Tele­vi­sion Mur­phy Brown Re­turns

The po­lit­i­cal sit­com is com­ing out of re­tire­ment, and the show’s cre­ator, Diane English, is itch­ing for a fight

Newsweek International - - NEWSWEEK - by ANNA MENTA @an­nalikest­weets

In early 2017, the head of Warner Bros. stu­dio, Peter Roth, ap­proached Diane English about re­viv­ing Mur­phy Brown—the ’90s po­lit­i­cal com­edy that turned star Candice Ber­gen into Amer­ica’s most beloved fake news an­chor. Roth thought the elec­tion of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of­fered the per­fect tim­ing for an up­date. But English said no.

She was work­ing on an­other TV pi­lot at the time, but her hes­i­ta­tion had to do with le­gacy. “We were an iconic show,” she tells Newsweek. “We had lots of Emmy awards [18, to be ex­act]. You don’t want to re­visit some­thing 20 years later for a poor im­i­ta­tion.”

Given Mur­phy Brown is re­turn­ing to CBS for 13 episodes start­ing Septem­ber 27, what changed? The 70-year-old cre­ator says she re­lented when Warner Bros. of­fered to pay her for a test script, just to see how she and Ber­gen felt about it. “A pretty smart idea on their part,” says English. Once she fi­nally started writ­ing, in Novem­ber 2017, “it just sort of poured out of me.” Mean­while, “head­lines were get­ting worse and worse,” and fans on so­cial me­dia were ask­ing, What would Mur­phy say about this? “It was the idea of be­ing rel­e­vant that re­ally changed my mind.”

At a time when the pres­i­dent of the United States is ques­tion­ing the free press, “our show was one of the few with a real rea­son to re­turn,” she adds. “Twenty years ago, Wal­ter Cronkite was the most trusted man in Amer­ica. Now, the press is vil­i­fied be­cause the pres­i­dent keeps re­peat­ing ‘fake news.’” One episode of the re­turn­ing show, English adds, is de­voted to the dif­fi­cul­ties of “get­ting to the truth in the White House brief­ing room.”

Mur­phy Brown’s orig­i­nal run—10 sea­sons, from 1988 to 1998—show­cased an am­bi­tious, out­spo­ken and de­fi­antly un­mar­ried re­porter in her 40s who reg­u­larly name-checked real politi­cians and sparked a na­tional con­ver­sa­tion about sin­gle moth­er­hood. A 1989 Newsweek cover (see Page 4) de­clared her “a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new force in prime-time tele­vi­sion.” In that story, Ber­gen called Mur­phy “the tomboy who prac­ticed all win­ter to get on the all-boys teams.”

The new show has Brown—played by Ber­gen, now 72—an­chor­ing a morn­ing ca­ble show, Mur­phy in the

Morn­ing. Six of the orig­i­nal writ­ers have re­turned, as has most of the orig­i­nal cast, in­clud­ing Faith Ford, Joe Re­gal­b­uto, Grant Shaud and Charles Kim­brough (fan fa­vorite Robert Pa­s­torelli died in 2004). And, yes, Brown’s no­table in­abil­ity to keep an as­sis­tant con­tin­ues, as will the pointed swipes at cur­rent af­fairs. Even two decades later, many of the orig­i­nal show’s jokes hold up (sadly in some cases). “Women in this coun­try legally have a choice,” Brown quipped in 1991. “At least I think they still do. I

haven’t checked the pa­per to­day.”

The se­ries—which be­gan dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Ron­ald Rea­gan and en­dured through the ad­min­is­tra­tions of Ge­orge H.W. Bush and Bill Clin­ton—ef­fort­lessly blurred fic­tion and re­al­ity, some­times even pre­dict­ing events, and that won’t change. The times, if any­thing, are even more fer­tile for satire (re­ally, you can’t make this stuff up). A lot has changed— there was no in­ter­net, so­cial me­dia or 24/7 ca­ble news dur­ing much of the show’s first run—but much hasn’t. Con­sider that #Metoo, and its marches and re­newed de­mands for fe­male equal­ity, be­gan just last year, a full 19 af­ter Brown was fight­ing for the same things.

