"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
wrote.

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
experience.”

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
years.

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
son.

“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