Country of origin
No. of seasons
Final episode date
26 June 1996
David E. Kelley
First episode date
18 September 1992
Tom SkerrittKathy BakerCostas MandylorLauren HollyHolly Marie CombsZelda RubinsteinAdam WylieFyvush FinkelRay WalstonKelly ConnellDon CheadleLisa ChessJustin Shenkarow
"Picket Fences" by Stewart Levin
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series
Picket Fences is an American television drama 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 prime-time 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.
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. Struggling to maintain order in the community is Sheriff Jimmy Brock (Tom Skerritt). Sheriff Brock is 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), Matthew (Justin Shenkarow) and Zachary (Adam Wylie). Max (Lauren Holly) and Kenny (Costas Mandylor) are impulsive and somewhat immature sheriff's deputies.
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 point of law. After several prosecutors came and went, Don Cheadle joined the cast as John Littleton. Kelly Connell played medical examiner Carter Pike (who was regularly begging to be deputized) and Zelda Rubenstein portrayed police dispatcher Ginny Weedon. Other actors who were in the cast included Marlee Matlin, Richard Masur, and Dabbs Greer.
The show dealt with unusual topics for prime-time television such as abortion, incest, homophobia and LGBT adoption, transsexuality, racism, belief in God, medical ethics, polygamy, polyamory, adolescent sexuality (including nocturnal emission), date rape, cryonics, the Holocaust, shoe fetishism, masturbation, animal sacrifice, spontaneous human combustion, and constitutional rights. 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.
The town frequently changed mayors, who often met strange fates:
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.
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.
Until 2014, this was the only DVD release in the world. On August 20, 2014, Season 1 was released in Australia.
Season 2, for the first time ever, was released in Australia in December 2014.
Season 3 was released in Australia in March 2016.
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.
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.
In 2002, the character of Douglas Wambaugh was ranked 47th on TV Guide's 50 Greatest Television Characters of All Time list.