11:39am PT by Michael O'Connell
'Murphy Brown' Tackling #MeToo, Fox News and the War on the Press
Murphy Brown isn't returning just to poke fun at Donald Trump. It's not that the president's name will be any stranger to the upcoming CBS reboot, but, when discussing the 13-episode revival for the first time publicly, creator Diane English said that her top priority is tackling current events and the culture's present disdain for the press.
"Our show has always been in the real world, but I'm focusing the show through the prism of the press," she told reporters Sunday morning at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour. "The First Amendment is under attack like we've never seen it before."
It'll hardly be a stretch for the series, which again follows the titular TV journalist (Candice Bergen) and a politically focused Washington newsroom. The original run, which aired from 1988-1998, regularly targeted (or welcomed) real-life political figures from the H.W. Bush and Clinton years.
The new Murphy Brown, which has reassembled original stars Bergen, Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto and Grant Shaud, kicked off production on July 24, with its first episode taping in New York just before the weekend. English was not shy in delivering a few details about how the show will look, simultaneously getting ahead of any questions about CBS Corp. CEO Leslie Moonves by addressing the sexual harassment investigation at the top of the panel.
"Regarding the New Yorker article that appeared a couple days ago, we take the allegations of sexual misconduct extremely seriously — so seriously that we developed an episode about the #MeToo movement months ago," said English. Speaking with a smaller group after the panel, she clarified that Moonves would not be alluded to in the episode, which is currently slated as the fourth of the season: "It's written. It's to bed. It's about to be rehearsed. It's not that we would be afraid to do it, it's just that I think we have a better story to tell — a more interesting story that's more personal to Murphy."
In addition to #MeToo, the initial episodes will focus on the characters' decision to return to TV during the Trump presidency, frustrations in the White House press briefing room, the struggles of a DACA recipient, a debate over whether or not to interview an Alex Jones/Steve Bannon-type character and, as previously implied, Fox News — here subbed in as "Wolf News." Murphy's adult son, now played by Jake McDorman, will be the lone liberal voice on the conservative network — a recurring storyline on the new show.
Original series star Charles Kimbrough, the only one not returning as a regular, was also confirmed to be making multiple appearances. English said that he's confirmed for three episodes, but the New York shoot kept him from doing more. (She also hinted a "enormously famous person" guesting in the first episode, but would not say who it is.)
One thing English seemed quick to stress was how much the reboot is going to strive to stay topical, despite shooting early episodes months before airing. "We actually stopped developing stories because we don't want to get too far ahead," she said. "As we get into our production schedule, it becomes more and more compressed. We air three weeks from the time we shoot the show. By the time we get to our last episode, our turnaround time is six days. So we'll take advantage of that."
When pushed about Trump, English downplayed how many jokes will be at the expense of the president.
"We'll leave that to the late-night guys," English said backstage at TCA. "We are concentrating on bigger themes — climate change, #MeToo, Russian meddling. These things aren't going to not be topical a year from now, so that's how we're planning our episodes. Digitally, we have the ability to pop in a super-topical joke at the last minute if we wanted to."