The classic CBS series “Murphy Brown” made the front page of the New York Times in 1992 when it found itself the target of an elected official. And you’d better believe that creator Diane English is betting on the same thing happening again, when the Candice Bergen-starring sitcom returns to CBS this fall.
“We’re hoping,” she told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour about the possibility of Donald Trump responding to the workplace comedy. “Murphy Brown” revisits the sharp-edged television journalist who, in 2018, is now involved with the current climate surrounding the world of cable news. “It’s a great tool for us — we are definitely hoping that he will engage with us,” she said.
In fact, English admitted that the first episode of the revival, which Bergen described as “so ambitious and so fearless,” deliberately attempts to draw Trump’s attention. While English didn’t go into specifics as to what it might do (beyond noting that the episode begins on Election Day 2016, and is followed by a montage catching viewers up on what’s happened since), she did say she’d asked the Warner Bros legal department “if there would be any fallout…I said, ‘Are we going to get sued by the White House?’ And Legal said, ‘oh, we hope so.'”
But English noted that the plan isn’t to just focus on the current sitting president. “We leave the Trump-bashing jokes to the late-night guys — they do it every night,” she said. “We are concentrating on bigger themes — climate change, #MeToo. We’re doing a midterms election show, Russian meddling — these things are not going to not be topical a year from now, so that’s how we’re planning our episodes.”
Set 20 years after the end of the original series, the show’s return will feature the titular protagonist starting a morning show with her one-time coworkers Corky (Faith Ford) and Frank (Joe Regalbuto), while also competing with her now-grown son Avery (Jake McDorman), who is the “liberal voice” on rival network Wolf News (guess what that’s inspired by).
(For those wondering, the passing of Robert Pastorelli, who played Murphy’s longtime handyman Eldin, will be acknowledged by the series.)
Beyond the pilot, English offered up plenty of other details about what’s planned for upcoming episodes. “The second episode is about the press and the press briefing room and what happens in there and how you can’t get the truth,” she said.
Following that, there will be an episode about, in English’s words, “an episode about a sort of Alex Jones/Steve Bannon character composite — do they have him on the show or do they not?”
There’s also the aforementioned #MeToo episode, entitled “#MurphyToo.” English made it clear that the episode will not reflect the currently unfolding Les Moonves scandal at CBS, in part because “we wrote it already — it’s written, it’s to bed, it’s about to be rehearsed.”
But, she said, “it’s not that we’d be afraid to do it — it’s because I think we have a better story to tell, a more interesting story that’s more personal to Murphy.”
Regarding Moonves, English began the TCA session by saying that “on behalf of everybody on our show, we take the allegations of sexual misconduct seriously,” but that in her experience with the network, she had “never experienced any kind of sexual misconduct personally… That is our only comment until the investigation is complete.”
The production team, English said, will be taking advantage of a compressed schedule (with episodes shooting increasingly close to their airdates) to keep the episodes as timely as possible. Plus, English was excited about the fact that “digitally we have the ability to pop in a super-topical joke at the last minute if we really want to.”
While English was excited about returning to the series, she did observe that because of the show’s politics, “I might have to have some protection. I’m not kidding. There are some crazy people out there — we’ve seen more and more of that at the rallies.
“It’s a scary time,” she added.
“Murphy Brown” returns to CBS Thursday, Sept. 27. Watch a video from the cast’s first table read below.