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Series / Murphy Brown

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A 1988–98 Work Com on CBS about a recovering-alcoholic Washington-based news reporter in her 40s, played by Candice Bergen. Murphy is the political correspondent for a news show called "FYI", whose other staff include stuffy senior anchor Jim Dial, daredevil investigative reporter Frank Fontana, former Miss America Corky Sherwood, wet-behind-the-ears producer Miles Silverberg, and a different personal secretary to the title character every week.

The show was hugely popular in its day due to its topical, often controversial storylines. What really put it on the map, though, was when Murphy became a single mother (unique for a sitcom at the time) and the show portrayed this in a positive way (unique for any TV show at the time.) Conservatives balked, especially then-vice president Dan Quayle, who attacked the show as being against "family values." The show responded by directly mocking Quayle, and this little feud propelled it to the top of the ratings. Various other politically-charged storylines kept the show afloat for a ten-year run, and the show won Candice Bergen five Emmy awards for Best Actress in a Comedy Series.

Twenty years after it originally went off the air, CBS announced in 2018 that a revival of the series was in the works, officially premiering in September of that year. Most of the original cast returned to reprise their roles, with the additions of Tyne Daly as the sister of bar owner Phil (his actor died in 2006) and Jake McDorman as Murphy's son Avery, now an adult. In the revival, Murphy is galvanized to return to news television after Donald Trump is elected President, only to discover that Avery—who has since become a news pundit on a conservative network—is hosting a show of his own in the same timeslot. The revival only ran for a single season, officially ending after CBS chose not to order further episodes following its season finale.

The original 1990s series provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: A Running Gag in the series revolves around the Motown-loving Murphy routinely being subjected to Barry Manilow albums because it's the only music that will get baby Avery to calm down. In a late-series episode, Barry Manilow himself features in a cameo, in which he professes to be a huge fan of Murphy's television work.
  • Back for the Finale: Phil returns for the series finale despite the fact that he had died of a heart attack: his death was retconned into having been faked by the CIA due to Phil "knowing too much about Whitewater".
    • Murphy also returns home at the end of the episode to find that Eldin is back, repainting her home, just as he had first appeared in the series.
  • Blah, Blah, Blah: In Montezuma's Retreat, Murphy says to Frank that he will often imagine her voice as a foghorn.
  • Bland-Name Product: Zig-zagged, although real-world anchors and CBS have been mentioned, the show largely focuses on expies of actual broadcasters and news programs.
    • Paula Zahn showed up at Murphy's baby shower, and Connie Chung also appeared as herself (discussing with Murphy whether the latter should appear on a sitcom as herself).
  • Book Ends: At the end of the first episode, Eldin comes out of the kitchen and interrupts Murphy's singing, telling her that "she was getting better towards the end." Cue to the last episode... same thing happens.
  • Bottle Episode: In the "Driving Miss Crazy" (Season 3, Episode 20) episode, much of it takes place in Corky's car as the main cast carpools to work.
  • Character Development: Everybody experienced this to one degree or another, but the most pronounced was Corky's transformation from The Ditz to a Deadpan Snarker (mostly resulting from the breakup of her idyllic marriage).
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Kay fits it to a T, as does Corky, especially in early seasons.
  • Comedy Series
  • The Comically Serious: Jim. Prime examples include his reaction to finding out his recently purchased English-style pub has become a gay bar and his attempt to purchase marijuana from a shady dealer in a park for the cancer-stricken Murphy.
  • Continuity Nod: In "The Strike", a blur that was meant to cover someone's face failed (due to the regular crew being on strike forcing them to use incompetent replacements) and the person was exposed. In a later episode, someone who wished to remain anonymous was instead hidden behind a screen.
  • Christmas Episode: "Brown in Toyland." Murphy angsts over finding educational toys for toddler Avery's Christmas, including "Der Wunderblocken," which is sold as a "cognitive development" toy but actually turns out to be a laughably overpriced wooden block. Meanwhile, all Avery wants is "Power Ninja Demon" action figures (a send-up of the then-wildly popular Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers). Murphy spends the last few days before Christmas desperately hunting for one, only to discover that the toys are sold out everywhere. Ultimately Christmas is saved by Eldon, who sends Avery an entire set from Europe; his card reveals that the fad never took off overseas to the point that the toys are practically giveaways.
