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The 'Murphy Brown' reboot is the anti-'Roseanne,' full of liberal laughs

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
The original cast of Murphy Brown. (Photo: CBS)

I don’t know whether the Murphy Brown reboot planned for fall will be funny, but I do know it’s going to be political. At Tuesday’s CBS “upfront” — the annual unveiling of new fall shows for the networks to sell to advertisers — Candice Bergen was on hand to introduce a peek at the first new season of Murphy Brown since the show went off the air in 1998 after 10 seasons. Bergen, looking impish and energetic at age 72, said that “we wanted to stay really topical, so we didn’t shoot a pilot because if we did we’d already be several news cycles and Stormys out of date.”

In the new show, Murphy, who formerly anchored a primetime newsmagazine show, will now be hosting a show called Murphy in the Morning. Murphy’s grown son, played by Jake McDorman, will be competing with his mom as the co-host of a show on a “conservative news network.” When asked whether this new premise is intended to echo the real-life competition between MSNBC’s Morning Joe and Fox News’ Fox & Friends, CBS Entertainment president Kelly Kahl said that was “a pretty good characterization.” In the preview clip, Bergen, speaking in the character of Murphy, says that until recently she’d been semiretired: “I didn’t know what to do with myself,” she says. “But then we had an election,” and the screen fills with images of Donald Trump. Murphy declares, “We’re taking on this world of alternative facts and fake news.”

Just the day before, at ABC’s upfront, executives there said that Roseanne — whose reboot made a big ratings splash by showcasing a version of Roseanne Barr’s real-life conservative politics — would be less political in its second season. By contrast, CBS — ironically, the network often viewed as the most old-fashioned, stodgy, and artistically conservative of the majors — seems to be embracing with open arms the liberal slant of Murphy, created by writer Diane English. “We’re extremely hopeful,” said CBS exec Kahl. “We would love to get Roseanne numbers,” he said about future ratings expectations. “I’m not sure we’ll get Roseanne numbers, but we’re going to be hopeful.”

Hopeful but maybe naive. I wonder if Bergen and the network really comprehend the potential resistance they’re going to face with this new Murphy Brown. The network they’re satirizing — Fox News — is going to be out there full-force, stirring up animosity among their viewers for this liberal sitcom. This will be especially true if the network and its audience — who both love to feel as though they’re persecuted victims — believe that Roseanne has been muzzled for its conservative views.

It’s not as though Murphy Brown has never been political before this, of course. That son she’ll soon be competing against is the same born-out-of-wedlock child that inspired real-life criticism from Vice President Dan Quayle back in 1992. Bergen — whose movie career is still active with the comedy Book Club opening this weekend — isn’t shying away from the Fox News comparisons: “Cable news is populated with all kinds, like the Hannitys of the world and actual journalists too,” she said. The new Murphy Brown will have a combination of old and new cast members, including Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto, and Grant Shaud from the original cast. CBS has ordered 13 episodes for a fall premiere.

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