My favorite episode is a new feature for this blog in which I look at my favorite episode of a TV show I like. Some of the shows will be classics – Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I Love Lucy, etc., and others may be shows that I personally loved, even if they haven’t endured or stood the test of time, like Ugly Betty, for example. I won’t go into the history of the show too much, but will give some context if needed – and I’ll also go into the show’s historical significance and if the episode is a much-beloved classic, I’ll also discuss that.
Murphy Brown was a workplace sitcom that lasted for 10 seasons on CBS. The titular character (played by Candice Bergen) is a tough journalist who is a recovering alcoholic. The first season has Murphy trying to acclimate to the real world after a long stint at Betty Ford. While the show’s highest profile episode was during its third season when Murphy decided to have a baby out-of-wedlock, my favorite episode from Murphy Brown is the first season’s finale, “The Morning Show.”
The story arc of the first season has Murphy still getting used to all the changes on her news magazine show, F.Y.I. – the biggest one being a former Miss America, Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) joining the panel of journalists. Corky doesn’t fit in well with the other reporters: the stoic veteran Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough) and the energetic roving reporter Frank Fontana (Jim Regalbuto), and Murphy – all of whom report on hard-hitting stories that have social relevance; Corky, meanwhile is on hand to do the fluff pieces – celebrity home tours, dog grooming stories, exposes on doll collections. Helming the fictional show is wunderkind producer, Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud) who is continuously butting heads with the more experienced Murphy.
In “The Morning Show” Murphy is roped into subbing for a TV personality on a Good Morning America type of show. Corky is also tapped to sit in for another host, and is finding the transition not terribly difficult – the sunny, upbeat tone of the morning show matches well with Corky’s fluffy personality; Murphy, meanwhile is finding the shift uncomfortable, as she cannot seem to adapt to the lighter atmosphere. Instead of excelling, she’s failing miserably – and professional failure is a new concept for Murphy, one which she doesn’t like too much.
What I liked about “The Morning Show” is that it rectified a lot of the mistakes the writers made during the first season, namely making Corky a dumb blonde joke. Thankfully, as the show progressed, Corky became much more interesting and complex – so much so, that by the end of the show’s run in 1998, she actually rivals Murphy for professionalism and talent. Because Murphy Brown is supposed to be a smart, pro-feminist show, having a cartoony ditz is somewhat dampening.
Another high point in this episode is that it’s the episode where Bergen actually becomes Murphy Brown. The actress had to endure a spotty movie career that didn’t know what to do with her – she was badly used as a leading lady because of her model-good looks. She’s a limited actress, who when given bad material, comes off rather wooden. But for some reason, she’s a good comedienne – and plays Murphy’s irascibility, immaturity, and foul humor, as well as her vulnerability. Bergen will get to do more physical humor later on, displaying a hidden talent for mugging.
I also like that the show is a fantastic spoof of the empty-headed morning chat shows who blather on shallow topics. The quips are really sly – for example, in the midst of all the fluff, the morning show has a feature with a politician and a serious journalist, who Murphy calls a “real news guys” before Corky assures their viewers, “It’s very short.”
Murphy Brown was strongest when the writers looked to the news for plotlines – the O.J. Simpson trial, the Michael Jackson child molestation scandal, the Dan Quayle single mothers slam, all made for some of the show’s best moments.