Already have an account?
Get back to the

‘Picket Fences’: The Cast of David E. Kelley’s Quirkiest Drama, Then and Now

See how the show came to represent quality in front of and behind the camera


Credit for the outstanding Picket Fences cast, and the material they had to work with, goes to writer/producer David E. Kelley, whose name is justifiably synonymous with quality television. A guiding force under Steven Bochco on L.A. Law, he has gone on to create shows like Chicago Hope, The Practice, Ally McBeal, Boston Legal and, in more recent years, Big Little Lies, The Lincoln Lawyer and Apple TV+’s upcoming Presumed Innocent. Again, the word is unavoidable: quality.

And the amazing thing is that Picket Fences probably shouldn’t have worked, because it is such a quirky and unique series. The focus is on the residents of Rome, Wisconsin, where strange things are always happening and in the exploration of those bizarre plots, the show tackles such a wide variety of societal issues at a time when television simply wasn’t doing so. Things like the belief in God, abortion, cryonics, the Holocaust, homophobia, LGBT adoptions and date rape. Beyond that, there were animal sacrifices, spontaneous human combustion, dead bodies showing up in freezers, exploding cow udders … all of which just scratches the surface.

But beyond the scripts, there is the Picket Fences cast, each and every one of those actors bringing a depth and complexity to their parts. At the core of the series is the Brock family, led by Tom Skeritt’s Jimmy, who is Rome’s Sheriff; his doctor wife Jill (Kathy Baker), and their three kids, Kimberly (Holly Marie Combs), Matthew (Justin Shenkarow) and Zachary (Adam Wylie).

There are the town’s deputies, Maxine Stewart (Lauren Holly) and Kenny Lacos (Costas Mandylor); and, just as important as anyone else, the legal battles that play out between Judge Henry Bone (Ray Walston) and lawyer Douglas Wambaugh (Fyvush Finkel). Their performances — riveting!

In detailing the origin of the show to the Archive of American Television, Kelley explained that he had a meeting with the then-head of CBS, Jeff Sagansky, and shared some concepts for series that he had. “They responded to the idea of a small town with a cauldron of characters in a more rural setting, because Northern Exposure was working for them at the time,” he explains. “At the time, the networks were gravitating toward urban shows and cosmopolitan shows. Shows that took place in the heartland, I don’t think there was as much demand elsewhere for this kind of show.”

Tom Skerritt, David E. Kelley and Kathy Baker during 1993 Emmy Awards
Tom Skerritt, David E. Kelley and Kathy Baker during 1993 Emmy Awards Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Detailing his approach to Sagansky, he said, “I want to take a story or a plot line and play it through several different prisms. I want to play it through the police arena, through the legal arena, through the township at large, and then, ultimately, the nuclear family. So you would take an event or an idea, and you would mine it through this cauldron of characters or franchises all within the show.”

Asked to describe the tone of the show by the interviewer, he notes, “It had dark comedy to it, but it also had straight dramatic storytelling as well. It was a juxtaposition of different tones. And the one thing that we tried to never do was shift tones in such a way that it would take you out of the dramatic through line. We would allow our audience to laugh at a situation, but we would not want them to then trivialize the underlying dramatic point that was causing them to laugh. And that was tricky.”

During its run, Picket Fences and its cast would win a total of 14 Primetime Emmy Awards, which is as good a lead in as any to take a look at what’s happened to the residents of Rome, Wisconsin.

(MUST-READ: Cast of L.A. Law Then and Now — Catch Up with the Stars of the Hit Legal Drama)

Tom Skerritt as Jimmy Brock

Tom Skeritt, 1992 and 2023
Tom Skeritt, 1992 and 2023Getty Images (2)

Born August 25, 1933 in Detroit, Michigan, by the time he came to lead the Picket Fences cast, Tom Skerritt had worked up a pretty impressive resume, his credits including films like the movie version of M*A*S*H (1970), the original Alien (1979), Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, Tom Cruise’s Top Gun (1986) and Steel Magnolias (1989).

Additionally, there were dozens of television guest appearances throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, including six episodes as Evan Drake on Cheers between 1987 and 1988.

For his role as Sheriff Jimmy Brock, he took home the 1993 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. It’s a show he’s justifiably proud of, reflecting to, “It’s the kind of show that got away with a lot for five years. David Kelley was testing a lot of controversial issues going on here in the United States, some of which really were not issues that people in a small town would deal with. For example, the Pope showing up and not being able to leave town, because he’d witnessed a killing and had to be a material witness.

