Murphy Brown Tribute At The Castro

From The San Francisco Chronicle

February 3, 2011
By Beth Spotswood


“There was no chemistry, there was no old gang! And if there was, you weren’t a part of it. You drove us nuts! Taking off your shoes, humming while you ate, and there’s no such word as alls, it’s all. It’s all I know! It wasn’t the network, it was us! We wanted you fired! My name’s Murph-Y! Get off the stage.” – Murphy Brown

Last night, Brock and I attended the Murphy Brown Tribute at the Castro Theatre, part of SF Sketchfest and featuring “Murphy Brown” creator, Diane English, and the television show’s star, Candice Bergen. Connie Chung was supposed to interview them both, but Mrs. Maury Povich got stuck shoveling show in Manhattan so English and Bergen interviewed each other.

A few hundred of us sat grinning like superfans through an entire episode of “Murphy Brown,” and then attempted to maintain our composure for an hour while Diane English and Candice Bergen reminisced and gossiped about the 10-year run of THE GREATEST SHOW EVER ON TELEVISION.

I’m sure she’s really terrific, but I was delighted Connie Chung couldn’t snap her fingers and get herself to San Francisco. Watching the creator and the star of “Murphy Brown,” who are obviously very close friends, hang out and talk about THE GREATEST SHOW EVER ON TELEVISION made the audience feel like we were at a really fantastic, intimate dinner party.

We heard all about how the network wanted to cast Heather Locklear, prompting horrified laughter from the audience. Bergen politely smiled and said, “She’s a very talented young actress.”

We heard all about how the cast of “Murphy Brown” got along just famously. They went on two (2) ski trips together. Bergen smiled and politely said, “Everyone was just wonderful. Well, almost everyone.”

At this point, Brock and I started rolling around on the ground in ecstasy. But it only got better. English, who left the show after four years, mentioned her first day off the show, where she discovered that she had nothing to do so she went and visited her horse. Bergen, who was a famous film star before “Murphy Brown” rolled her eyes and joked, “TV money.”

It was all I could not to give a standing ovation right then and there.

The real reason English brought up her horse, “I only have one”, is because that was the day then-Vice President Dan Quayle accused fictional single mother Murphy Brown of “mocking the importance of fatherhood.”

What I never realized, and what Diane English pointed out to the crowd, was that Vice President Quayle said this in San Francisco, at the Commonwealth Club.

And really, if any close-minded, right-wing extremists wish to end their careers with stupidity in our fair city, I welcome them with open arms. Here Michele Bachmann. Use OUR microphone.

A member of the audience asked what they were each doing post-”Murphy Brown.” Diane English responded that in addition to directing films, she hangs out at her house on Martha’s Vineyard. To which Candice Bergen smirked, “TV money.”

Both women laughed and nodded, the audience ate it up and then Bergen offered, “I won’t go on about TV money.”

“Oh, please do!” English said. “How about that Sprint money!”

Yay! Yay! What fun dirt!

Then someone from the Lilith Fair stood up and asked the obligatory, “You’re such groundbreaking female artists! How come there aren’t more womyn running Hollywood?” to which Brock and I rolled our eyes and Diane English responded that basically, television has loads of women but film is still a boy’s club. Using “30 Rock” as an example, English then got wonderfully technical, pointing out that “30 Rock” is a one-camera show whereas “Murphy Brown” was a four camera show, like “Two and a Half Men.”

Without missing a beat, Bergen looked at the audience and said, “Which, as you know, is on hiatus now.”

She paused for the laugh and then said, “TV money.”

The whole hour and a half was wonderful, funny, insightful and intimate. We gave them a standing ovation. And I may have cried.

Now, I will hypocritically ignore my previous mocking of a feminist and tell you why I love “Murphy Brown” so much. Like many people in the audience, I watched “Murphy Brown” with my mother. It came on the air when I was 10, and it was one of the few television shows I was allowed to watch. “Murphy Brown” was my first really consistent introduction to a funny, irreverent, sarcastic woman. I’d grown up with “The Facts of Life,” “The Cosby Show” and “Family Ties.” Then suddenly, THERE was “Murphy Brown” in a full length camel hair coat and Katharine Hepburn pants, clutching a New York Times and making fun of someone’s accent.

Murphy wasn’t really slapstick or goofy, although that was certainly part of her charm. To me, Murphy Brown was fiercely sharp, funny on purpose, insanely driven and, to use a word from the current lexicon, snarky. And 10 times more than Mallory Keaton, Blair Warner or Denise Huxtable, all of whom I love dearly, I will still always aspire to Murphy Brown.

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