"Murphy Brown": 20 years later, it's alive and well

For weeks, CBS has had a barrage of ads, reminding us how good the original "Murphy Brown" was. Now the new one is ready to debut Thursday (Sept. 27); here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

In the TV world,
we've found, dead isn't dead and done isn't done.

So it seemed logical
when a TV executive suggested that Diane English revive “Murphy
Brown,” 20 years after the show ended.

“As the months
ticked by, it started to feel like we had maybe a real reason to come
back,” English said. Then the executive “said, 'What if I pay you
to write a script?' And that go my attention.”

And it got “Murphy
Brown” back, with most of the original cast. “We all got tears in
our eyes” when the old sets were re-created, Candice Bergen said.
“''Murphy' was so important to all of us.”

The show spent four
straight seasons in the Nielsen rating's top 10, finishing as high as
No. 3 in 1991-92. Bergen won five Emmys in seven years, then withdrew
from competition. She was praised by critics ... which was definitely
something new.

“I'd mostly been
reviled in my acting career,” Bergen wrote in her second memoir (“A
Fine Romance,” 2015, Simon & Schuster). “I'd given many bad
performances in many bad movies.”

Here was a beauty
with a sophisticated background (the daughter of radio star Edgar
Bergen) and a sharp mind. She was the equivalent of Anderson Cooper
or Diane Sawyer -- bright, telegenic, verbal. “60 Minutes”
offered her a job when she was 25; there were rumors she'd be a
“Today” regular.

Instead, she kept
acting. Movies like the soapy “The Adventurers” (1970) battered
her prestige.

There were hints
that she could do comedy. “Saturday Night Live” people called her
one of their favorite hosts; she received an Oscar nomination for
“Starting Over” (1978). But when English's “Murphy Brown”
script drew a buzz, she wrote, “no one at my agency thought to
submit me for it, except for one lowly agent.”

She delayed reading
it for a while, finally did on a cross-country plane trip ... and
then quickly called – via pay phone from the plane – to say she
wanted it.

It was a stretch. “I
had rarely watched a sitcom in my life, much less shot one,” Bergen

Here was blistering
dialog about a recovering alcoholic with a passion for journalism. “I
never wanted it to end,” she wrote. “Doing 'Murphy Brown' was
insanely fun. When the writing was good – as it was for the first
years of 'Murphy' and on and off after -- it was a giddy, joyous

Eventually, the show
did sag in quality and in ratings. It stayed in the top-20 through
its eighth season, then fell out of the top 30 and ended after 10

The urge to bring it
back came partly because of the new politics, English said, and
partly because of another comeback. “The success of 'Will &
Grace' was encouraging. (They) almost didn't skip a beat.”

The others – Faith
Ford, Joe Regalbuto, Grant Shaud – signed on, then waited. “Two
weeks would go by,” Ford said. “I would get a text from Joe:
'Well?' (I'd say) 'She's writing, Joe.'”

She dawdled for nine
months on the first script, then boomed ahead. The new version has
Murphy starting a cable morning show. “Free press is under attack
like I've never seen before,” English said. “The press is not the
enemy of the people and our characters are the press.”

A few people weren't
available. Charles Kimbrough, 82 and retired, will return for three
episodes as Jim, the former anchorman. Pat Corley died in 2006 at 76;
he played the owner of Phil's, the favorite bar, now run by Phil's
sister (Tyne Daly). Robert Pastorelli died of a drug overdose in
2004, at 49.

That leaves a cast
ranging from 44 (Ford) to 72 (Bergen). To add some younger actors,
Nik Dodani plays a social-media expert and Jake McDorman is Murphy's

“I hadn't seen any
'Murphy Brown' before I read the script,” McDorman, 32, said. Many
people haven't; “Murphy Brown” will have to gather some new
people, alongside its past faithful.

-- “Murphy Brown,”
9:30 p.m. Thursdays, CBS; debuts Sept. 27

Hey Jude, here's the role for you

"Star" -- the series that starts its season Wednesday (Sept. 26) on Fox -- has lots of mismatched parts. Some work, some don't ... but the central character remains fascinating. She's Star, building a music career on sheer determination. And Jude Demorest fits the role perfectly; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

This was a casting
challenge that could have stumped people.

“Star” would be
set in Atlanta's vibrant black music scene. Its title character is
young and talented, hungry and hurt and relentless. This requires
someone who's a strong actress, singer, and dancer.