“It was the wonderful absurdity of all that,” he continued, “because it’d always sit within the parameters of possibility, and people will always respond, not necessarily to the incredulity of things, but to the possibility of things. I think David really had both of those — incredulity and the possibility of it all.”

Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Michael Ironside and Tom Skerritt in 1986's Top Gun
Tom Cruise, Anthony Edwards, Michael Ironside and Tom Skerritt in 1986’s Top Gun©Paramount Pictures/courtesy

Following the show he worked steadily on the big screen and the small, his last television credit being the 2016 TV movie Journey Back to Christmas, and in the 2021 films East of the Mounstains and Catch the Bullet. Married three times, Skerritt, 90, has five children.

MUST READ: Wanna Go Where Everybody Knows Your Name? See the Cheers Cast Then and Now

Kathy Baker as Jill Brock

Kathy Baker, 1993 and 2023
Kathy Baker, 1993 and 2023Getty Images (2)

Katherine Whitton Baker was born on June 8, 1950 in Midland, Texas. Her start was on the stage, including an Obit Award-winning performance for off-Broadway’s Fool for Love in 1983. Her movie career began in 1983 with The Right Stuff and would go on to include 1987’s Street Smart, opposite Christopher Reeve and Morgan Freeman; and Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands in 1990.

On Picket Fences she was small town doctor Jill Brock, wife of Jimmy and mother of Kimberly, Matthew and Zachary. For the part, she would win three Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series as well as Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker in 2015's The Age of Adaline
Harrison Ford and Kathy Baker in 2015’s The Age of Adaline©Lionsgate Films/courtesy

In a 1993 interview with the New York Daily News, she said of Picket Fences, “It isn’t just a cop show or a law show or a medical show. It’s all three of those, plus it presents a family core, it has a lot of humor and it talks about issues. I think people like to categorize things, but you can’t pigeonhole this show.

“It’s based,” she added, “on David Kelley’s feeling that people think that small town equals stupid and big city equals sophistication. He wanted to turn that upside down. I’ve lived in small towns myself, and, hey, anything can happen.”

The show ended in 1996, but Baker’s career certainly didn’t. Between that year’s To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday and 2020’s Love is Love is Love, she was seen in a total of 32 films. And on television, there were recurring or regular roles on Boston Public (2001 to 2002), Medium (2005 to 2010), Against the Wall (2011), Those Who Kill (2014), Big Time in Hollywood, FL (2015), I’m Sorry (2017) and Love (2018). Her most recent appearance was on a 2019 episode of Chicago Med.

Now 73, she been married twice and has two children.

MUST-READ: Christopher Reeve Movies — You Know Him as Superman, but He Starred in 17 Films; Take an Inside Look at Them All

Lauren Holly as Maxine Stewart

Lauren Holly, 1992 and 2019
Lauren Holly, 1992 and 2019L-R: ©20th Television/courtesy; Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

Lauren Holly, born October 28, 1963 in Bristol, Pennsylvania, portrays Deputy Sheriff Maxine Stewart, working for Jimmy Brock. She came into Picket Fences with films under her belt like Band of the Hand (1986), The Adventures of Ford Fairlane (1990) and Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (playing the late martial artist’s wife, Linda). On television she’d appeared in a pair of TV movies and had a few guest appearances.

Following Picket Fences, she starred in more than a dozen TV movies (the most recent being 2022’s Country Roads Christmas) and had either recurring or main roles on season six of Chicago Hope (1999 to 2000), seasons three to five of NCIS (2005 to 2008), Alphas (2012), Motive (2013 to 2016), Tiny Pretty Things (2020) and The Lake (2022). Movie wise, there would be three dozen of them between Beautiful Girls (1996) and The Cuban (2019).

Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly in 1993's Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story
Jason Scott Lee and Lauren Holly in 1993’s Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story©Universal Pictures/courtesy

Like her costars, Holly certainly has a warm spot in her heart for the show, which became evident back in 2020 when Fox 5 asked her if there would ever be a possibility of a continuation.

“Listen, that was one of my favorites in my career,” she replied. “I reference it a lot talking about Tiny Pretty Things, because it had a kind of magic dust about it as does this show. I would love it to come back, because I loved all the people, it was such a great show and David E. Kelley’s such a great writer. I’d like to see where Max is now; she’s probably running the FBI or something.”

Married three times (including to her Dumb and Dumber co-star Jim Carrey), she’s the mother of three. Lauren Holly is 60 years old.

