Television

Murphy Brown Revival Forgets Its Roots in Desperate Attempt to Join the Resistance

It's neither funny, nor insightful. Why did it even come back?

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Murphy Brown. CBS. Thursday, September 27, 9:30 p.m.

'Murphy Brown'
'Murphy Brown,' CBS

When CBS first hinted last spring that it was considering bringing back its sitcom Murphy Brown after a 20-year absence, the initial response was respectful but puzzled.

The show, a workplace comedy that starred Candice Bergen as an inquisitorial reporter on a fictional 60 Minutes-type show, was a ratings monster in its early-1990s heyday. It was so widely watched that Dan Quayle, the actual for-real vice president of the United States, got into a public squabble with Bergen's character, who was a fictional construct of some probably not entirely sober screenwriters. A squabble about single parenting that—I am not making this up—led the front page of The New York Times.

But Murphy Brown died in 1998 after several years of declining ratings. Most of its characters would now be in their 70s, not too credible as members of a hard-charging cable news crew and even less so as participants in impromptu anchor-desk, a key plot point one 1990s season. Why on earth resurrect it?

The answer was revealed last weekend, when 60 Minutes (the real one) disclosed that the new Murphy Brown is not really a sitcom but a video weapon for the Resistance to Trump. ("So, if Hillary had won, you guys probably wouldn't be here?" a reporter asked. "I don't think so," replied Bergen.)

This was less of a scoop than it might seem, for Murphy Brown's weaponization is obvious from its first moments. The writers couldn't even be bothered to work up actual jokes, unless you consider Murphy referring to a fictionalized version of Steve Bannon as "Satan's sidekick" a punchline. Rather than a comedy, the show is 22 minutes of shrieked insults, childish name-calling and free-flowing venom. That is, pretty much a duplication of any cable-news talk show you see these days.

Stamping that onto the face of what was in its day a novel and multidimensional show seems more than just a bad business model, but something like a desecration. The original Murphy Brown colored well outside the political lines. Murphy herself was a feminist, of course, but also a redoubtable bitch whose personal assistants inevitably quit by the end of every episode.

She burbled with baby boomer hubris. "I just can't help thinking about the fact that while I was getting maced at the Democratic Convention in 1968, you were wondering if you'd ever meet Adam West," she once snapped at her youthful producer.

And as a reporter, she was Mike Wallace in a dress until she turned into the Grim Reaper in a shroud: Interviewing a corrupt judge, she browbeat him into a silence that turned out later to be death. She was banned from President George Bush's press briefing room, but also President Bill Clinton's.

In short, Murphy Brown was a lovably fractured mess and nobody's poster child for anything. Turning her into a geriatric Rachel Maddow-style Stalinist (Bergen is 72, around the same age as her character) does lethal damage to the heart of the show.

Murphy is not the only character to return for this go-round. Investigative reporter Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) is back, as is beauty queen turned inane lifestyle reporter Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) and neurotic producer Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud). Even Cronkite-era anchor Jim Dial (82-year old Charles Kimbrough, retired the last 15 years except for an occasional voice role) is back, now a doddering pensioner whose major goal in life is peeing straight aboard his bouncing yacht.

Unfortunately, the show's new format doesn't work very well for them. The idea is that the old team from their evening broadcast-network newscast has been reconstituted as a cable morning show. The effect is something like CNN turning itself all-Wolf-Blitzer-all-the-time.

Almost as bad is the decision to retain some of the characters' fortysomething quirks well into their 70s. Frank Fontana's (largely unsuccessful) skirt-chasing was kind of funny in the pre-#MeToo era; the idea of him hitting on women in the Social Security line tends strongly to the creepy side. (Though I got a laugh out of Murphy's suggestion that he use a dating app called Silver Singles: "If you swipe left, you mean you're not interested. But if you swipe right, it means you can drive after dark.")

Yet it's Murphy Brown's ideological lockstep that renders it truly unwatchable. There were political undercurrents during the show's original run, too, and not just Dan Quayle's conviction that Murphy was the Whore of Babylon. Murphy and Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) were Baby Boomers still stewing in their collegiate political juices, seemingly unchanged since the invasion of Cambodia or the Watergate break-in, and their obsessions were usually played for laughs.

But they didn't get all the best lines or win all the arguments. One of the show's funniest episodes aired in its second season, when Murphy did a live interview with a Weather Underground-ish character (played by Martin Sheen) who was her hero in college but now turned out to be a David Horowitz-style right-wing revisionist. The resulting argument was fast, furious and funny, with plenty of punches landed on both sides.

There is simply no chance of that happening on the new Murphy Brown. It takes the show three full episodes to launch a single timid jab toward the left: Miles the producer reveals that the reason his friends haven't seen him much lately was that he had to placed in a sanitarium: "Two years on The View nearly killed me."

Interestingly, this doesn't seem to have been the plan. When the Murphy Brown revival was announced, it was said that her son Avery, a little boy when the first run ended, was now a TV reporter himself—on the conservative Wolf cable news network (remind you of anything?), where his show would be up against his mom's.