One thing more: Star
is white, but has a voice that ripples with soul and gospel.

Lee Daniels, the
producer, braced himself for a long search. “It took me forever to
find Hakeem and Jamal (for 'Empire'),” he told the Television
Critics Association last year. “Forever.”

But it took a day or
two, tops, to find Star; Jude Demorest walked in. “It was spooky,”
Daniels said. This was a perfect match, “down to the hoops that she
was wearing and the cheap fur that she came in.”

And there was her
voice – one molded by the Detroit gospel sound of Marvin Winans.

The casting came
easily to Daniels ... but it didn't seem that way to Demorest. “I
was sent there for a different role,” she recalled recently by
phone. “I thought: 'Star -- that's the one I want to do.'” After
auditioning her nine more times – just to make sure – Daniels
gave her the role she seems made for.

“In my house, we
always had music,” Demorest said of her Detroit childhood. Her
sister had some Dr. Dre albums, but their mom insisted on gospel –
Andrae Crouch and the Winans family and more.

Those Winans weren't
just voices on record. Seven days a week, Demorest said, her family
went to The Perfecting Church – where the founder and pastor, Rev.
Marvin Winans, is steeped in gospel. He started The Winans singing
group with some of his brothers ... two younger siblings, BeBe and
CeCe, became solo stars ... and his twin brother's daughter, Deborah
Joy Winans, currently co-stars in “Greenleaf.”

Winans started the
church in 1989 and the Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts in
'97. Both places became key in Demorest's life.

The “Star”
characters have fierce determination. Queen Latifah – who plays a
friend of Star's late mother – talked about that to the TCA: “I
definitely relate to the hunger, the desire, the will.”

Demorest took that
to an extreme: At 16, she heard that her sister was heading to a job
in Los Angeles. “I left school on Christmas break” and didn't
return. “I just left my things in the locker.”

Her sister didn't
have an apartment yet, so they crashed with “a friend of a friend
of a friend, who we'd never met.” None of this was wise or
cautious, but somehow it worked. Demorest got jobs singing and
dancing back-up in music videos. She got an agent and managed some
close stabs at success, including:

-- Being in a girl
group for a year. “We almost landed a TV-show deal, but it fell

-- Being signed by
L.A. Reid, the hitmaker who had already helped mold Usher, TLC, Toni
Braxton and more. The planned album never happened, but she had her
first sampling of music success: Two of the songs she co-wrote were
recorded by Reid's group, Fifth Harmony. “Work From Home” and
“Down” were No. 4 and No. 42 on the Billboard chart.

-- And doing six
episodes of the rebooted “Dallas.” Alas, her character (Candace,
an underage prostitute) was killed and dismembered.

Then came her ideal
role – albeit an unusual one. As Daniels asked out loud last year:
“Why am I putting a white girl in the middle of this black
environment – with a sister who is half-black and another who is an
entitled, very rich black girl?” It was, he said, “about bringing
these girls together.”

It's a tangled
togetherness. Currently, the others rage at Star for leaving them for
a solo tour. Complicating things, Star is pregnant (as is Demorest,
who is married to music producer Ammo).

Demorest's life
seems complicated ... but she feels Star's is much more so. “She
lives a life without any God. When you have your own God, you are
your own force.”

-- “Star,” 9
p.m. Wednesdays on Fox, after “Empire”; season opens Sept. 26

The TV star of 2018 is ... well, a Detroit Tiger cap

For readers who don't live in Michigan, please indulge me this regional moment: It's time to celebrate the TV success of Detroit Tiger caps. Here's the story I sent to a couple papers:

By Mike Hughes

There are plenty of
TV trends, but here's the important one: This is the year of the
Detroit Tiger cap.


In two shows this
year, a Tiger cap was a factor in the first episode. That apparently
beats all other teams by ... well, two.

First was “Krypton”;
characters wondered why Adam Strange wore that odd cap. He had good
reasons – he was from the future and another planet – and traded
the cap for information.

Now comes the
“Magnum, P.I.” reboot. In the opener, Magnum wears his Tiger cap
... then gives it to a boy he's comforting.

That doesn't happen
randomly. For “Krypton,” it was because the show's creators –
David Goyer from Ann Arbor and Geoff Johns, a Michigan State grad
from Grosse Pointe and Clarkston -- are Tiger fans.

