FYI, Murphy Brown is getting in on the TV revival trend and coming back to primetime at the end of this month — and the return of the groundbreaking series couldn’t come at a more opportune moment.
The sitcom, which originally ran from 1988 to 1998, stars Candice Bergen as the title character, a celebrated investigative TV journalist, recovering alcoholic, and independent single woman. The show blew up the ratings, outraged a conservative White House (during its first four years, that is), and earned Bergen enough Emmys — five — that she finally refused to submit herself to be considered for more. Read on for everything you need to know about the revival of one of TV’s first feminist icons.
What’s the show about?
The inimitable Murphy Brown, naturally! The series kicked off with Murphy’s return to the fictional news show FYI, where she’s a star reporter and fearless interviewer, after spending a month in rehab. She comes back to the newsroom to find that she’s got a new boss (Grant Shaud) and co-anchor (Faith Ford).
How can I watch the original series?
Ah, see, that’s the thing. The first 10 seasons aren’t available to stream anywhere, even on CBS’ platform, CBS All Access. You can’t catch it there because, while the show did and will air on the network for the duration of its run, it was technically produced by and is the property of Warner Bros., not CBS.
But that’s not even Murphy Brown’s biggest streaming roadblock. What’s really keeping it from your screen is the series’ legendary soundtrack. The show didn’t have a proper theme song; instead, it opened with different ’60s soul track every week (the pilot kicks off with the Queen of Soul’s “Respect”). Murphy herself is also a major Motown fan, and in the pilot demands to know if her much younger new boss has ever even heard of the Shirelles or Ronettes.
Back when Murphy Brown was first produced, the music rights to use a song in a single episode allowed for its debut, some reruns, maybe syndication — nobody dreamed that TV would live forever via streaming and DVD. Speaking of which, you can’t find the show on discs either. Between the high cost of re-securing all that music and the low profit that the first season yielded when it came out on DVD, the studio gave up on releasing more seasons.
Is the original cast coming back?
You can bet your five Emmys they are! Bergen, Shaud, Ford, and Joe Regalbuto (who played Murphy’s pal Frank Fontana) are all set to reprise their roles in the new season.
Why was Murphy Brown important?
Series creator Diane English never shied away from the close (if fraught) relationship between pop culture and politics, and Murphy Brown’s fearlessness in tackling sensitive subjects made it must-watch TV. The show consistently used Murphy’s position as a journalist to address buzzy contemporary issues, as well as using Murphy’s position as a driven, independent woman to comment on feminist concerns — especially as the ’80s battle over “family values” questioned whether women could “have it all.”
The third season ended with Murphy accidentally becoming pregnant, then deciding to have the baby and raise it by herself. During the 1992 presidential election, in which Republican incumbent George H.W. Bush sought re-election against Bill Clinton, Vice President Dan Quayle famously delivered a speech criticizing Murphy Brown for “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice.”
The VP’s condemnation didn’t hurt ratings; 70 million people tuned in to see Murphy give birth to her “lifestyle choice.” Quayle softened his hard stance on the sitcom by sending a stuffed elephant to Bergen for her character’s baby, but Murphy had the last laugh, going meta and directly addressing the politician’s comments about the character in a mic-drop moment in season 5. (Adding to the sting of defeat in this battle in the culture wars, Bush and Quayle lost the election too.)
Yikes! Will we see Trump-era politics in there this time around?
Without a doubt. English and Bergen promised as much at the Television Critics Association’s press tour this summer, teasing that there will be a #MeToo-themed episode (titled “#MurphyToo”) specifically. And that’s not to mention the heightened stress that comes with Murphy’s particular career path in the age of fake news. “I think it will be reassuring to see Murphy sticking up for the press and sticking up to the president,” Bergen said. The actress added that she’s “trying to brace myself” for a reaction that might be even harsher than accusations of “mocking the importance of fathers.” She shouldn’t worry. If anyone is tough enough to take on some furious POTUS tweets, it’s got to be Murphy Brown.
Murphy Brown returns to CBS on Sept. 27 at 9:30 p.m.