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This story first appeared in the Sept. 21 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
When Candice Bergen auditioned for the role of tough-as-nails newswoman/recovering alcoholic Murphy Brown (a performance that would land her five Emmys, earn her feminist-icon status and cause her to become a political punching bag for then-Vice President Dan Quayle), CBS wanted to go in another direction — a younger direction.
But Diane English, who created the Monday night staple, could picture only Bergen, a former fashion model who was then 42, in the title role. “Diane had to go to the mat to get me cast,” recalls Bergen, now 66. “They didn’t want me at all.” As the showrunner tells it: “The character was 40, and they were hoping we would cast somebody 30. And ’40 and beyond’ was really what this was about, so it was a bit of an argument.”
Murphy Brown debuted Nov. 14, 1988, and ran for a decade, during which the sitcom won 18 Emmy statuettes, including two for outstanding comedy series (1990, 1992) and one for English for outstanding writing in a comedy series for the initial season. “It wouldn’t have become the hit that it was without Candice in it,” says English, 64, who credits her longtime friend for much of the show’s success.
However, the series, which never shied from sensitive issues, was not without its share of controversy and became a cultural lightning rod during its tenure. Before the 1992 presidential election, Quayle homed in on the show’s popularity during a now-infamous Republican campaign speech in which he protested the title character’s decision to have a child as an unmarried woman, pointing to the program as evidence of the country’s “poverty of values.” Says Bergen, “Neither of us have ever met him,” before adding with a smile, “and we’re happy to leave it that way.”
Bergen went on to earn Emmy noms in 2006 and 2008 for her portrayal of no-nonsense lawyer Shirley Schmidt on David E. Kelley‘s Boston Legal, and English executive produced Love & War, a CBS sitcom that aired from 1992 to 1995. Today, nearly a quarter-century after Murphy Brown debuted, English and Bergen remain close. “We hit it off from day one on the show,” says English. “It was like casting my soulmate.”
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