And “Magnum”? In
the original series, Tom Selleck wore the cap because he's a fan. He
was born in Detroit, moved to California when he was young, but
shared his dad's passion for the team.

What about Jay
Hernandez, the California native who's the new Magnum? “I'm not a
Detroit Tiger fan,” he admitted. “I'll be honest.”

Neither is Peter
Lenkov, the Montreal native who runs the show. But Lenkov points out
that Hernandez “was supposed to throw a baseball out at the Tigers
game, but he had to fly back to shoot the show.”

The Tigers lost that
game, 6-2. They've lost a lot lately, but things can change.

When Selleck was a
baby, the Tigers won the World Series; when he was 7, they lost 104
games. But they won the Series again when he was an unemployed actor
at 23 ... and when “Magnum” was in the middle of its eight-year
run. Maybe they will again, if this new version lasts long enough.

-- “Magnum P.I.,”
9 p.m. Mondays, CBS, starting Sept. 24

Jane Fonda: A life in many parts -- many of them contrasting, all compelling

Jane Fonda has entwined through much of my life. Like her, I assumed the U.S. was in Vietnam for all the right reasons. (I was there myself, assuming we were up to good,) And like many people, I've seen her work ever since, some of it superb. Now there's a terrific documentary Monday (Sept. 24) on HBO; here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

Looking back, Jane
Fonda sort of agrees: Her life has been big, odd and very

At 80, the current
Fonda – analytic, sometimes apologetic – is a huge leap from the
one Hollywood nurtured. “I was a kind of a pretty girl who made
movies,” she said. “And (I was) kind of hedonistic.”

Then everything
intervened – Vietnam, feminism, new-age cinema ... and some major
men, from Roger Vadim to Ted Turner. “They were all so brilliant,”
Fonda said. “They could teach me things and take me farther than I
had ever gone. And ... they weren't boring.”

That's one of the
things that makes her life intriguing. Here is a strong feminist who
spent much of her life around guys who tend to overshadow. “It took
her a while, as she (has) said, to find her own narrative,” said
Susan Lacy, who has created an HBO documentary.

That explains why
“Jane Fonda in Five Acts” has guys' names for four of the acts –
Henry, Roger, Tom, Ted. Then “Jane” is the final act. “To
fully realize herself,” Lacy said, “she needed to be on her own.”

The “Henry” was
her father – a decent but stoic man who married five times. His
movie characters stood up for the common man; still, he railed when
she had activists at his house, complaining that they'd better not be

He “saw his
friends' careers and lives destroyed because of McCarthyism,” Fonda
said, “and ... he was afraid there would be a resurgence of
McCarthyism that would take me down.”

Those concerns
wouldn't be until her later phase. At first, Henry Fonda's kid was
just a promising starlet. As a teen-ager, she was Miss Army Recruiter
of 1954. At 22 – after prep school, Vassar and some modeling –
she did movies, especially romantic comedies.

Later, there were
some light films she likes. Fonda speaks well of “Cat Ballou”
(1965, with an Oscar-winning Lee Marvin) and “Barefoot in the Park”
(1967, with Robert Redford). But there were many others, including
“Sunday in New York,” in 1963. “I don't like that one. That's
why I fled to France.”

She lived a
two-continent life, making some films in the U.S. and three in Europe
with Vadim. They married in 1965 and it was in France that her
activism soared.

“I had met
American soldiers in Paris and they told me what they had seen and
done,” Fonda said.

They gave her a
book, “The Village of Ben Suc,” that had a big impact. “I
didn't even know where Vietnam was. And after reading that book and
talking to these men, the coin shifted.”

It was a big shift.
“My father was in the second World War,” she said. “I was so
proud of that; he was so proud of that. I really thought that if we
had men fighting, they were one the side of the angels.”

She erred, she said,
particularly in being photographed smiling at an anti-aircraft gun in
Hanoi. The smile, she said, involved a song the soldiers had just
sung for her, but it was a mistake.

“I'm proud that I
went to Vietnam when I did,” Fonda said, “and I'm proud that the
bombing of the dikes stopped ....But I'm so sorry that I was
thoughtless enough to sit down on that gun .... The message that that
sends to the guys who were there and their families – it's horrible
for me to think about.”

