Remembering "Murphy Brown": The Groundbreaking TV Sitcom

Herbie J Pilato

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In many ways, Murphy Brown, the famed sitcom which stars Candice Bergen, and ran on CBS from 1988 to 1998, might be considered a poor man's Mary Tyler Moore Show (which originally ran on CBS from 1970 to 1977). Both are set in the world of television journalism, and both shows feature strong female leads.

In the series, Murphy is a journalist, TV magazine host, and recovering alcoholic who later becomes a single mom. Through it all, she had an edge. Though many compare her to Mary Richards she really isn't.

When the series debuted, Murphy had just been released from the Betty Ford Center to the Washington D.C. studio, from where her show, FYI, originated. Her co-workers and co-hosts were best bud and investigative reporter Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), and a very MTM-Ted-Baxter-ish anchor Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough). Murphy also had to deal with a snot-nosed, fresh-faced-and-mouthed new executive producer in the guise of Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud), who ended up hiring former beauty queen and Southern belle Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), whose journalistic inexperience and perky personality rubs Murphy the wrong way.

But Murphy never likes too many people anyway. She had over 93 secretaries (including Seinfeld's Kramer, played by Michael Richards on NBC, in a unique two-different-network cross-over Seinfeld/Brown episode. And she also has issues with her parents (played by the great Colleen Dewhurst and Darren McGavin).

And when she became pregnant, the series ignited a real-life public debate with then-Vice President Dan Quayle that was incorporated into the scripts.

But when things really got tough, Murphy would be welcomed at home by her live-in eccentric house painter named Eldin (Robert Pastorelli), who never quite finished the job, or she could visit Phil (Pat Corley), the owner of the nearby bar where the FYI gang gathered.

As Bergin told Good House Magazine in 1996 about Murphy, "She's an original character who hadn't been seen before. To a certain extent, she really is Mike Wallace in a dress, which is how Diane English [the show's creator] explained Murphy originally. Her skill at what she does is equal to that of a man - she can also drink like a guy and be as bawdy and as tough as a man. But then, she paid a price for her ambition, for her success - she is a Betty Ford alumna, and she has no real personal life. It all adds up. I think, as a woman, we are so conditioned to being well-spoken and polite that the idea of Murphy is really thrilling. She’s someone who can spit it out. Murphy is a great outlet for women - a character who really doesn't care what anyone thinks of her and isn't afraid of anyone. Of course, there is a lot about her that's horrible. When I'm playing her, I have to be careful she doesn't get too strident. I try to make her ruthless and devout selfishness likable and funny. But you know that Murphy, in real life, would be one of those people who suck up all the oxygen in the room."

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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