  • Corpsing: This was the in-universe plot point for the episode "The Last Laugh" (Season 3, Episode 7). Jim, presumed to be the most stoic & professional newscaster on "FYI," laughs on-camera. The first time, it got out of control when his corpsing advanced to LOL. Later on, Jim is laughing during a broadcast again, & Corky's photo of a hospitalized pet didn't help. Finally, Jim has undone the problem when everybody except him is laughing out loud during the newscast.
  • Crossover:
    • Al Floss, Alex Rocco's character on the short-lived sitcom The Famous Teddy Z, appears in one episode as Corky's agent.
    • Murphy appears in an episode of another short-lived sitcom, Ink, where it's revealed she and Ted Danson's character on that show meet for an annual tryst.
    • A Love & War episode has that show's regulars watching F.Y.I on TV in a bar, where Murphy and co. are commenting on a murder case that figured in the Murphy Brown episode from earlier that same night. (Both series were created and produced by Diane English.)
  • Crossover Punchline: One episode has Murphy finally getting a secretary she likes. Turns out it's Carol, Bob Hartley's receptionist from The Bob Newhart Show. Hartley (Newhart) turns up at the end to beg her to come back to work for him.
    • Conversely, a Seinfeld episode ended with Kramer getting an acting gig as yet another secretary for Murphy, and being very good.
  • Dartboard of Hate: Murphy's dartboard on the back of her office door was adorned with something new every week, and oftentimes that something was someone's face.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Murphy named her infant son after her mother, Avery.
  • Ditzy Secretary: The sheer number of secretaries Murphy has had guarantees a few of these such as a man who can't type more than one letter at a time, a woman who insists she's quitting cigarettes even as she keeps taking a drag, a woman who ran a phone sex line from her desk, and, in one case, a crash test dummy.
    Murphy: I have certain needs. Someone who files alphabetically. Someone who makes cup of coffee without setting off the smoke alarm. Someone who can find his way back from the men's room without having to stop at the lobby directory!
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Brown's pranks, usually.
    • And in the last two seasons, Kay's, which are much like Murphy's but up to eleven.
  • Dumb Blonde: Corky, somewhat, although she became less so as the series progressed.
  • Embarrassing Last Name: After Corky Sherwood gets married, her hyphenated surname is Sherwood-Forrest. You can see the moment of horrified realisation dawn on her face as she says it aloud on air for the first time.note 
  • Failed a Spot Check: In the revival, Corky is happy when a woman (Brooke Shields) wakes up from a ten-year coma. Corky had always believed the innocence of her husband, accused of attempting to kill her with Shields claiming she just tripped over their cat as he always said. But in a live interview, she reveals her husband did indeed shove her down the stairs. When Corky brings up the cat, the woman rolls her eyes to ask how in ten years, Corky could have missed the tiny detail that she's allergic to cats.
  • Fist Pump: Murphy does it while expressing enthusiasm for getting a scoop interview.
  • Gargle Blaster: The drink featured in "Montezuma's Retreat" is implied to be one. One of the plots of the episode revolves around Frank, Jim and Murphy getting drunk off of one drink from it on their retreat in Mexico, and none of them had been portrayed as not being able to hold their liquor before, plus the bartender crossed himself when asked for the drink.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Avery Brown is the name of both Murphy's mother and her son.
  • Getting the Baby to Sleep: Murphy's son only stops fussing when listening to Barry Manilow.
  • Gilligan Cut: In "Birth 101", each member of the cast has a moment on Murphy's baby video, giving a message to her future child. Miles (whose hand is bandaged) tells the baby:
    Miles: But I want you to know that your mother behaved as best she could... under the circumstances.
    [Cut to Murphy's hospital room, where she is throttling Miles hard enough to yank him off his feet.]
    Murphy: You son of a bitch! You man! You did this to me! You and every other man! I'm Taking You with Me!
