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Murphy Brown

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Final episode date
18 May 1998



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Written by
Diane Englishand others

Directed by
Joe RegalbutoBarnet KellmanLee ShallatPeter BonerzAlan Rafkinand others

Candice BergenAlso StarringPat CorleyFaith FordCharles KimbroughRobert PastorelliJoe RegalbutoGrant ShaudWithLily TomlinJohn Hostetter


Murphy Brown is an American sitcom which aired on CBS from November 14, 1988, to May 18, 1998, for a total of 247 episodes. The program starred Candice Bergen as the eponymous Murphy Brown, a famous investigative journalist and news anchor for FYI, a fictional CBS television newsmagazine.


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The first two seasons of the show received favorable reviews from critics. The second season received universal acclaim with a Metacritic rating of 100 out of 100 based on 5 reviews. It is the only series to receive a score of 100 on the website.

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The program was well known for stories inspired by current events and its political satire. It achieved a high level of cultural notoriety in the 1992 presidential campaign when Dan Quayle mentioned the show in a campaign speech, afterwards known as the "Murphy Brown speech".

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The show began in the Monday 9/8 p.m. timeslot and remained there until its final season when it was moved to Wednesday at 8:30/7:30 p.m. The series finale aired in its original Monday timeslot.

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The show did not have a regular opening theme song, but would instead play a different classic Motown song over the opening credits each week.

Cast and characters

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Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) is a recovering alcoholic, who, in the show's first episode, returns to the fictional newsmagazine FYI for the first time following a stay at the Betty Ford Clinic. Over 40 and single, she is sharp-tongued and hard as nails. In her profession, she is considered one of the boys, having shattered any glass ceilings encountered during her career. Dominating the FYI news magazine, she is portrayed as one of America's hardest-hitting (though not the warmest or more sympathetic) media personalities.

Her colleagues at FYI include stuffy veteran anchor Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough), who affectionately addresses Murphy as "Slugger" and reminisces about the glory days of Murrow and Cronkite. Murphy's best friend and sometime competitor is investigative reporter Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), the only person who addresses her as "Murph". Though a daredevil reporter, insecurities regarding fame and (especially) his personal relationships have him in psychotherapy for the majority of the series. In early seasons, there was a running gag about Frank's toupée, which he hated, but which producers insisted he wear on the show.

Also present are the two newest members of the FYI team introduced to Murphy. A new executive producer was appointed during her stay at Betty Ford: Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud), a yuppie overachiever who was 25 and fresh from public television. Naive and neurotic despite his lightning intellect, Miles is the perfect object for Murphy's skewering wit. Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) was Murphy's replacement during her "sabbatical". A former Miss America from the (fictional) town of Neebo, Louisiana, Corky is the bane of the other journalists with her perky, relentlessly sunny personality—and utter lack of sophistication when it comes to world affairs. Due to overwhelming audience reaction, management decides to retain Corky's services after Murphy's return, usually assigning her to lifestyle pieces or lightweight celebrity profiles.

Shaud left at the end of the ninth season, and his character was replaced during season 10 by veteran TV producer Kay Carter-Shepley (Lily Tomlin). Kay did not have a background in journalism, but instead had made a career as a producer of game shows.

The FYI team also frequently socializes at Phil's, a bar-and-grill across the street from their office/studio in Washington, D.C. Phil, the bar owner, was played by Pat Corley. Phil's was portrayed as a Washington institution, whose owner knew everything about everybody who had ever been anybody in the capital—ranging from what brand of lingerie J. Edgar Hoover preferred to the identity of Deep Throat (unknown to the public at the time of the series' production). In a running gag during early seasons, whenever someone entered Phil's (casting bright sunlight from the open door into the dark, murky bar), the patrons would all shout in unison "close the door!".

Brown was unmarried, but had a home life as well: she hired a laid-back, New Age philosophy-dispensing house painter named Eldin Bernecky (Robert Pastorelli) to repaint her house. He had so many grand ideas that he was in her employ for six seasons. Being a highly talented artist, his renovations were often delayed when struck by the urge to paint socially-relevant murals throughout the house. The character of Eldin was based on real life painter Gabe Kis, New York City's Painter to the Stars.

In 2010, Murphy Brown was ranked #25 on the TV Guide Network special, 25 Greatest TV Characters of All Time.

