Murphy Brown is Coming Back and Why We Desperately Need Her
This last week it was announced that the popular sitcom Murphy Brown, which debuted in 1988 and ran for 247 episodes, will be returning to television. CBS has greenlit a 13-episode revival of one of television’s most politically charged sitcoms and has secured the series’ original star Candice Bergen to return in the title role. With so many TV shows returning from what we all assumed was their entertainment graves (Full House, Roseanne, Will & Grace), we cannot help but be slightly more intrigued by what this renaissance will bring in the guise of television’s highly opinionated and vocal liberal.
Murphy Brown was a TV sitcom about a national news program called FYI (For Your Information) that was based in Washington, DC. It was essentially 60 Minutes, with different reporters covering their areas with comedic aplomb. Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough) was the show’s stiff and uptight anchor. Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) was the series’ investigative reporter, often going on dangerous adventures. Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) was the fluff reporter, usually handling lighter human interest fair. And then there was Murphy Brown, the hard-nosed, cutting-edge reporter who fought for the best stories while verbally cutting down things like the musicals of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Vice President Dan Quayle. The show was produced by the twitchy Miles Silberberg (Grant Shaud) who was always trying to keep Murphy honest, out of trouble, and from offending the executives at the network.
In the early 1990s, America’s Vice President under President George Herbert Walker Bush, Dan Quayle, took aim at Murphy Brown and her popularity, pointing to the character’s single motherhood as what was wrong in America. She singlehandedly pigeonholed as a destroyer of family values. Instead of rolling over and letting their character be chastised in this way, the show’s writers decided to have Murphy address it head on:
“Perhaps it’s time for the vice president to expand his definition and recognize that, whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes.”
The show’s creator, Diane English, was even more direct with her assessment:
This craziness between a real-life Vice President and a fictional TV character become front page news for The New York Times. President Bush was having to address questions at press conferences over the matter. It was a subject discussed around water coolers at work. It was both divisive and productive. Murphy Brown created a national dialogue about women’s issues in a way that no other TV show had ever done.
The show continued to address much of Washington politics and how it wasn’t serving the women that make up 50% of this country. The show became a watchtower and voice for liberal ideals and eagerly pointed out hypocrisy of the conservative nature. It was arguably one-sided, but people were listening and many were applauding. Murphy Brown was speaking for a faction of Americans who had been disenfranchised: women. But Murphy wasn’t just a voice for single women, she became the mouthpiece for many American minority groups who were being maligned by the wave of conservatism that had swept the nation at the time.
If we look at the current state of Washington politics, from the buffoonery of the Trump White House to a legislative body that tries to assemble a healthcare bill, but cannot manage to invite even one woman into the room to be a part of the plan, then we are in a place where we need the voice of Murphy Brown. Many of us look forward to hearing her skewer her vocal opponents with logic, facts, and her no-nonsense style. America needs Murphy Brown now more than ever. CBS knows what it is doing by reopening this glorious Pandora’s Box and letting Murphy do what our current (and real-life) news outlets refuse to do: tell the truth.