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‘Laughter reaches every demographic,’ says creator of new ‘Murphy Brown’

“Murphy Brown,” a hit situation comedy of the late 80’s and 90’s, is back in a reboot. Original star Candice Bergen and creator, writer and producer Diane English reinvented the program to reflect today’s tumultuous media and political climate. Judy Woodruff visited its New York City set last week and found out what inspired the new show and how it will approach the hot-button issues of today.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Last night, the hit comedy "Murphy Brown" of the late '80s and '90s came back to life in a reboot. During the original run, one half-hour episode drew 70 million viewers.

    I visited their Washington, D.C., cable newsroom set in a New York City studio last week to see how times have changed and how some things are still the same.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    This is the bullpen of their morning show called "Murphy in the Morning."

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    During the new "Murphy Brown" set in Queens with 72-year-old Candice Bergen, I saw how her defining role, as straight-talking TV newswoman Murphy Brown, has stayed with her all these years, and how today's storyline is written to be on top of the news.

    There are some things that are exactly like what they were.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    They have gotten as close as possible to the original set that was 3,000 miles away and 30 years ago.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    It was clear that Murphy Browns Georgetown living room have been updated with the times too, complete with journalist Bob Woodward's latest bestseller about the Trump White House, "Fear."

    I sat down there with Bergen, who received five Emmy Awards for her role, and creator/writer/producer Diane English.

    So, what made you think bringing it back was a great idea? Where did this come from?

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    It came from Hillary losing.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    Yes. We wouldn't have really entertained the idea of coming back if she had won the election.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, last night, the program brought on a surprise guest.

  • HILLARY CLINTON:

    Hello. I'm here to interview for the secretarial position.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    Hillary?

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    Yes, Hillary. Hillary Clinton.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    I assume you have had previous secretarial experience?

  • HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON:

    Absolutely. For four years, I was the secretary — I was a secretary of a very large organization.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • HILLARY CLINTON:

    Let me give you my card. Thank you.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    Hillary@youcouldhavehadme.com.

    (LAUGHTER)

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you feel you have a mission in what you're doing?

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    We're not fanatics, if that what you're getting at.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    I think that America would — would welcome hearing another point of view.

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    We're living in a country right now that is so divided. And it's not our intention to cause more division.

    But I think that facts really go missing. And that's a lot of what we're doing on the show, is really kind of presenting the facts.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How has Murphy changed over these 20 years after?

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    As news and entertainment began to merge, I think she felt it was time to step down. But retirement didn't really sit well.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    She doesn't like the hours of her new show, which require her to get up in the darkness and go to bed in blazing sunlight.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    But she just hated being out of the game.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And the game today, it's similar in some ways, but it's also very different, isn't it, in a news environment.

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    The press was very revered at that time. And our characters are members of the press. And now they're just being assaulted with fake news and enemy of the people.

    I mean, it's kind of horrifying that the press is polling lower than the president.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you feel you can make these serious points and do it in a funny way? I mean, how do you do that? That's a real balancing act, isn't it?

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    Well, that's the gift of being on this show. You get to do comedy and you get to tackle really major issues. I mean, we did a MeToo episode that was very funny and very powerful.

    You have to come to this show socially engaged and aware of what's happening in the world in order to even participate.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You're going to be reaching out to people who are on both sides of this divide.

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    How do you think it's going to be received?

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    You know, laughter reaches every demographic, so I'm kind of counting on that.

    But my whole family voted for Trump. So I'm very sensitive to not necessarily providing any kind of false equivalency, but Avery, her grown son works, for the Wolf Network. He's got a show on the Wolf Network, which is like the FOX network.

    He's the liberal voice, but he's a character who spent a lot of time in the heartland covering the presidential campaign. And he understands people who feel like they have been left behind.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You're taking on some of the really hot issues of right now. You mentioned MeToo. We're in the middle of it. Your own network, CBS, has had its issues, the CEO leaving.

    And, Candice Bergen, you were defending Les Moonves up until well into that.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    I was, up until the second time — was it…

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    It was The New Yorker.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    The second New Yorker piece.

    I had great respect for Les, and liked him very much. It's new ground. And we haven't really walked much on this ground before. And so the boundaries are being defined as we speak.

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    He was a great executive. And he turned this network around. So we both had a lot of respect for him in that regard.

    But there's — there's no question for us that we stand with all those women.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Is there anything you won't touch?

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    I don't think anything is off-limits. The criteria for us is, can we walk that tightrope with an issue that is serious, but still make a comedy out of it?

    It was kind of our hallmark in the old days. We never shied away from just having a very serious scene that didn't have any laughs in it at all.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    The midterm elections are front and center in the early episodes and add an immigration wrinkle to the storyline.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    Whatever your party is, use your right to vote. And it is said by a Mexican immigrant in the show.

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    A dreamer, who can't vote.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    There are six returning writers and some producers from the original crew.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    I still get tears in my eyes every time I'm introduced in curtain calls, because it's just so much.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And it took two months to reconstruct the sets.

    And now, as some producers call it, the oldest crew in show business is back. And so is the studio audience. Mainstays of the original "Murphy Brown" newsroom have also returned, Faith Ford as Corky, Grant Shaud as Miles Silverberg, Joe Regalbuto as Frank Fontana.

    There are occasional appearances from Charlie Kimbrough is Jim Dial. Veteran actress Tyne Daly joins us a familiar bartender.

  • ACTRESS:

    Vice President Dan Quayle citing Murphy Brown as an example.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    One original "Murphy Brown" episode is still talked about today, and landed Bergen on the cover of "TIME" magazine.

    What everybody remembers about the show — they may remember a lot, but one thing they definitely remember is Murphy deciding to have a baby.

    It was 1992. And the vice president of the United States then, Dan Quayle, made a speech and went after Murphy Brown.

  • FORMER VICE PRESIDENT DAN QUAYLE:

    It doesn't help matters when prime-time TV, as Murphy Brown, a character who supposedly epitomizes today's intelligent, highly paid professional woman, mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone, and calling it just another lifestyle choice.

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    "And calling it just another lifestyle choice."

    (LAUGHTER)

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    You became a lightning rod in 1992.

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    I just stayed in.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    Really. It was overwhelming for me. I was just — on the show, we, in a very short form, debated whether she would keep the child,whether she would abort the child.

    And so it wasn't introduced casually in any way. And we really gave it its weight.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Are you prepared to face that kind of political blowback now over other issues?

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Do you think?

  • DIANE ENGLISH:

    I mean, we're expecting it, just because of the mood of the country right now.

    And we know our president likes to tweet. And so we are expecting that maybe that will happen as well.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So you kind of feel like you're home with this?

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    I mean, oh, totally, totally.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    I mean, you're back home?

  • CANDICE BERGEN:

    Between the sets and the cast.

    Goodbye.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • WOMAN:

    We're clear. We're clear. Thank you very much.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Thank you.

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