On the Set of 'Murphy Brown' as Candice Bergen, Faith Ford Film the Series Finale

Winnie Au
"As [guest star] Charles Kimbrough says [to Murphy in the finale], people of all stripes gather together, are hoisting their glasses and get along. And if they can get along for one night, they can get along in general," says Diane English of offering a finale olive branch after a conflict-heavy season. Kimbrough (second from left) is pictured in a scene at the news team’s haunt Phil’s Bar with Bergen (center), Grant Shaud (left), Faith Ford and Joe Regalbuto.

The Hollywood Reporter goes inside the 2018 finale as the cast and crew filmed an ending without knowing whether the timely reboot would be renewed.

The future of Murphy Brown was still up in the air when the revival from series creator Diane English and star Candice Bergen was filming its finale in New York in November.

Amid a reboot frenzy, CBS brought back Bergen's trailblazing TV journalist and much of the original cast after 20 years off the air. The new iteration of the hit 1990s multicamera comedy from Warner Bros. TV — which re-created Murphy's iconic townhouse at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens — was picked up straight to series and had been one of the most anticipated new shows of the 2018-19 broadcast season.

"It looks like we're coming back — don't believe what you read," said warm-up comedian Joey Kola to the feverish audience at the Nov. 30 finale taping. That day would cap the 13-episode order and usher in a wait-and-see period. It wouldn't be until months later — in May — that the Murphy Brown team would learn their fate: Murphy would not be coming back.

But that day in Queens, as Bergen filmed her final scenes with returning stars Faith Ford (Corky Sherwood), Joe Regalbuto (Frank Fontana) and Grant Shaud (Miles Silverberg), along with an ending moment with newcomer Jake McDorman as onscreen son Avery, the team stood behind their fearless leader with high hopes. "If someone had ever said to me in 1998 when we wrapped that 20 years from now we'd be doing this again, I'd think they'd need to be medicated!" English said of the emotional final shoot. "There were tears. The feeling was, 'Did this just happen, was this a dream?' Because it seemed like it went so fast and we had such a wonderful time doing it."

When Murphy Brown was returning, English and Bergen said they weren't going to shy away from potentially divisive topics in an era of "fake news" accusations from President Trump. The revival saw Murphy and her FYI team, now anchors for Murphy in the Morning, taking a stand on everything from immigration to the midterm elections, while also tackling the #MeToo movement and going after Fox News with "the Wolf Network." But the more celebratory finale saw Avery returning from an assignment in Afghanistan and reuniting with his mother in time for their New Year's Eve family tradition. "We were swinging for the fences from the moment we came back and we felt that, for this last episode, we wanted to extend a bit of an olive branch to warring factions out there in our country," said English of bringing their news characters together for a celebratory and (almost) conflict-free holiday party.

Without a renewal on the table, the finale also had to double as a series-capper. And while Bergen said she remains "incredibly proud of every episode that we did," she was worried about the ratings. "Diane is optimistic about getting OK'd for a second season. I'm less optimistic," Bergen said after wrapping the season.

But Bergen can look back on these 13 episodes with pride, having given fans of the show another chance at spending time with her iconic character. "It's been gratifying to be given these scripts that are so rich," says the star. "I said so many times I could not believe how fearless the writing was. Sitcoms, at their least imaginative, are sort of formulaic — and Murphy is not. And asks the audience to use their brains a little more. We came to play."

This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.