“It’s me every time,” Jake McDorman says with an exasperated head shake. He’s bounded into the “Murphy Brown” townhouse several times during a taping in front of a live studio audience and forgotten to turn on the lights.
McDorman, who plays the title character’s now-grown son, Avery, can be forgiven a few missteps. It’s only the third episode he’s recorded in the townhouse. Star Candice Bergen spent a decade cracking jokes and having heart-to-hearts in a faux Georgetown abode just like this one, which was built to mimic the original.
After McDorman’s goofs, Bergen leans in for a hug. It’s an embrace that says: We’ve all been there. And we’re so glad you’re here.
The studio audience is glad they’re here, too, watching the “FYI” gang reunited 20 years after “Murphy Brown” went off the air. In the reboot, which premieres at 8:30 p.m. Thursday on CBS, Bergen’s character is anchoring “Murphy in the Morning,” which goes head to head with Avery’s show on a competing network.
Between scenes, the audience is enjoying a big, fat Murphy Brown reunion party. In the episode being filmed before them, Murphy and her fellow cast members debate whether to interview a Steve Bannon-like character. Yes, the show will again get topical. In 1992, a disheveled Murphy and her buddy Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) watched Vice President Dan Quayle’s speech on TV calling out the fictional newscaster as glamorizing single mothers and “mocking the importance of fathers” by having a child out of wedlock. New-mother Murphy asked Frank, “Do I look glamorous to you?!” She most certainly did not.
“Murphy Brown” was ahead of its time for its sexual politics, including its frank portrayal of single motherhood, which has since become more common. But also rare was the way a sitcom became embroiled in a real-world political debate — and addressed it through its fictional characters.
Today, the show is returning to a world in which the boundary between pop culture and politics has collapsed. Hardly anything is “just a comedy show,” from the late-night talk shows to “Saturday Night Live” to “Veep.” Never has an occupant of the White House been so public with his strong opinions about entertainment. And the “Murphy Brown” reboot is capitalizing on this: The premiere begins on Election Day 2016, and episodes address white nationalists, Dreamers, the #MeToo movement and the 2018 midterm elections.
Laura Krafft, one of the co-producers and writers, notes that, for a show like “Murphy,” she aims for humor that will mock the bigger picture rather than day-to-day minutiae. “You want something that can stand the test of time a little bit,” Krafft says. “Rather than just make a joke off of the inner wonkiness of a situation, you kind of go one step up.”
In the two decades since the original show, Bergen says, she’s often approached by women who say Murphy Brown inspired them to be ambitious in their careers: “It gave them a shot of courage to do what they dreamt of doing,” she says.