That's still true, but instead of Avery being a conservative himself, he's now a liberal mole at Wolf. The chance to strike some real political and culture sparks is gone.

But there's still one forlorn chance to save this mess: CBS has announced that a special surprise guest star will appear on the third episode. The identity is being kept secret and the screener copies the network offered to critics didn't include the guest star's scenes.

My guess is it's Hillary Clinton. But what an immortal TV moment if it turned out to be Dan Quayle.

NEXT: A Flyby Analysis of Flyover Country

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  1. Never watched it before, and don’t see any reason to watch it now.

  2. Lefties living in the past but claim to be ‘Progressive’.

    Lefties just want to use government to institute Socialist policies that have been used in the past and failed but can be rebranded as new and progressive

    Its all propaganda and that’s what this Murphy Brown remake is. All the other propaganda shows are failing miserably, so create a ‘new’ show.

    1. They’re fighting battles that were won 50 years ago. They’re like civil war reenactors who do it 24X7.

  3. That’s still true, but instead of Avery being a conservative himself, he’s now a liberal mole at Wolf.

    Alex Keaton he is not. Definitely agree that would make a better show. Still wouldn’t have watched.

  4. One universally distinguishing characteristic of all leftists is that they are pseudo intellectual bluffers with nothing to back it up.

    This new shit show is more of the same.

  5. I was wondering what year it is on Sunday, when I had a CBS football game on and saw promos for Murphy Brown and Magnum P.I.

  6. Bringing late-night “comedy” to prime time. How many different ways can you say “Truuuuump!”

    1. What’s the largest integer?

      1. It’s an irrational number.

  7. This isn’t too surprising. After all, socialists do firmly believe that the primary and only important role of the arts is to serve as a mouthpiece for their cause.

    1. Joseph Goebbels would be proud at where Socialists have gotten with domestic spying and propaganda.

  8. SPOILER ALERT
    STEVE SMITH SPECIAL GUEST STAR. WILL STREAK ACROSS SET DURING CLOSING CREDITS. DO NOT AVERT EYES.

  9. Not sure if your characterization of Frank on the original show is correct, but they seem to have taken him in an odd direction. The right way to portray him now would have been as an older man pursuing women who are aged the same as the ones he pursued originally, but having success which eluded him in his younger days.

    My only comment after watching the trailer is how old Candice Bergin looks. She is actually old, so it fits. But wow. Faith Ford still has it.

    1. Candice Bergen was a moderately attractive young woman in her early years but nowhere near the sex kitten hotty that the studio she was signed with was trying to promote. I would describe her acting ability as on a par with her father’s ventriloquism or as wooden as Charlie McCarthy.

      Her father, Edgar Bergen was famous as a ventriloquist on radio and in fact the act was an enormously creative comedy act and also quite risque (something they got away with by portraying Charlie as an innocent child, “kids’ll say anything”). He didn’t really make the transition to television because the question the viewers had, especially the boomer kids (“kids’ll say anything”) was “I thought your weren’t supposed to be able to see a ventriloquist’s lips moving”.

  10. “DO NOT AVERT EYES.”

    And risk hysterical blindness?

  11. They should have set it in a morning zoo radio show, with a running joke of Brown locking the studio hotboxing the guests.

  12. A much needed counterpunch to the Roseanne juggernaut.

    1. So juggernaut handle on Reason is Roseanne?

    2. Roseanne is the new Juggernaut? I’d this part of the forthcoming X-Men reboot now that Marvel has that property back?

  13. The special guest star will probably be their breaking the news of another Kavanaugh accuser. He was regularly conducting satanic rituals in the local park.

  14. If my life was so devoid of meaning that I’d even consider watching this show, I would instead consider reading some Dr. Kevorkian for help.

  15. The special surprise guest star will be Trump. Mark my words. The Donald is a sport.

    1. Trump has a done a Comedy Central Roast, the White House Correspondents Dinner, and many more events where Lefties went after him.

      That was before they knew he was some Libertarian-Republican-Democrat hybrid person.

  16. Shows like this are most funny when the characters are making fun of themselves. But, progressives take The #Resistance too seriously, so seriously that they can’t tell no one is laughing.

    Do they ever make fun of the media at all? I can think of a few lines:

    Murphy Brown bitches that she’s a B-list hasbeen celebrity who’s looks have seen better days, so whys can’t she be the President?

    The cast obliviously talks down to the staff researchers and laughs about how fantasy-based the President is, until finally, one irate script girl points out the “up again, down again”, “We really got Trump this time…oh wait” roller coaster they’ve been on for two years, who is heard only after the show completely embarrasses itself with “fake but accurate” documents proving Trump was born in Moscow.

    I could go on.

    Sounds like they wanna call Trump a poppyhead and see how many episodes that lasts before it’s cancelled.

    Funny!

    1. Its worked pretty well for Colbert and Kimmel I guess.

  17. Could Garvin, ask the mad scientists who are holding him captive on a space satellite to show him more Roger Corman movies and fewer modern TV dramas?

    1. If I’m trapped on the satellite of love, I want to be there with Joel. Mike was okay, bit I don’t even know about this Garvin of whom you speak.

