'Murphy Brown': THR's 1988 Review

Murphy Brown S01 Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Photofest

Murphy Brown S01 Still - H 2015

On Nov. 14, 1988, CBS debuted a new half-hour sitcom, Murphy Brown, during the 9 p.m. hour. The Hollywood Reporter's original take, published in a TeleVisions column, is below. 

Passing in Review: Murphy Brown (Monday, 9-9:30 p.m., CBS) Candice Bergen stars as Murphy Brown, hot-shot broadcast journalist and Betty Ford out-patient who chews No. 2 soft pencils for lunch and goes through secretaries like a rotary mower ingests swamp grass. She’s the kind of all-work, little-play sort of gal who finds it easier to get the secretary of state on the phone than her house painter, a reporter who wears her integrity on her sleeve and sings Motown songs at top volume.

In short, Murphy is one clever cookie, surpassed only by Bergen’s portrayal of the woman. She supplies just the right amount of hard temper with soft emotion to make Murphy Brown likable in spite of all her self-centered composition. Bergen doesn’t play comedy — like Roseanne Barr or Jackee. Rather, the role becomes comedy because she takes everything so seriously while those around her mug and strut their stuff.

There’s Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud) – at 25, Brown’s new executive producer. When she asks him if he knows who The Shirelles are he says, “Give me time. I’ve only been here a week.” There’s her new co-anchor, a former Miss America-by-default, who thinks Cambodia is a soap; pompous co-anchor Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough) with an egotistical demeanor and a personality to match; plus, Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), a good investigative reporter when he can force himself away from the betting pool; and Pat Corley as Phil, the Irish owner of the local pub.

Co-executive producer Diane English has written a gem of an opening script for Brown, one riddled with absurdity for its laughs, and fine-tuned by director Barnet Kellman, who savors his setups like a glass of Perrier-Jouet poured from a flower bottle. The plot finds Murphy facing an interview with Bobby Powell (Tony Goldwyn), a man who’s compromised a married woman who just happens to be running for vice president. The single stipulation: Don’t ask about the affair. It’s a little like asking Bill Cosby not to eat Jell-O Pudding Pops.

Surprises abound in an unpredictable storyline that should launch Murphy Brown as a welcome addition to CBS’ Monday night comedy lineup. Moreover, it proves the network is still capable of developing a funny half-hour. After The Van Dyke Show and Raising Miranda, we had serious doubts. — Richard Hack