The orig­i­nal show’s defin­ing mo­ment came in 1992, when Vice Pres­i­dent Dan Quayle ap­par­ently con­fused Brown with a real per­son, ac­cus­ing her of “mock­ing the im­por­tance of fa­thers” by choos­ing sin­gle moth­er­hood. In the re­vival, her now­grown son, Avery (played by Jake Mc­dor­man), is a lib­eral jour­nal­ist too, though at a Fox News–style net­work. (Nat­u­rally, says English, “they’re com­pet­i­tive with each other.”) The first episode will be­gin on Novem­ber 8, 2016, the day of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, but English says the show will quickly move to the present day, in­clud­ing an episode about leaks and one fea­tur­ing a “Steve Ban­non–type char­ac­ter” who may or may not get air time on Brown’s new show.

The writ­ers waited to fully de­velop later episodes (shot three weeks in ad­vance of air­time) to stay as cur­rent as pos­si­ble. “We’ll have an episode about the midterms that will air four days be­fore the elec­tions,” says English.

In 1993, English used her char­ac­ter to re­spond to Quayle; Brown blasted the vice pres­i­dent for blam­ing the coun­try’s prob­lems on her rather than “an ad­min­is­tra­tion that’s been in power for 12 years.” And let’s just say that English and her writ­ers are pre­pared for a sim­i­lar show­down with Trump. “We’d be stupid to think he won’t re­act. We kinda hope he does,” she says with a laugh.

Mur­phy Brown is a per­fect fit for CBS, which jumped at the op­por­tu­nity to re­vive it, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the suc­cess of Will & Grace (which gave NBC its big­gest pre­miere in six years) and Roseanne’s 2018 pre­miere (which blew past ABC records; it re­turns as

The Con­ners fol­low­ing Roseanne Barr’s fir­ing for send­ing an of­fen­sive tweet). CBS tar­gets older view­ers— the me­dian age in 2017 was 61—and that’s un­likely to change, even with the ouster of the man who or­ches­trated the net­work’s win­ning rat­ings strat­egy, CEO Les Moonves, who re­signed on Septem­ber 9 fol­low­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the board of direc­tors (a move fully sup­ported by English). Young peo­ple don’t watch TV live, but even if they did—and de­spite the po­ten­tial Gif-abil­ity of Brown—the char­ac­ter doesn’t have the mil­len­nial ap­peal of Jerry Se­in­feld or, for that mat­ter, any of the char­ac­ters on Friends. The rea­son?

Mur­phy Brown was never ac­quired by a stream­ing plat­form; the Mo­town songs that were a hall­mark of the show were sim­ply too ex­pen­sive to re­pur­chase. “I would’ve loved if CBS had done a com­pi­la­tion re­cap spe­cial, but it didn’t get off the ground,” says English. Hope­fully, she adds, the new sea­son will per­suade some­one to pick up the tab for Aretha Franklin, whose mu­sic helped form the back­bone of the orig­i­nal show.

English was a chief fun­der of Hil­lary for Hu­man­ity, an in­de­pen­dent ex­pen­di­ture com­mit­tee that sup­ported Hil­lary Clin­ton’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign. Ru­mor has it that Clin­ton will make a cameo in the first episode of Mur­phy Brown. Fans of the show would cer­tainly rel­ish the sharp-tongued an­chor’s re­ac­tion to that his­toric de­feat—one that will likely mir­ror English’s own dis­ap­point­ment in 2016.

“Over the years, Candice and I both sort of be­came Mur­phy,” English says. Part of the joy of re­viv­ing the show has to do with the op­por­tu­nity it of­fers for po­lit­i­cal satire, but it has as much to do with be­ing re­united with old friends. “That first ta­ble read—when the cast came to set and saw Mur­phy’s town­house and Phil’s bar re-cre­ated ex­actly as it had been 30 years ago? I would have to say it was a high point of my ca­reer, if not my life.”

“We’d be stupid to think Trump won’t

re­act. We kinda hope he does.”

SCRATCH­ING AN ITCH English, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Mur­phy Brown, finds joy in her re­turn to po­lit­i­cal satire.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.