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Entertainment Weekly

TV

Murphy Brown: 5 reasons the sitcom lasted 10 years

CBS via Getty Images

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Unless you were one of the millions of viewers who tuned into the CBS comedy from 1988 to 1998, you may not be aware of how Murphy Brown made such an indelible mark on TV and pop culture. And it will be nearly impossible to catch up on Candice Bergen’s portrayal of an investigative TV journalist before CBS brings back the comedy for the 2018-19 season; Warner Bros. TV stopped distributing DVDs of past episodes after 2005 because of low sales and high fees for music rights (English relied on Motown hits to open each episode). To make matters worse, reruns are incredibly difficult to find — they’re only shown on Antenna TV — and aren’t available on any of the streaming providers (something we hope changes now that the sitcom is about to reappear in the zeitgeist).

In the meantime, we’ve got you covered! Here are five reasons Murphy Brown not only lasted a decade, but won so many Emmys that Bergen — who received five herself — finally stopped submitting herself in the annual competition.

1. The pilot. In 1988, creator Diane English introduced audiences to Murphy Brown, a recovering alcoholic who returns to her job at the newsmagazine FYI after a stint at the Betty Ford Clinic. While Mary Tyler Moore paved the way for the comedic portrayal of a single working woman in primetime, Bergen’s alter-ego broke new ground with her reputation as a lippy, 40-something feminist who didn’t suffer fools.

2. The ensemble. Bergen was only as strong as the terrific actors around her, such as Charles Kimbrough as the uptight anchor Jim Deal, Joe Regalbuto as Murphy’s best buddy Frank, Grant Shaud as Murphy’s yuppie (and way-too-young) boss; and Faith Ford as Corky, the perky young anchor who filled in for Murphy while she was in rehab but ended up staying as a lifestyle reporter.

3. Its relevance. One of English’s hallmark achievements on Murphy Brown was deciding how her title character didn’t need to wait for a husband to achieve her dream of becoming a mother. The character gave birth in season 4, which ended with this sentimental moment in the hospital as Murphy sings to her newborn.

4. The politics. Murphy Brown became an unwitting flashpoint in the culture wars in 1992 when then-Vice President Dan Quayle singled out Bergen’s character for “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone.” In a brilliant counterpunch, English worked Quayle’s comments into an episode that made for a hilarious, surreal, and extraordinary half-hour of television.

5. The guest stars. We’re not just talking about Colleen Dewhurst as Murphy’s mom, Jean Stapleton as Miles’ grandmother, or Garry Marshall as the network president. Murphy’s series-long search for the perfect secretary made way for a never-ending parade of guest stars like Sally Field, Don Rickles, and Paul Reubens, culminating with a delicious appearance by Bette Midler in the series finale.

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