Recurring characters

A number of recurring characters also appeared during the show's run:

  • John Hostetter played John, the unflappable stage manager in 62 episodes.
  • Janet Carroll appeared as Doris Dial, anchorman Jim Dial's equally stoic, but kind-hearted wife, in several episodes. In the final season the role of Doris was portrayed by Concetta Tomei.
  • Jay Thomas appeared in several episodes as tabloid talk show host Jerry Gold, who became a friend of Murphy's and an occasional love interest, despite their significantly different journalistic values.
  • Colleen Dewhurst appeared in a number of episodes as Murphy's opinionated museum curator mother, Avery Brown. Dewhurst won two Emmy Awards for her appearances. When Dewhurst died in 1991, the writers chose to have her character die as well, and dedicated the episode to the memory of Dewhurst. Murphy, who was pregnant at the time of her mother's death, named her son Avery in her mother's memory the following season.
  • Darren McGavin appeared in several episodes as Murphy's driven father, newspaper publisher Bill Brown. Bill shared an adversarial relationship with his ex-wife Avery—especially after marrying a fresh-faced twentysomething who taught yoga. McGavin earned an Emmy nomination in 1990 for his performance as Bill Brown.
  • Scott Bakula appeared as reporter (and occasional love interest for Murphy) Peter Hunt.
  • Jane Leeves appeared in a number of episodes as Miles' girlfriend Audrey Cohen. Though they were headed for marriage, the relationship ended when Leeves joined the cast of Frasier as Martin Crane's physiotherapist and Niles' love interest, Daphne.
  • Robin Thomas appeared as Jake Lowenstein, underground leftist radical and Murphy's ex-husband. Murphy and Jake had another brief relationship during season three, which resulted in Jake becoming the father of her child.
  • Christopher Rich played Miller Redfield, an empty-headed, pretty-boy reporter with a local affiliate who had semi-regular appearances on the show, first as a substitute anchor when Jim was on leave, and also when the team went on strike.
  • Paula Cale appeared as McGovern, a conservative young reporter based on MTV's Kennedy. She was added to the program when management tried to appeal to a younger demographic.
  • Alan Oppenheimer appeared as news-division executive Gene Kinsela.
  • Garry Marshall appeared as micro-managing network president Stan Lansing. His frequent and impromptu whims were the bane of the staff.
  • Rose Marie appeared as Frank Fontana's mother.
  • Paul Reubens appeared in several episodes as Lansing's sociopathic nephew Andrew J. Lansing, III. He is introduced as one of Murphy's 93 secretaries du jour and, with Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace), was one of only two who measure up to Murphy's standards. Like Carol, Andrew is lured away from Murphy by another job by the end of the episode; in his case, he is promoted to a network executive position through nepotism. He periodically appears in later episodes in that capacity, mostly as his uncle's "black-ops" expert.
  • Marian Seldes appeared as Murphy's eccentric and often-married aunt Brooke.
  • In the show's final seasons, when the younger Avery Brown was of school age, he was portrayed by Haley Joel Osment, replacing child actor Dyllan Christopher.
  • Julius Carry appeared as Mitchell Baldwin, the new boss who replaced Gene Kinsela. Baldwin, an African American, used the team's liberal-Caucasian guilt to railroad through changes in FYI's format and content.
  • Wallace Shawn appeared as Stuart Best, a former FYI reporter who annoyed Murphy, Jim, and Frank to the point that the three colluded to have him fired – twice. After the second firing, Stuart returned as a hopelessly inept party-line politician who invariably broke down under even the most sympathetic questions by Murphy while on-air.
  • Jean Stapleton appeared as Miles' grandmother, Nana Silverberg.
  • The early seasons

    The first season saw Murphy relearning her job without the use of two crutches—alcohol and cigarettes. In the pilot episode, she complained the only vice she had left herself was chewing yellow number-two pencils. It also set up the series-long running gag of Murphy's battles with the off-beat and sometimes downright bizarre characters that were sent by Personnel to act as her secretary, none of whom ever last for more than an episode.

    Action was divided between the FYI suite of offices and Murphy's Georgetown townhouse. Reality often blended with fiction with the many cameos of then-current media and political personalities. The most prominent was when Murphy Brown was asked to guest star as herself in the pilot of a sitcom entitled Kelly Green, about a female investigative journalist. Life imitated art when, after a less-than stellar performance, Murphy was berated by television journalist Connie Chung (herself in a Murphy Brown cameo appearance) for crossing the line and compromising her credibility.

