She's saucy, a snappy dresser, sharp-tongued and a big drinker. And she's the best friend "Cybill" could have. She's Maryann Thorpe, played by Emmy-winner Christine Baranski, who is relishing a role people love to talk about. "People seem to really dig this character," said Baranski. "Men find her exceedingly funny and women seem to want to be her. She's a wonderful creation." Since the 43-year-old actress took the role of the jaunty Maryann on the CBS series "Cybill," she has nearly upstaged the show's star. Yet Baranski is modest about being a scene stealer. "I lucked into fabulous writing and a wonderful producing team, and I hit it off with my star," she said. That star would be Cybill Shepherd, whose show, now in its second season, is competing Sundays at 8 against "Mad About You" on NBC, "The Simpsons" on Fox and "Lois & Clark" on ABC. The new time slot is proving a greater challenge than its former home on Monday night. At the end of its first season, "Cybill" was the sixth highest-rated new series, but Sunday nights have caused the series to slip, at least initially, from being the 22nd most-watched show to 49th now. Still, Baranski's rich-by-divorce Maryann should continue to attract viewers the same way that "Absolutely Fabulous" does. Baranski pointed out that the "Cybill" role was created long before the arrival of the successful British import, now seen on cable's Comedy Central. Regardless, she enjoys playing the number-two role on the show. "I think sidekicks are a great position to be in. You don't always have to be likable. You can veer off the track. Maryann is there, drinking and making her bitchy remarks, and she is embraced anyway," she said. "To play sophisticated and to play irreverent is just so much fun, and I've done it so many times in the theater that I've rarely played anything else." Indeed, before "Cybill," the Juilliard-trained actress's career was centered in New York, with an occasional movie role. "I always resisted sitcoms and thought, maybe someday if the situation was exactly right," she said. It helped that "Cybill" came to her. The show was cast in New York, where Baranski's stage credits have earned her two Tony Awards (for Tom Stoppard's "The Real Thing" in 1984 and Neil Simon's "Rumors" in '89). She has had roles in the films "9 1/2 Weeks," "Legal Eagles," "Life With Mikey" and "Addams Family Values," and played Claus von Bulow's mistress in "Reversal of Fortune." She was in the recently released "Jeffrey," and has made a movie version of "La Cage aux Folles" with Robin Williams, due out this spring. "It is a serendipitous thing that {Cybill'} has worked so well," she said. "It's really as though I'm being discovered, because theater doesn't seem to make it into the mainstream {press}." Between episodes of "Cybill," Baranski calls home an 18th-century farmhouse in Litchfield, Conn. There her two daughters stay with Dad, actor Matthew Cowles, formerly of "All My Children" and soon of the film "The Juror" with Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin. Cowles inherited the farmhouse, fully paid for. "Anybody who knows this area knows why I'm so firmly grounded here," she said. "We're surrounded by trees. I've lived here since my children were babies. We're just very lucky." And in Litchfield, she added, "I stop thinking about ratings and what my skin is like. I get very centered." Baranski said she misses her children, aged 7 and 10, as she works in Los Angeles, but is proud to say she has never interrupted their schooling for her career. Her daughters know their mother is an actress, but it is hard for them to see her without a TV. Wait a minute. Both Mom and Dad have made their living on television and there isn't a box in the house? "We just don't have it in our home," she said. "It's a decision we made a long time ago." Doesn't sound at all like Maryann. Well, she doesn't forbid her daughters to watch television -- they love "The Simpsons," which they see at friends'. Also, Baranski firmly believes that "it's important for children not to be overshadowed by their famous parents." And last month's Emmy ceremony helped Baranski become more famous. She said she was dazzled by the glitz of the televised event, which she attended with her husband. But their daughters were back in Connecticut, where they would start school the next day. "The Emmys are just one step short of the Oscars with the press gantlet that you go through as you enter the auditorium," she said. "We were sort of late, as the limousines were backed up, so I just took in the scene from my chair. I looked around and saw Barbra Streisand and Donald Sutherland and thought, This is really big time.' " Although she had been told she had a good chance of winning the award for best supporting actress in a comedy series, she said she was stunned when she heard her name. "Frasier's" Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, both of whom she has worked with on stage, presented her award, and she said she was glad to see them there at the podium. "When people afterwards were saying, When we heard your name, we were just screaming and jumping and crying,' I thought I felt this surge of energy from the audience," she said. "I'm from Buffalo and have worked in regional theaters all over the country. Maybe this surge that I felt was from this singular moment." Backstage, reporters were trying to get her reaction, but she said she had to ask for a moment to collect herself. "I did find the Hollywood recognition factor to be pretty wonderful," she said, "to be recognized in this town as well as New York." So, the only award not on her shelf is an Oscar? "Actually I'm working on my singing." Oh, yes. There are still the Grammys. CAPTION: Christine Baranski plays best pal to Cybill Shepherd, an actress and divorced mother in "Cybill." CAPTION: Connecticut-based Baranski plays brazen Maryann Thorpe.