Thank God for Youtube and Nick at Nite. Though the television show Murphy Brown ended its 10 year run in the 90’s, you can still catch it on the web. The cable channel, home of old champions like Designing Women and The Cosby Show– for its part– had broadcast Murphy Brown for two years…thus allowing many viewers to snag it for broadcast on Youtube. Mostly, it was episodes from season 1 to season 3 that I found–largely in three-part chunks. MB was on from 1988-98 in its original run. It was one of the few shows ever produced that truly deserved a decade long run. (Yes I’m talking to you Two and a Half Men–stop the insanity and wrap it up now.) There was so much to love about it: the classy Motown-themed credits, (I owned this on cassette)–
–the running gags (one of my favorite’s being Murphy’s ever-changing lineup of weirdo secretaries), the topical scripts –but perhaps its greatest element of worth was today’s great thing.
116. The cast of Murphy Brown
Along with the cast of 30 Rock and Arrested Development, MB has one of the top ten sitcom ensembles ever assembled. They were an unstoppable, fantastic, script-devouring team.
Much credit needs to go to Diane English, creator of the series. First of all, she deserves accolades just for coming from Buffalo, NY. Great Lakes girls unite! She made it to adulthood, surviving snow-drifted winters and artery-busting local cuisine. But, and of more pertinence to this blog entry, she fought hard to keep her vision intact. The network, CBS, wanted Heather Locklear for the lead and didn’t like many of the other actors that we now know and love (or at least fondly and foggily remember).
The regulars were:
Murphy Brown (Teevee journalist extraordinaire)–Candice Bergen
Jim Dial (Lead anchorman)–Charles Kimbrough
Frank Fontana (Man-clown investigative reporter)–Joe Regalbutu
Corky Sherwood (Bubble-headed correspondent)–Faith Ford
Miles Silverberg (Nebbishy producer of FYI)–Grant Shaud (who in the Murphy Brown era had a name that was too samey samey to Grant Shaw from Melrose Place for his own good.)
Eldin Bernecky (Murphy’s full-time house painter)–Robert Pastorelli (who, died of a heroin overdose in 2004–sorry to harsh this love-in.)
Phil (of Phil’s bar)–Pat Corley (who died in 2006–again, sorry for the downer.)
Every good ensemble needs a good captain and you couldn’t beat Candice Bergen. She was hot, smart, and able to pass the punchline to another player if need be. I loved her. No, really, let me make this clear–here’s how much I loved Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown: I loved Candice Bergen so much in this role that I’d spend a good half an hour with a curling iron and a can of hairspray trying to get my hair like hers. Me! With hairspray!!! And a curling iron!!! In grade school!
Also, I’d read any magazine that featured articles either Candice Bergen or the show in general. I even read Good Housekeeping. Good Housekeeping, people! Could obsession sink any lower?
Here’s a clip from the show. It’s nothing special–no better or worse than any other episode, really–but it is indicative of cohesive the cast was and general overall quality. Plus, you gain greater insight into how Murphy got her hair to do that thing.
Funnily, this is one of the only episodes to open with an actual ‘theme’ song. Normally, they’d select an episode-appropriate Motown theme. Superb! Viewing some of these clips back on Youtube also makes me yearn for a proper newsmagazine show to watch. FYI, the fictional news programme takes me back to the heyday of Nightline and 20/20. I remember how in highschool they used to show us segments from 60 Minutes sometimes. Watching 60 Minutes made me feel conscientious and more intelligent than I was. I get no nourishment from the news anymore. There’s no investigation leading to cold hard truth anymore…just manipulation meant to strengthen supposition. Sigh… Can anyone recommend something trustworthy AND watchable?
Watching the episodes back, you can certainly see the difference between today’s modern sitcom format and the one we used to laugh at in our youth. Today’s laugh-trackless and highly improvised shoots give a greater sense of realism. But, under our old standards, this was a ruthless comedy machine. Even my more learned awareness of farce and story structure can’t fault these classic pickings. Sure, I can see the format unfolding before my eyes. And yes, sometimes, I can predict the second act entirely. But, I love this bunch so much that it still works.
In addition to the regular cast members, the show treated the casting of guest stars with great diligence. I mean can you beat Colleen Dewhurst and Darren McGavin as Murphy’s Mom and Dad. The answer is ‘no’. No you cannot.
Another boon to the cast’s solidity was the simple fact that the writers made the characters grow into more than just the stereotypes that they represented in the pilot. Sure, Murphy was a feminist ball-breaker, Frank a good-guy womanizer, Jim a friendly blow-hard, Miles a worrywart, and Corky a ditzy blonde–but they evolved into more than that. The writers let the relationships change over time–as they would in real life–and it made the show better for it.
Of course, I’m not the only one that obsessed. Twenty years later, here’s an enjoyable little piece that CBS ran about Murphy Brown‘ s “china” anniversary. Enjoy this cast reunion and ensemble love-in:
Maybe one day, when I give up on my ambitions to do anything besides watch television, I’ll buy the box-set.
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