Costas Mandylor as Kenny Lacos

Costas Mandylor, 1994 and 2023
Costas Mandylor, 1994 and 2023Getty Images (2)

Fans of the Picket Fences cast may be surprised that Costas Mandylor, who played Deputy Kenny Lacos, is Australian — not that you’d ever be able to tell from any of his dialogue. He was born September 3, 1965 in Melbourne and made the move to the United States in 1987, which is when he began taking acting lessons. Obviously they paid off. “When I first came here,” he told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 1993, “it was more of an adventure than to make it in Hollywood. Then I went to an acting class and it stemmed from there.”

His first couple of roles were as a European Jew in Triumph of the Spirit (1989), an Italian count in Oliver Stones’ biopic The Doors (1991) and as gangster Frank Costello in Mobsters (1991). He made his television debut on Picket Fences and would follow it up with starring roles on the shows Players (1997 to 1998), Secret Agent Man (2000) and a recurring part on 7th Heaven (2004 to 2006).

There would also be dozens of guest appearances and TV movies, the most recent being a 2018 episode of Lethal Weapon. Movie wise, since he stopped being a part of the Picket Fences cast, he’s been in an incredible 80 films from 1996’s Shame to 2023’s Saw X. The man obviously likes to work!

Of Picket Fences, he admitted to the Ventura County Star in 1994, “I was scared to do TV when David Kelly first approached me. But when I found out these great actors were going to be on the series, I jumped on before the ship sailed and clung to the railings.”

He added to the Detroit Free Press that same year, “The thing about David is he shows you things, he informs you and then lets you make up your own mind. And I love that about him, because he makes people think. To me, everything that’s happened on the show has happened someplace.” Man, we hope not!

Now 58, the actor was married to actress Talisa Soto (the James Bond film Licence to Kill) from 1997 to 2000.

Holly Marie Combs as Kimberly Brock: Picket Fences Cast

Holly Marie Combs in 1992 and 2024
Holly Marie Combs in 1992 and 2024L-R: ©20th Television/courtesy; Erika Goldring/Getty Images

Although she’s probably better known for her stint as one of the Halliwell sisters on the original Charmed, actress Holly Marie Combs first caught people’s attention as part of the Picket Fences cast, playing Kimberly Brock.

She was born December 3, 1973 in San Diego, California, and made her acting cebut in the 1988 film Sweet Hearts Dance, followed by Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Nobody Can Hear You Scream (1991), Simple Men, Dr. Giggles and Chain of Desire (all three in 1992). Then, at age 18, she was cast as Kimberly.

Cosmopolitan did a profile of the actress during the show’s run, and shared how she booked the part. “After her audition,” they write, which it should be noted took place in New York, “Kelley told Combs she didn’t have ‘a big enough heart’ to play the part, so Combs did what came naturally: She told him off. ‘I said, “I just came off the subway, and you can’t have a big heart on the subway,”‘ she remembers. ‘”If you’re looking for someone with a big heart, what the hell are you doing in New York?”‘ Two weeks later, Kelley called Combs to tell her she had the role. The lesson Combs learned? In showbiz, it’s often the size of your cojones, not year heart, that really matters.”

In a TV interview conducted in 2007, the actress proclaimed, “Picket Fences was the best time of my life. I swear to God. I just had such a great character to play. She was always right; she never did anything wrong. Even when she was wrong, she had a good reason for it. And I got to work with Tom Skerritt, who was someone I could never rile up. I always had these father-daughter things where I had to fight with him and he did not want to be angry. It’s not an emotion he wanted to be in touch with, which is why he’s so well preserved. The man does not get irate about anything.”

Despite her enthusiasm looking back at the show, she admitted to Seventeen several years after its conclusion that she was ready to move on. “As much as I loved Picket Fences,” she said, “it was hard after a while to have all the arguments and the crying. Too much crying and fighting. Especially for my character Kimberly, being the teenager. So when I got Charmed, it felt like it would be something totally different. And I get to play someone older, finally. That was important to me. I think Kimberly aged two years in four years, from 16 to 18 years. So it was exciting for me to play someone closer to my age.”

Holly Marie Combs, 1993
Holly Marie Combs, 1993©20th Television/courtesy

When Picket Fences ended, she only appeared in three more movies, the last being a cameo in 2001’s remake of Ocean’s Eleven. On television, she starred in Charmed from 1998 to 2006, and followed that with Pretty Little Liars, appearing in a total of 62 episodes between 2010 and 2017. She and former Charmed co-star Shannen Doherty were featured in the 2015 reality series Off the Map with Shannen & Holly. There were also eight TV movies, the final one being Hallmark’s Love’s Complicated. Outside of that, she seems to have stepped away from the world of acting.