She married
activist/politician Tom Hayden from 1973 to '90 and cable pioneer Ted
Turner from '91 to 2001. She also saw her acting career revive, via
cable and streaming. Long after her two Academy Awards – for the
1971 “Klute” and the 1977 “Coming Home” -- Fonda has received
Emmy nominations for HBO's “The Newsroom” and for Netflix's
current “Grace and Frankie.”

And yes, her
activism remains. A sequel to the 1980 “9 to 5” will reflect
that, she said. “Today, a lot of the workforce is hired by an
outside company and sub-contracted back .... So if there's a problem,
where do you go? Who do you complain to?

“So it's much
worse. Although I do think probably sexual harassment will tend to
drop because guys are scared. Ha-ha.”

-- “Jane Fonda in
Five Acts,” 8-10:15 p.m. Monday, HBO

-- Reruns often,
including 4:15 p.m.Tuesday, 5:40 p.m. Saturday and 1:45 p.m. Monday,
Oct. 1

From "Seinfeld" to "Big Bang," he's given us global comedy

Five days before the new season officially starts, NBC offers an advance peek at one show ... and (in support) an actor we've enjoyed, from "Seinfeld" to "The Big Bang Theory." Here's the story I sent to papers:

By Mike Hughes

With his voice
alone, this actor can give us a world tour.

He's been V.M.
Koothrappali on “Big Bang” and Babu Bhatt on “Seinfeld.” He's
been Indian, Pakistani, Turkish and many more, including outer-space

He's been Dr.
Sleevemore and Dr. Bonjahli and Dr. Rajneesh and ... well, at least
15 TV doctors. He's also been Professor Pyg, Mr. Pickle, Mr.
Fetuccini, Chutney the Elephant and a talking guitar.

You expect him to
have a five-syllable name and a distant accent. Actually ... he's
Brian George and he speaks with the Oxford-English tone we expect
from someone educated in London and Toronto.

But what about that
voice we often hear? “That was the accent I grew up up around,”
said George, who was born in Israel (with roots that are Lebanese,
Indian and Iraqi), but grew up in England and Canada.

He heard the accents
– from family and neighbors – a a boy and has re-harvested them
ever since. That paid off big, 25 years ago. “'Seinfeld' was very
good for me,” George said.

Now he's back, this
time as a series regular. In “I Feel Bad,” George, 66, plays the
father of Emet (Serayu Blue), the show's central character. “He's a
little progressive, but still a traditionalist,” he said.

This is basically a
comedy-drama about women having overcrowded lives. As a bonus,
however, it reminds us that there's great variety to being the child
of immigrants.

Its star (Blue) and
creator (Aseem Batra) seem to have the same background. Both were
born in 1975 in the Midwest – Wisconsin and Ohio, respectively –
to parents from India. Still, there was a difference.

“My parents were
really open to me doing whatever I wanted to,” Blue said.

Batra's parents
didn't see it that way. They “were hoping that I would do something
more traditional than this,” she said.

She finds that
understandable. “They came to this country with $8 in their
pockets” and prefer the steadiest route to success. “I think they
just wanted me to be a doctor and then quit to have kids.”

George's own life
has been a tangle of countries and voices. His dad was born in
Lebanon, his mother in India, but they moved to Jerusalem. He was
born there, then was 1 when they moved to London and 14 when they
moved to Toronto.

His would eventually
attend the University of Toronto and then study comedy with Second
City and John Candy. But in conversation, his voice reflects the
early years in an all-boys London school.

But in his career?
That's when he pulls out the accents he heard as a kid.

“Seinfeld” was
the big break. (Jerry gave Babu terrible advice about switching to a
Pakistani-themed restaurant; later, Elaine fouled up the mail and he
was deported.) More roles have flowed in, both in animation and
live-action. He's already done 15 “Big Bang” episodes, as the
wealthy (and now swinging-single) doctor talking to his son Raj via

“I Feel Bad” is
one of his less-ethnic roles. “When I was auditioning, it was every
ethnicity,” Blue said. Once she was cast, her character and her
parents became Indian.

“We had this
conversation,” George said, “saying, 'How lovely that it's just a
blended family and that's it' .... It's just a dopey family, with
problems that they get through.”

-- “I Feel Bad,”
9:30 p.m., Thursdays, NBC, starting Oct. 4, but two episodes will be
at 10 and 10:30 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 19), after the “America's Got
Talent” finale