  18. In the not too distant present
    Next Sunday A. D….I mean C. E.
    There was a guy named Glenn
    Not too different from you or me
    He worked at the Reason Foundation
    Another think tank in our great nation
    The Koch Brothers needed a good test case
    So they conked him on the noggin and they shot him into space
    “We’ll send him TV programs
    -The worst we can find -”
    He’ll have to sit and watch them
    As the Kochs monitor his mind

    1. Haha.

    2. And keep in mind
      Glenn can’t control
      when the shows begin or end,
      because he used those special parts
      to make Robby and his friends.

  19. Oh come on… the “author” of this piece accuses “Murphy Brown” of namecalling, then calls Murphy a “Stalinist”?

    There’s much to dislike about the premise of the reboot, but let’s not engage in the same type of gratuitous insults.

  20. “It’s neither funny, nor insightful. Why did it even come back?”

    Neither is SNL or the Tonight show, but it’s one more regularly-scheduled ‘Trump is a big poopyhead’-fest for those with TDS.

  21. 20 years later, it turns out Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown and unmarried moms

    The url to this story is too long to work a H&R, try googling “dan quayle murphy brown” and it will take you there..

    Actually, what Dan Quayle said was not all that controversial, here it is:

    “Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong,” the vice president said. “Failing to support children one has fathered is wrong. We must be unequivocal about this. It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today’s intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”

    1. Contd

      If I recall correctly, the principle reaction was, “Silly old Dan Quayle”, who had by that time acquired something of a reputation as an intellectual lightweight, unfairly, I think, when compared to other pols he really wasn’t all that dumb, “he can’t tell the difference between a fictional TV show and real life.” This interestingly in the face of all kinds of activity about the effects of popular culture on children and adolescents from Tipper Gore’s campaign about the negative affect of rock lyrics to the campaign of PBS about the positive affects of Sesame Street.

      1. Contd

        Interestingly, I think, the following appeared less than two months after he above WAPO article:

        Candice Bergen says Dan Quayle was right

        A sample:

        Now she tells us. Ten years ago, when then-Vice President Dan Quayle notoriously criticized Candice Bergen’s Murphy Brown character for “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice,”‘ the actress had little to say about the matter, even as others argued over whether the popular “Murphy Brown” sitcom was really setting a bad example or whether Quayle was just trying to make hay during an election year by criticizing the entertainment industry. Yesterday, however, Bergen told a gathering of TV critics that Quayle had a point.

        Bergen was attending the annual summer critics’ confab in Pasadena to promote her new Oxygen series, “Candice Checks It Out,” in which she interviews non-celebrities on their own turf, but what reporters really wanted to check out were her thoughts on the decade-old Quayle quote. “I never have really said much about the whole episode, which was endless,” the Associated Press quotes her as saying. “But his speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did.”

        1. Sorry, I misread the date, the Bergen concession came out in 2002 which is ten years after Quayle’s original speech. The WAPO article didn’t come out until 2012.

        2. Pretty convenient for her to say that ten years after the fact, but ultimately that’s on the writers for pushing that sort of narrative. The “Noble Single Mother” trope was basically a Boomer reaction to their generation causing the divorce rate to skyrocket, and leaving a generation of broken homes and confused children in its wake.

  22. The answer was revealed last weekend, when 60 Minutes (the real one) disclosed that the new Murphy Brown is not really a sitcom but a video weapon for the Resistance to Trump.

    So my suspicions are correct, it’s just a bunch of wealthy old white people that fit this mold.

  23. Will not be renewed for the 2nd half of the TV ‘season’.

  24. But Murphy Brown died in 1998 after several years of declining ratings. Most of its characters would now be in their 70s, not too credible as members of a hard-charging cable news crew”

    Dan blather is still on tv and how old is Wolf Blitzer now. Reporters don’t go away they just shrink behind their desk

  25. Rather than a comedy, the show is 22 minutes of shrieked insults, childish name-calling and free-flowing venom.

    So it’s a completely fictionalized version of The Daily Show only even less funny. I think I’ll pass.

  26. “In short, Murphy Brown was a lovably fractured mess and nobody’s poster child for anything. Turning her into a geriatric Rachel Maddow-style Stalinist (Bergen is 72, around the same age as her character) does lethal damage to the heart of the show.”

    Since when is Rachel Maddow a Stalinist?

    1. I’m pretty sure that was a joke.

      1. Perhaps referring to her nasty habit of being a really horrendous leftwing scold.

  27. Progs weren’t funny then, in fact, they never have been. If they could laugh at themselves, they wouldn’t be progs.

  28. Gee, I wonder why, the first time I read about a Murphy Brown reboot, I thought: “More ‘liberal’ agitprop.” I must be psychic!

  29. To be fair, shows like the “new” Murphy Brown are caught between a rock and a hard place. If there’s no one on the show offering intelligent opposition to socialism, there’s no conflict.

    If there is, the left loses the arguments.

  30. Quayle got trashed for “picking on” Murphy brown glorifying single motherhood…but he was probably right

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