Married three times, she’s the mother of three and is currently 50.

Justin Shenkarow as Matthew Brock

Justin Shenkarow, 1992 and 2021
Justin Shenkarow, 1992 and 2021L-R: ©20th Television/courtesy; David Livingston/Getty Images

Middle Brock child Matthew was played by Justin Shenkarow, who was born in Los Angeles. Not much is known about his personal life or background, but he’s another one who has worked pretty consistently before and after Picket Fences. He made his film debut in 1992’s The Opposite Sex and How to Live with Them, and has been in 12 others, most recently 2021’s The Mitchells vs. The Machines.

On television, the first project was the 1989 TV movie Dad’s a Dog, followed by a few guest appearances. In 1991 he did his first voice-over work — in what would become his true calling as time went on — with ProStars. He was on camera for the 1991 to 1992 series Eerie, Indiana, which was followed by Picket Fences. Afterwards, animation would by far outweigh his live-action credits. Beginning in 2021, he has voiced the character of the Rhino in Spidey and His Amazing Friends.

Adam Wylie as Zachary Brock: Picket Fences Cast

Picket Fences Cast: Adam Wylie in 1992 and 2023
Adam Wylie in 1992 and 2023L-R: ©20th Television/courtesy; Hollywood to You/Star Max/GC Images

Adam Wylie, who plays youngest Brock child Zachary (who in one episode Della Reese referred to as an “itty bitty thing”), was born May 23, 1984 in San Diego, California. When he was 9-years-old, he began doing voice-over work in films like The Swan Princess (1994) and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1996). There would be a lot of television work in this area as well, including the lead role in 1993’s All-New Dennis the Menace.

Prior to joining the cast of Picket Fences, there were a number of live-action guest appearances as well. Following the show he has 22 film credits (some on camera, others vocally) and dozens on television, most recently a 2015 episode of Castle. As if this wasn’t enough, he’s also been fairly visible on stage. Adam is obviously one child actor who successfully embraced adolescence. He’s now 39-years-old.

Fyvush Finkel as Douglas Wambaugh

Picket Fences Cast: Fyvush Finkel at the 1993 Emmy Awards
Fyvush Finkel during 1993 Emmy Awards – Press Room in Los Angeles Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, Inc

Cast member Fyvush Finkel’s portrayal of attorney Douglas Wambaugh brought some of the biggest laughs and touching moments to Picket Fences. Born October 9, 1922 in New York City, he appeared for the first time on stage at the age of 9 and spent nearly 35 years as part of Yiddish stage shows within the Yiddish Theater District of the Lower East Side. Additionally, he worked as a standup comic as part of the Borscht Belt in the Catskills.

He reflected in 2008, “I played child parts till I was 14, 15, then my voice changed. So I decided to learn a trade and went to a vocational high school in New York. I studied to be a furrier, but I never worked at it. As soon as I graduated high school, I went to a stock company in Pittsburgh, a Jewish theater, and I played there for 38 weeks, and that’s where I actually learned my trade a little bit as an adult.”

Well, it paid off. He worked on stage in Manhattan, both off-Broadway and on, and made a number of films over the years. On television, he guest starred on a 1977 episode of Kojak and was next brought on to the Picket Fences cast as Wambaugh (when he was about 70!).

Speaking with the Kenosha News in 1994, he expressed his enthusiasm for the show as only he could: “David Kelley, he can write a good script. He can write a good check. He’s a very good writer. Tom Skerritt — a great actor and such a nice man. The whole cast — beautiful people, every one of the them. It’s the happiest set in America, I think.”

Finkel continued working in television in guest appearances, but also as a regular in the remake of Fantasy Island (1998 to 1999) and Kelley’s Boston Public (2000 to 2004) as Harvey Lipschultz.

Finkel was married to Trudi Lieberman from 1947 until her death in 2009 and they had two children. He died on August 14, 2016 at the age of 93 from heart issues. He won an en Emmy in 1994 for his portrayal of Douglas Wambaugh.

Kelly Connell as Carter Pike: Picket Fences Cast

Picket Fences Cast: Kelly Connell in 1993
Kelly Connell in 1993 on Picket Fences©20th Television/IMDb

In the Picket Fences cast, Kelly Connell played M.E. Carter Pike, who was always looking to become deputized by Sheriff Brock. The actor was born on June 9, 1956 in Seneca Falls, New York.

