.: Outside those "Picket Fences" :.

By Stan Urankar

Holly Marie Combs "growing up" for new USA movie

Fans of the eccentric goings-on in Rome, Wis., during the four network seasons of "Picket Fences" would find it hard to imagine anyone other than Holly Marie Combs as wise-beyond-her-years teen-ager Kimberly Brock.

That breakthrough role for Combs almost didn't happen. "Picture me at 18 years old," she says, "and just getting off the subway in Manhattan for a meeting with David E. Kelley, this man who has written so wonderfully for "L.A. Law.' Needless to say, I was a little nervous.

"Well, we didn't hit it off. He finally said, "I don't think you're quite right. The character I have written has a really big heart and I just don't think you fit the bill.' I was terribly hurt -- and angry. I thought he was just being mean."

Combs remembers that Kelley called back in a couple of weeks, saying he'd had a bad day himself. "He also said, "Well, we couldn't find anyone else, so I guess the job's yours."'

First big job or not, Combs wasn't biting. "Suddenly, he can't find anyone else and now I'm right for the part. Sorry! I had quite an attitude going. David said, "You should actually be flattered, not angry. I rewrote the character to be more like you.' He had to keep at me for a couple of weeks before I finally agreed."

Though never a huge ratings hit, "Picket Fences" won a slew of Emmy awards, including two for best drama series. After the third season, with the burden of writing "Picket Fences" and then fledgling "Chicago Hope" too much, Kelley stepped aside. "We had almost 10 writers try to come in and take over for this one man," Combs says. "The quality was not nearly what it was."

Combs, now 23, has starred in a number of telefilms since then. The next, "Our Mother's Murder," debuts at 9 p.m. Wednesday on cable's USA Network.
The docudrama details events leading up to the 1993 New Year's Eve murder of
New York socialite Anne Scripps Douglas (Roxanne Hart). Combs plays Alexandra, the murdered woman's 18-year-old daughter, and Sarah Chalke ("Roseanne") plays Annie, Alex's younger sister.

"I knew USA had been making an effort to do more movies of a higher quality," Combs says, "and this is one of those new ones, not a simple thriller/slasher type.

"And, Alex is a really good character for me. I get to be older for a change -- she eventually ages to 22 -- and she's different from what people saw in me as Kimberly Brock. Alex is very tough and logical; she doesn't wear her emotions on her sleeve."

More importantly for Combs, the film focuses on the domestic violence brought on by Douglas' second husband Scott (James Wilder). "Telling this story so much from Alex's point of view," Combs says, "shows the gruesome side effects beyond just the person who is abused."

Combs, who was married four years but is recently separated, is dating Brian Bouma. "He worked on the crew for 'Our Mother's Murder,' she says, "so if I stink, it's all his fault." She enjoyed time off after this film but is itching to work again.

You won't see Combs in theater; she admits to terrible stage fright. "When 'Picket Fences' won the first year and the whole crew went to accept, I was so petrified that they had to hold me up to keep me from falling over." And, with her love of Kelley's work, you may not see her on TV soon, either. "I'm completely spoiled by David," she says. "I would like to do another series, but another one like 'Picket Fences' is not easy to find."

Copyright 1997 Sun Newspapers