The Reboot of Murphy Brown Shows Audiences There’s Plenty New to Say About the News
In 1988, Murphy Brown represented for many American women the rare opportunity to see the story of an ambitious woman on television. As the star reporter of a newsmagazine television show, Murphy stood out among a late 90’s sitcom landscape that more often depicted women as the hot girlfriends or eye-rolling wives of male leads. Murphy showcased a woman in charge who was good at her job.
The remount of Murphy Brown opens with a montage of the 2016 election — almost a mission statement for the series, or perhaps a raison d’être for the show’s return. Murphy (Candice Bergen) awakens, clad in a Nasty Woman sweatshirt, shocked to see that Donald Trump has won the election. “Angry women drink a lot of chardonnay,” a bartender later wryly observes, as Murphy sips a coffee after protesting at the Women’s March. Her old pals quickly arrive, and they recap what’s happened in their lives since the original run concluded in 1997. Murphy’s retired, Corky’s (Faith Ford) been fired, and Frank (Joe Regalbuto) is still enjoying the fruits of being an aging white man — he still has a job, albeit teaching. It doesn’t take long for the gang to decide it’s time to revive their show. The conflict? Murphy’s now 28-year-old son is hosting a new show too, in the same time slot.
The only member of the club left to round up before going live is Miles, the fearless former producer of FYI. He’s been traumatized by two years working on The View, but rallies and agrees to helm Murphy’s first foray into cable news television.
Murphy has a lot to contend with in the digital news landscape, both in the fictional world of the show and in how viewers of the show will interact with it. The young social media manager is shocked and amused to discover Murphy still carries a flip phone. She’ll need a Twitter account to be a television personality too. Later, the episode neatly depicts the crossover between broadcast news and online interaction — an impressive move for a show that started before audience participation was an integral part of the entertainment lifecycle.
Murphy Brown’s original run frequently featured special guest cameos from news and political personalities, and the remount doesn’t shy away from the same. A hilarious guest spot brings back the running gag of Murphy Brown’s revolving door of secretaries — she interviews Hillary Clinton playing Hilary Clinton (“it’s spelled with one ‘L’,” Clinton prompts).
It’s a crowded remount landscape — 90’s hits from Will and Grace to Roseanne (one of Murphy’s better jokes pokes at the latter, canceled due to controversial tweets from its star) have proliferated primetime as networks yearn for the viewership those decades-old hits drew.
“You can’t hide from the world, you’ve got to try and change it,” Murphy says early on in this inaugural episode. And it’s true. While sometimes preachy, the pilot of the Murphy Brown remake is clear in its mission: to depict and satirize a news environment that is increasingly less about integrity. “There’s a difference between good television and journalism,” Murphy reminds us, and it’s an important reminder.
Murphy Brown continues Thursday nights at 9:30 ET on CBS.