His first television role was in a 1987 episode of the ABC Afterschool Special, with guest star roles on shows like Night Court, Murphy Brown, Wings, Step by Step, Eerie, Indiana and Northern Exposure. Following Picket Fences he more or less picked up where he left off, making guest appearances until 2012. He most recently appeared in the 2022 TV movie Aggie’s Spirits.

Zelda Rubinstein as Ginny Weedon

Picket Fences Cast: Zelda Rubinstein, 1986 and 2003
Zelda Rubinstein, 1986 and 2003L-R: ©MGM/courtesy; Getty Images

Although Zelda Rubinstein is probably best remembered for her line “head for the light” in the 1982 horror film Poltergeist, she certainly made an impression as police dispatcher Ginny Weedon as part of the Picket Fences cast during its first two seasons.

She was born May 28, 1933 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and was challenged by the fact that she was 4’3″ tall — yet very outspoken to those who challenged her because of her height. As she told the press , “I had a rough childhood, but I became very verbally facile. I learned to meet everyone head-on. Midgets are very societally handicapped. They have about two minutes to present themselves as equals — and if they don’t take advantage of that chance, then people fall back on the common assumption that ‘less’ is less.”

Her height certainly didn’t prevent her from getting work: 11 films prior to the show, and 17 more after she left it. There were also many guest appearances, including five episodes as a ghost psychic on Santa Barbara. From 2000 to 2006 she narrated 41 episodes of the series Scariest Places on Earth. She died on January 27, 2010 at age 76 following a heart attack.

Ray Walston as Henry Bone: Picket Fences Cast

Picket Fences Cast: Ray Walston in 1992 and 1997
Ray Walston in 1992 and 1997L-R: ©20th Television/MeTV; Jim Kulish/AFP via Getty Images

Herman Raymond Walston was born November 2, 1914 in Laurel Mississippi, though the family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana and then Dallas, Texas. Drawn to the stage at a young age, he spent many years working there, including in numerous Broadway shows. Walston made his movie debut in 1957’s Kiss Them for Me, but struck gold in the 1958 film adaptations of South Pacific and Damn Yankees, reprising the respective roles of Luther Billis and Mr. Applegate he had originated on stage.

Happy to be a working actor, Ray made his television debut in 1954, appearing on such anthology shows as The Web, Studio One, You Are There, Omnibus, Playhouse 90, Play of the Week, Shirley Temple’s Storybook and Way Out. But in 1963, he began starring in My Favorite Martian, the TV show and role that, whether he liked it or not, would come to define him in the mind of the public just as Herman Munster would do to Fred Gwynne a few years later.

And although he was typecast as that show’s “Uncle Martin” (as an alien trapped on Earth and attempting to find a way home, and co-starring opposite Bill Bixby), the truth is, he did work, appearing in 32 feature films (the last one being 1999’s Swing Vote) and made many TV guest appearances before and after becoming a part of the Picket Fences cast. But in his entire post-My Favorite Martian career, his greatest satisfaction came from playing Judge Henry Bone, a character that would earn him two Emmy Awards.

“I’ve been involved in television from the word ‘go’ — 1949 — half-hour murder mysteries and You Are There and never got any recognition,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1995. “The Martian show, which was a ridiculous, silly show, was never recognized. But Bone is the best character I’ve ever had in television, so pleasing for me and satisfying to do. He is me.”

He added to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “It’s a wonderful part. You know it’s interesting, the evolution of the character. I use that word with that character, because when we started out, it was only a recurring role. But as we did several segments of it, I managed to get in some compassion, some understanding. Kelley began to write it in that fashion, and when he began to write it that way, he began to write some of the most beautiful stuff. Some of those summations at the end of those segments are just so gorgeous and beautiful, really.”

And as to the Emmy, he mused to the LA Times, “This comes late in my career and that it is a dramatic show is the best thing of all. Because, for the most part, my career had been on the stage in New York. And here [California], it’s been devoted to a couple of those Billy Wilder movie comedies and running around with a couple of pieces of wire coming out of my head.”

He spent much of his life married to Calvert Walston (they wed in 1943) and he was the father of one. He died on January 1, 2001 at age 86 from complications of Lupus.

MUST-READ: Fred Gwynne — 14 Joyful and Tragic Facts About ‘The Munsters’ Star

Enjoy much more in the world of entertainment!

Use left and right arrow keys to navigate between menu items. Use right arrow key to move into submenus. Use escape to exit the menu. Use up and down arrow keys to explore. Use left arrow key to move back to the parent list.