On Nov. 14, 1988, viewers met a different kind of television reporter … snarky, edgy and just out of Betty Ford Center rehab.
The sitcom “Murphy Brown,” now exactly 25 years old, earned title star Candice Bergen five Emmy Awards over its decade-long CBS run. The show will make a weeknight comeback when the premium-cable channel Encore Love is converted into Encore Classic on Monday, Dec. 2, and Bergen couldn’t be more pleased about it.
“Finally!” she tells Zap2it. “I have no idea why it’s taken so long. I was always told it was because the music rights were so expensive, because every episode opened with a Motown song. I’m thrilled it’s going back on — and without commercials, which is lovely. I barely watched the show in its last five years, so I haven’t seen it in a long time.”
Famously raising the ire of then-Vice President Dan Quayle over Murphy’s single parenthood, “Murphy Brown” often referenced personalities and events of the time. “I think that was one reason they thought it wouldn’t syndicate well abroad,” Bergen says,”because it was so pegged to current events. But in America, I think people will really embrace reliving some of those moments.”
As iconic as she became as Murphy, Bergen maintains “nobody would have said that at the time” she was cast at the insistence of series creator-producer Diane English. “The network really didn’t want me. They wanted another, younger kind of Murphy, and Diane just went to the mat for me. That’s the only reason I got the part.
“I did a reading for CBS that just tanked. It was horrible. The head of the network closed the drapes electronically and I was under an overhead light, reading comedy. It was like an interrogation room, and I was utterly inexperienced. I had never done theater or [series] television. and it was a completely new beast for me.”
Still, the tryout had a positive result for Bergen. “We all left the office and Diane said, ‘I’ll see you in a couple of minutes,'” Bergen says. “She took the arm of the network executive and I saw him go, ‘Oh, s***,’ and they walked back into his office. She told him, ‘This is as important to us as it is to you, and we really feel she can do this.’ Then he came out and said, ‘Congratulations, Murphy.’ But he was not happy about it.”
As the 2012 election approached, there was talk of “Murphy Brown” being revived … but “only if Sarah Palin had run,” Bergen notes. “And Diane said, ‘Only six episodes. That’s all I need.’ That would have been so much fun. Like ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘Murphy’ was at its best in covering hardcore political events and getting some people from politics onto the show. That was really fun for us.”
Bergen guest-stars on the Thanksgiving episode of NBC’s “The Michael J. Fox Show” Thursday, Nov. 21. The episode reunites with her long-ago “11 Harrowhouse” movie co-star Charles Grodin as the parents of another TV reporter — Mike Henry (Fox). She was glad to be back on a sitcom stage, particularly having fond memories of her own series set.
“It was just a dream ensemble, really not a bad apple in the bunch,” Bergen reflects of “Murphy Brown” co-stars Faith Ford (reporter Corky Sherwood), Joe Regalbuto (investigative journalist Frank Fontana), Charles Kimbrough (anchorman Jim Dial) and Grant Shaud (producer Miles Silverberg).
“We bonded so quickly, we would take ski trips together,” Bergen says. “They were all the best. I still talk to Faith, and I’m always thrilled to see them again.
“Five years is a long time, but 10 … the show shouldn’t have gone that long, That was probably not smart, but it’s very hard to pull the plug on something you’ve been with from the beginning. You get to know people well. Even though it’s great fun to do a half-hour comedy, it’s very intense.”