Welcome back, "Murphy Brown": Just in time to take on "alternative facts and fake news"

The '90s sitcom revival gets the gang back together to take on Trump, Fox News — and hopefully Mike Pence

Published May 18, 2018 10:45AM (EDT)

Candice Bergen (AP/Brent N. Clarke)
Candice Bergen (AP/Brent N. Clarke)

The reboot of the 1990s-era sitcom "Murphy Brown" will arrive not just 30 years after it first premiered on CBS, but to an almost unrecognizable terrain of journalism, cable news and politics. The network released the first trailer for the revival Wednesday at its upfront presentation, the annual reveal of new shows for advertisers. Much of the original cast — star journalist Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen), features reporter Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), investigative reporter Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), and executive producer Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud) — will return to characters reimagined and reinvigorated to take on "this crazy new world of alternative facts and fake news," as Bergen declares in the trailer.

This "First Look" trailer doesn't feature any footage from the upcoming revival. Instead, the returning actors engage in a "Where Are They Now?" confessional segment, where in character, they catch viewers up on their departure from newsmagazine "FYI," how they respond to the current news and politics (including a freed O.J. Simpson and tiki torch-wielding white supremacists) and, most importantly, how they all reunited for a new cable morning show that Murphy will anchor, "Murphy in the Morning."

"We want to be really timely, that's why we didn't film a pilot," Bergen said during upfronts. "If we had, we'd already be several major headlines and a dozen Stormys out of date." Nearly half of the four-plus minute trailer features a mash-up of some of "Murphy Brown's" most charming, groundbreaking and iconic moments, some of which retain a startling relevance today. Take this scene, in which Murphy berates a new secretary: "If you are any of the following: a smoker, a manic depressive, a fan of Donald Trump, or a collector of Nazi memorabilia, this isn't going to work," she says. This was 1990.

For Murphy's new morning show, she won't just be battling the "alternative facts and fake news," landscape, but also her own son, millennial journalist Avery (actor Jake McDorman), who hosts a competing conservative morning show. CBS entertainment president Kelly Kahl said that the rivalry between "Fox & Friends" and "Morning Joe" was "pretty good characterization," Deadline reported.

"[Cable news] is populated with all kinds, like the Hannitys of the world and actual journalists too," Bergen said at upfronts. Yet "Murphy Brown" isn't just taking aim at the Fox pundits, but is likely to upset the Donald Trump administration, too. That's not unfamiliar terrain for the sitcom, which famously garnered criticism from vice president Dan Quayle when Brown became a single mom in season 4.

"Bearing babies irresponsibly is simply wrong," he said in May 1992. "It doesn’t help matters when prime-time TV has 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."

Not only did "Murphy Brown" challenge Quayle when it returned that fall in an hour-long episode, but it brought in 70 million viewers, CBS estimated at the time.

So, is Mike Pence next? It's likely, since Murphy cites the election of Trump as the reason she returns to journalism. So it's safe to say that "Murphy Brown 2.0" is ready to face not only Trump and all of his Twitter tirades that will predictably follow, but also the more quiet wrath of Pence and the conservatives who actually run the Republican Party.

A running theme of the teaser is that the returning characters are all wrestling with how to survive and practice journalism under the Trump administration. For producer Silverberg, two years at "The View" nearly broke him, while Fontana can't bear the thought of donning a Lacoste polo and an Ikea tiki torch to infiltrate neo-Nazis for a story. "We had to do something. Get the old gang together," Murphy says in the trailer. "It's our civic duty. And besides, you missed us — you know you did," she says directly towards the camera. A sly smirk barely raises the sides of her mouth, but it's charming as hell.

The 13-episode reboot will air Thursday nights on CBS at 9:30 p.m. beginning this fall, during its comedy bloc with "The Big Bang Theory," "Young Sheldon" and "Mom." The network was candid when asked if it hoped to amass similar viewership numbers to 1980s sitcom revival "Roseanne." "We're extremely hopeful. We'd love to get 'Roseanne' numbers," Kahl said.

Beyond parallel revivals, it will be interesting to see the reception around "Murphy Brown," or if the two reboots will constantly be put at odds. Yahoo has already dubbed the show the "anti-'Roseanne,'" and "full of liberal laughs." Either way, it seems inevitable that come this fall, "Murphy Brown" will be a talker on both sides of the political aisle.

By Rachel Leah

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