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Even 16 years after the fact, for “Murphy Brown” it is still about the baby and the political controversy created by a fictional character’s pregnancy. And the funny thing about it is, none of it was intended.
“It was nothing we reached out for in any way,” said Joe Regalbuto, who played reporter Frank Fontana on the show that in many ways defined the 1990s in America. “We were just doing a show about Candy having a baby, and then all of a sudden this speech came and it put Candy on every front page in the country.”
Regalbuto was referring to Candice Bergen, the star of the show, who joined him and cast members Faith Ford (Corky Sherwood), Charles Kimbrough (Jim Dial) and Grant Shaud (Miles Silverberg) on Wednesday in the TODAY studio as part of the show’s weeklong series “Together Again: TV’s Greatest Casts Reunited.”
Murphy Brown was the unmarried news anchor of the fictional show “FYI,” and when her pregnancy became the story line of the show’s fifth season in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle addressed it during that year’s presidential campaign as an example of what was wrong with America.
“Murphy has baby, Quayle has cow,” laughed Bergen, quoting one of the headlines.
From then on, the show and the cast couldn’t get away from the issue.
“It was endless,” said Kimbrough, who played the role of the self-important anchor Jim Dial. “It went the length of the entire campaign.”
“The interesting thing was, none of us were very political at all,” added Ford, who played the ditzy blond reporter Corky Sherwood. “I certainly wasn’t. I can remember when it all came out, they wanted to get quotes from us. I would look like an idiot. I wouldn’t even know what I would say. We were just having fun.”
Ford said she’s since become fascinated with politics and wishes the show could be resurrected today.
“I’d think it would be so juicy to bring ‘Murphy Brown’ back to see what ‘Murphy Brown’ would do with all the debates and stuff — I’m obsessed with it,” she said.
Her former co-stars joked about the idea, but that was as far as it went. Ford is involved in another sitcom, “Carpooling”; Kimbrough is retired — “I’m doing topiary,” the 71-year-old actor joked — Shaud is still acting; Regalbuto is directing, and Bergen has landed another plum role as Shirley Schmidt on “Boston Legal.”
But no matter what else she does, Bergen will always be best remembered as Murphy Brown. She won five Emmys and two Golden Globes for her portrayal of the archetypal woman of the ’90s.
She was 41 when the show was being cast in 1988, and the network initially wanted Heather Locklear, then in her late 20s, to play Murphy Brown. “Diane English, who created ‘Murphy Brown,’ went in and slapped the head of the network around and said she would prefer to go with someone more mature, so I got it,” Bergen told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira. “But I had to really fight for it.”
With the exception of Shaud, the shallow producer of “FYI” who left after nine years, the entire cast stayed together for the 10 years the show was on, a rarity in television.
On Wednesday, he confessed that looking back, he doesn’t know why he left, although at the time, “I was one probably suffering from a little premature burnout, which I don’t understand because I didn’t get half the lines Candice did. Candice is built for endurance.”
The show’s last season was centered on Murphy’s breast cancer, and such was its influence on American culture that the number of women getting mammograms increased by 30 percent.
“The last season was written especially beautifully and sensitively,” Bergen said. “And we had many breast cancer survivors on the show, actors who were survivors, and every show was very emotional for people on the crew because everybody had been affected by that.”
“Murphy Brown” was still popular when it folded its tent after ten seasons. Vieira asked why they didn’t keep going.
“We didn’t want any of us to be in wheelchairs,” said Ford. “That was our motto: Let’s leave before all of us are in wheelchairs.”