The design of ''Murphy Brown''
”Orange carpet and yellow furniture,” grouses Candice Bergen. ”Sitcoms always made me nauseous.” The star wanted her own show, CBS’ Murphy Brown, to have the slickest, hippest set on TV — and it does, thanks to co-executive producer Diane English, art director Roy Christopher, and set decorator Steve Rostine. ”It’s a very accurate barometer of American design,” says Mark McIntire, an executive at L.A.’s Pacific Design Center, ”traditional shapes against contemporary accessories and lighting.” Bergen says each detail reflects the life and loves of newswoman Murphy — from photos of the Supremes to ”some stuff she got from heads of state and enamored sheiks.” Though the Georgetown town house is understated, Bergen demands ”a lot of toys” for Murphy’s whimsically decorated office, which houses Murphy’s prized Emmy. Bergen broke Murphy’s first Emmy while throwing on a scarf during a first-season rehearsal, says Rostine, who quickly replaced it. He keeps the office fresh with a dozen long-stemmed roses. Between her house and her office, Murphy’s flower bill comes to $200 a week.
At first, Bergen wanted Murphy’s living room to look like the apartment of fellow journalist (and Bergen’s real-life friend) Diane Sawyer — ”half-furnished, with magazines and periodicals thrown around — but that didn’t read on camera.” The final, more elegant setting features a $10,000 sofa (”People call all the time asking where to get one like it,” says Rostine, noting that it’s made by Baker, Knapp & Tubbs) and an antique rug. Bergen has tried to persuade the producers to give Murphy window curtains. ”It looks stark, not realistic,” she says, ”but I rationalize it bu saying Murphy never got around to putting them up.”
The antique ginger jar was a gift from Murphy’s mom (Colleen Dewhurst. ”Murphy bought the snake at an airport when she was bored,” bergen theorizes. Christopher would prefer to lose the critter: It looks like a demented child’s room.”
Murphy, a rabid Redskins fan, forced her convictions on this marble bust of Dante. Besides the titles shown, the shelf includes Compromising Positions, by Susan Isaacs, and The Blood of Abraham, by Jimmy Carter.
A Tiffany lamp (Bergen’s favorite object on the set) is a knockoff, but ”Murphy would have the $40,000 original,” Rostine says. ”She would have bought it at a good price when they were going out of vogue.” A $6,750 statue wears puka-shell beads, and a needlepoint chair comes from a prop house.
A marble bust in Murphy’s living room would set her back $7,500 (thought the producers borrowed it from a Los Angeles prop house). ”Murphy doesn’t collect anything in particular,” Rostine says, ”but she has a real sophisticated eye.”
No, the pictures behind Murphy’s couch are not of a young Candice bergen with her family. They’re all from the Warner prop house, except for the photo of Robert Kennedy. It was Diane English’s idea to have it autographed. ”As a young idealist, Murphy probably worked on his campaign,” she says.
Rostine illuminates Murphy’s vast curiosity by giving her an array of coffee-table art books. The little box ”was a gift from a visiting Chinese dignitary,” says Rostine.
Though Rostine picked up the paint brush/paint can artwork for $25, he theorizes that it’s a gift from Eldin, Murphy’s house paint. The office also contains some gifts from fans, like the Betty Boop painting next to her desk.
The covers of Emmy, Redbook, USA Today, and Harper’s Bazaar are real and the others phony. ”Every time Candice is put on the cover of a magazine, we add to them,” Christopher says.
Behind the desk (a Corbusier knockoff) lies Murphy’s shrine to the Supremes and to Martha and the Vandellas. Says Rostine: ”Sixties girl groups are very important to Murphy.”