Female journalists who followed in the footsteps of Candice Bergen’s investigative reporter and TV critics agree the CBS show is more relevant than ever.
FYI, Murphy Brown never really left.
The topical CBS sitcom that starred Candice Bergen as a hard-nosed (and hard-headed) investigative reporter and cable news anchor inspired a generation of female journalists before it went off the air 20 years ago with 18 Emmys and three Golden Globes under its belt. So these news women were delighted to hear that the show is being rebooted with its original star and writer/creator Diane English later this year.
Harris Faulkner, co-host of “Outnumbered” and anchor on “Outnumbered Overtime” on FOX News, told Moneyish that she was “on the cusp of my career” when “Murphy Brown” was airing between 1988 and 1998.
“Just knowing there was a woman being portrayed in my dream job in the early 90s as I was coming on board was huge,” said Faulkner, who’s also a working mom like Brown. She has two daughters in third and fifth grade.
“I did learn that stick-to-it-ness and to stick my head up [from ‘Murphy Brown’] because there was another woman showing the world the space that we’re trying to occupy as women in news, and the challenges of that space,” she said. “She was a big player in the newsroom in a time when you didn’t see a lot of women.”
Hoda Kotb, the new co-anchor of the “Today” show with Savannah Guthrie, tweeted “Can’t wait!”
— Hoda Kotb (@hodakotb) January 24, 2018
Martha MacCallum, “The Story” anchor on FOX News, agreed. “Back when the show aired, her career at ‘FYI’ made me want to grow up to be like her: Fearless, principled and fun,” she told Moneyish. She began pulling YouTube clips to relive her favorite moments as soon as she heard the news of the reboot.
“It was the all about Candice Bergen; Her snap, crackle wit and spot-on timing, and also the heartfelt and honest way she dealt with the challenges of balancing your love for your children, with a career you love,” she added. “Interesting that she broke open the conversation that continues today about what makes a family.”
Brown’s appeal crossed over to print media, as well. Veteran newspaper reporter Lisa L. Colangelo, who worked at the New York Daily News before landing at amNewYork, told Moneyish that Brown’s struggle to be a “mom reporter” strengthened her resolved to juggle covering the news in New York City with raising a daughter, now 10.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh I can be like Murphy Brown and just set up my kid in a seat on my desk next to my computer and type away,’” she said. “Gemma came with me to work a ton (even thought I had a sitter and then preschool), and she went to assignments in carriages and strollers, and she has been playing with reporters’ pads since she was an infant.”
It wasn’t easy, of course – a point Brown often hammered home on the show. “Kids need a lot of attention … so you either feel like you aren’t being a good enough reporter, or a good enough mom,” added Colangelo. “Being aware that Murphy Brown had a kid and was struggling to be a mom reporter definitely resonated, even if it was 10 years before I became a mom.”
While some audience members are rolling their eyes at yet another broadcast TV reboot — NBC brought back “Will & Grace” last fall, and ABC resumed “Roseanne” — CBS noted that the current focus on women’s issues, including equal pay and sexual harassment at work, and the country’s fraught political climate, make “Murphy Brown” more relevant than ever.
“This was a very topical sitcom that struck a major chord with viewers. [Writer] Diane English addressed things happening in the world at the time, like cost of living, being a single parent,” Marc Berman, editor-in-chief of Programming Insider, told Moneyish. “And considering the political climate now, and the fact that women are anchoring the morning news on NBC and CBS, it makes perfect sense to bring it back now.”
The sitcom balanced humor with button-pushing issues, such as Brown returning to work after being treated for alcoholism, her battling breast cancer at the series’ end – and, of course, getting pregnant out of wedlock and raising the child on her own. That caught Vice President Dan Quayle’s attention during the 1992 presidential election, when he chastised Bergen’s character for “mocking the importance of fathers, by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another ‘lifestyle choice'” which he claimed was responsible for “a poverty of values” across the country.
The show had the balls to respond by playing a clip of the actual speech before Bergen/Brown gave the most meta response of all time on her fictional news show: “While some might argue that attacking my status as a single mother was nothing more than a cynical bid of election year posturing, I prefer to give the vice president the benefit of the doubt,” she said. “These are difficult times for our country and in searching for the causes of our social ills, we could choose to blame the media, or the Congress, or an administration that’s been in power for 12 years. Or, we could blame me.” She then introduced a diverse array of single-parent families.
Imagine the field day that “Murphy Brown” could have with today’s Twitter-happy presidential administration. Or with Twitter, period.
“That was such an anomaly, it was so unusual that someone in the White House, at the top level of government, would be paying this kind of micro-attention to pop culture. And the show gleefully exploited it,” David Hinckley, former television columnist for the New York Daily News, told Moneyish. “So one could imagine how they would extrapolate it today.”
Berman agreed. “People who watched the show 20 or 30 years ago want to know, What is she going to say in this Trump administration? How are they going to deal with “fake news” and #MeToo and the way news is gathered today?” he said.
Plus, Hinckley noted that, “The news is ‘news’ now, and how news is gathered, and whether it’s accurate or fair,” he told Moneyish. “One of the things ‘Murphy Brown’ was always about was how the sausage got made, which makes it perfect for the conversation we’re having now. And the bottom line is, for all of the zaniness of the show, the Murphy Brown character really cared about the news, and about getting it right.”
That’s something that current and future generations of women journos can appreciate. “And since we’re in an age of women speaking up, and people are listening to them, it will be interesting to see how they move the conversation with and by women forward,” added Faulkner. “I’ll be watching for that.”
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