some minor characters there.
On June 19, 2007, 20th Century Fox released the first season of Picket Fences on DVD in Region 1.
The complete series (seasons 1-4) was released through ViaVision (Australia) in 2016. The collection is considered a Region 0 DVD, playable on all DVD players.
All seasons are also available on Region 2 formatted DVDs in Germany.
Awards and nominations
Picket Fences won fourteen Emmy Awards (including "Best Dramatic Series" twice) and one Golden Globe in its four-year run. A substantial following for the show persists today, and it is popular as reruns in western Europe. It was rerun in French in Canada on Radio-Canada under the title Bienvenue à Rome, USA.
In 1997, the episode "Heart of Saturday Night" was ranked #96 on TV Guide's 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
- Abcarian, Robin (July 28, 2005). "Monrovia's Midwest mystique". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved July 21, 2019.
- Season 2/Episode 12
- "Picket Fences and The X-Files". Thom Holbrook's Crossovers & Spin Offs pages. Retrieved September 24, 2009.
- "Special Collectors' Issue: 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time". TV Guide (June 28-July 4). 1997.
- TV Guide Book of Lists. Running Press. 2007. pp. 191. ISBN 0-7624-3007-9.