    Subsequent seasons saw the emergence of story arcs involving network politics with Gene Kinsella, Frank and Murphy's rivalry and Eldin's ongoing infatuation with Corky. A standout event was Miss Sherwood's marriage to Louisiana lawyer Will Forrest. During the brief engagement, a horrified Corky comes to the realization that she will now be "Corky Sherwood-Forrest". In the wedding episode, maid-of-honor Murphy, dressed as an antebellum belle in a hoop-skirted nightmare of a bridemaid's dress, rages her way through the entire affair while thwarting the press's attempts to photograph the nuptials (mirroring the Sean Penn/Madonna wedding a few years earlier).

    Murphy becomes a single mother

    In the show's 1991–92 season, Murphy became pregnant. When her baby's father (ex-husband and current underground radical Jake Lowenstein) expressed his unwillingness to give up his own lifestyle to be a parent, Murphy chose to have the child and raise it alone. Another major fiction-reality blending came at Murphy's baby shower: the invited guests were journalists Katie Couric, Joan Lunden, Paula Zahn, Mary Alice Williams and Faith Daniels, who treated the fictional Murphy and Corky as friends and peers.

    At the point where she was about to give birth, she had stated that "several people do not want me to have the baby. Pat Robertson; Phyllis Schlafly; half of Utah!" Right after giving birth to her son, Avery, Murphy sang the song "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman". This storyline made the show a subject of political controversy during the 1992 American presidential campaign. On May 19, 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. During his speech, he criticized the Murphy Brown character for "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone".

    Quayle's remarks caused a public discussion on family values, culminating in the 1992–93 season premiere, "You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato", where the television characters reacted to Quayle's comments and produced a special episode of FYI showcasing and celebrating the diversity of the modern American family. Because Quayle's actual speech made little reference to Murphy Brown's fictional nature (other than the use of the word character), the show was able to use actual footage from his speech to make it appear that, within the fictional world of the show, Quayle was referring to Murphy Brown personally, rather than to the fictional character. At the end, Brown helps organize a special edition of FYI focusing on different kinds of families then arranges a retaliatory prank in which a truckload of potatoes is dumped in front of Quayle's residence, while a disc jockey commenting on the incident notes the Vice President should be glad people were not making fun of him for misspelling "fertilizer", (On June 15, 1992, at a spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey, Quayle had erroneously corrected an elementary school student's spelling of "potato" to "potatoe".) When Candice Bergen won another Emmy that year, she thanked Dan Quayle. The feud was cited by E! as #81 on its list of "101 Reasons the '90s Ruled."

    In 2002, Bergen said in an interview that she personally agreed with much of Quayle's speech, calling it "a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable" and adding that "nobody agreed with that more than I did."

    Quayle eventually displayed a sense of humor about the incident—after the controversy died down, he appeared for an interview on an independent Los Angeles TV station and for his final question was asked what his favorite TV show was. He responded with "Murphy Brown—Not!" The station later used the clip of Quayle's response to promote its showing of Murphy Brown re-runs in syndication.

    Quayle's complaint notwithstanding, prime-time TV in 1992 was "boosting family values more aggressively than it has in decades,” wrote Time magazine critic Richard Zoglin, citing everything from Home Improvement to Roseanne. Murphy Brown was worth highlighting in a vice-presidential speech "not because it represented the state of television and the culture in general" but because Murphy's choice of single motherhood departed from it. The show has been seen as blazing a trail for single-mother characters in Ally McBeal, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives, and The Good Wife - and "benefited from Bergen’s character going through a political maelstrom so none of them had to."

    More recently, Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer approached Bergen and her daughter at an event, telling her daughter that "your mom is the reason I'm here."

    Later years

    The fifth season continued after the departure of series-creator and show-runner Diane English. Murphy's struggles with parenthood were highlighted, as were the revolving-door of nanny characters mirroring her office tribulations. Corky's marriage unraveled and ended in divorce as she and Will grew apart. (Right before the wedding, Forrest had decided to abandon the practice of law and follow his true calling—creative writing.) This tragedy saw Corky become less the Pollyanna as she began to model herself after role-model Murphy.

    The show went on, and FYI featured several changes in on- and off-camera staff: Peter Hunt, McGovern and Miller Redfield temporarily joined the regulars at the anchor desk. The network moved FYI to a new studio with a trendy exterior "Window on America". A significant story-arc saw the network squelch an FYI expose on the tobacco industry, leading to the resignation of first Dial, then the remainder of the cast. They all went to work reorganizing the poorly-performing news division of a fledging network. In the end, Miles faced down the network; the "suits" relented, the staffers returned and the story aired. For his courage in standing up to the network brass, Miles was promoted to the news division's headquarters in New York—to the detriment of his new marriage to Corky.

    As well, after years of working as her housepainter, and later nanny, Eldin (who was seen increasingly infrequently after season 5) left Murphy's employ during season 7 to study painting in Spain. (Actor Robert Pastrorelli left Murphy Brown for his own starring vehicle, the sitcom Double Rush, which lasted one season in 1995.)

    By the start of the 1996–97 season, viewership was beginning to decline. Shaud left the series and comedian Lily Tomlin was brought in to replace him in the role of executive producer Kay Carter-Shepley to help bolster the sitcom's ratings. Kay proved that she had just as little journalistic experience as Miles Silverberg when he started with the show; the only experience Kay had in television—in spite of her venerable connections—was producing daytime game shows. Where Murphy had terrorized the younger Miles, the Machiavellian Kay often emerged victorious in her dealings with Murphy. Tomlin remained with the series for its last two years but ratings continued to drop, especially after a move off of Monday nights in favor of a slot on Wednesday nights. CBS did renew Murphy Brown for a tenth season, which was to be its last.

    In the fall of 1997, the final season premiered and the entire season served as a story arc in which Murphy battled breast cancer. The storyline was not without controversy; an episode in which she used medical marijuana to relieve side effects of chemotherapy was attacked by conservative groups, and a women's health group protested an episode in which Murphy, while shopping for prosthetic breasts, uttered the line "Should I go with Demi Moore or Elsie the Cow?"

    However, the show's handling of the subject was credited with a 30 percent increase in the number of women getting mammograms that year, and Bergen was presented an award from the American Cancer Society in honor of her role in educating women on the importance of breast cancer prevention and screening.

    In the show's final episode, Murphy met and interviewed God (played by Alan King) and Edward R. Murrow in a dream while undergoing surgery. Computer editing was used to insert footage of the real Murrow, who died in 1965, into the show. Diane English, who created the show, made a cameo appearance as a nurse who delivered the results to Murphy after her surgery. At the end of the episode, Murphy walks through her house seemingly alone, only to have Eldin appear at the end, offering to "touch-up" her house.


    FYI (For Your Information) is a fictional news broadcast anchored by Jim Dial and Murphy Brown. Regular segments include political interviews conducted by Brown, commentaries offered by Dial, celebrity or "fluff" news stories delivered by Corky Sherwood, and field investigations undertaken by Frank Fontana. The show was originally anchored by Dial, Brown, Fontana, and Stuart Best. Best offered a segment called "All's I Know", though he departed after six episodes. During Brown's temporary absence in 1986 she was replaced by Sherwood, who was later retained full-time. Temporary anchors throughout the series include Miller Redfield, who replaced Jim Dial during his temporary departure in 1995, Jerry Gold, and Peter Hunt.

    Front & Center

    Front & Center with Murphy Brown and Miller Redfield is a fictional panel show featuring critical commentary offered by FYI co-anchor Murphy Brown and former FYI correspondent Miller Redfield. Brown was initially contracted to work alongside Walter Cronkite, who dropped out pre-production. The series ran from 1995-1996.

    Nielsen ratings

  • Season 1 (1988–89): #36 (14.9 million viewers)
  • Season 2 (1989–90): #27 (14.7)
  • Season 3 (1990–91): #6 (16.9)
  • Season 4 (1991–92): #3 (18.6)
  • Season 5 (1992–93): #4 (17.9)
  • Season 6 (1993–94): #9 (16.3)
  • Season 7 (1994–95): #16 (14.1)
  • Season 8 (1995–96): #18 (12.3)
  • Season 9 (1996–97): #35 (11.9)
  • Season 10 (1997–98): #86 (9.9 million) [1]
  • Series High: 35.9 million viewers; 29.2 rating (9/21/92) | Series Low: 8.9 million viewers; 5.4 rating (5/4/98)

    DVD releases

    Warner Home Video released the first season of Murphy Brown on DVD in Region 1 on February 8, 2005. Due to low sales and high music costs, no future releases are planned. Should a surge in sales arise, however, the studio would "happily consider" releasing additional season sets.


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