  • Girlish Pigtails: Corky was staying over at Murphy's and acted like it was a slumber party. Corky said "we could braid each other's hair!" and braided Murphy's into pigtails; when Eldin came over and saw Murphy, he said she looked "like an old Heidi."
  • Glamorous Single Mother: Murphy was a highly-paid television personality who became a single mother and had more than enough money to support the child and hire a nanny. Still, she often complained about the difficulties of the parenting she did do. This resulted in the entire Dan Quayle fiasco over his criticism of the show's use of this trope. When seeing Quayle's Real Life speech on TV, Murphy is sporting massively Messy Hair and still in her pajamas. She can't believe Dan Quayle would find her glamorous. (Ironically, Candice Bergen herself thought Quayle had a point.)
  • Hand Signals: Miles used all the live broadcast ones described on the trope page under "real life" and there was one episode with an over-the-top amount of stretching.
  • Intercontinuity Crossover: Murphy's long, long list of secretaries-of-the-week included supporting characters from other CBS shows.
  • Is This Thing Still On? Played with repeatedly, as befitting a series about a television series.
  • Iron Lady: Murphy Brown herself, a sharp-tongued, fearless 40-year-old woman, breaker of multiple glass ceilings and typical female stereotypes. Just ask Vice President Dan Quayle.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Murphy herself is a prime example.
    • When Eldin was offered the opportunity to paint with a famous Spanish painter eight years after he wrote to him. Although he blatantly refused to leave, enjoying too much the position of being Avery's nanny and Murphy's house painter, Murphy fired him without a second thought, even though she knew that it would be virtually impossible for her to find someone else who would please her.
  • Lamaze Class: Murphy attends one while pregnant with Avery, and can't stop cracking wise throughout.
  • Last-Minute Baby Naming: Murphy goes through multiple names for her unborn child during her pregnancy and keeps going even after he's born. Eventually she names him "Avery" after her recently deceased mother.
  • Last Unsmoked Cigarette: In the first episode (and through the first season) Murphy carried around one last cigarette.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: The infamous Dan Quayle flap comes to mind, but another episode features a group of NBC Nightly News reporters dogging Murphy's home and workplace hoping to catch a scoop (NBC News was engaged in a major ratings war with CBS Evening News at the time). Murphy shouts out the nursery window, "Hey guys! Here's a real exclusive for you!" while lifting a full bag out of Avery's diaper pail...
  • Lie Detector: The episode "Specific Overtures" deals with Murphy on a polygraph after she allegedly sexually harasses a coworker.
  • Local Hangout: Phil's bar.
  • Locked in a Room: Played with, as a "team building exercise."
  • Massive Multiplayer Crossover: A rather infamous "Night of Elizabeth Taylor," created as an elaborate ad for her fragrance Black Pearls, threaded Murphy Brown together with The Nanny, Can't Hurry Love, and High Society.
  • May–December Romance: Murphy briefly dates a 20-something grad student after meeting him at a science museum. Her friends are shown to be unsettled by the age gap, but get over it because Murphy seemed to be pretty happy with him. However, they decide to amicably separate after he's been called to serve out his Israeli military duty.
  • Mistaken for Exhibit: Eldin gets a show at an art gallery. At the opening people come in to find a completely empty room. They discuss whether they themselves are the art or what, but then Eldin points out that he painted a mural on the ceiling.
  • Mistaken for Gay: Frank. Often.
  • Mistaken for Racist: Wanting to avoid this trope causes Murphy to be unusually pleasant to the new black vice president of news, Mitchell Baldwin. Miles attempts to get Murphy to confront this.
    Murphy: My yelling has nothing to do with anything! I yell at you all the time! Does that make you think I'm anti-Semitic?
    Miles: Well, on some level, yes.
    Murphy angrily pinches Miles.
  • My Beloved Smother: Avery Brown, oh so much.
  • Named After Somebody Famous: The titular character was named after Eddie Murphy and James Brown.
  • Nervous Wreck: Miles.
    • Also Frank, who has been in therapy for 12 or so years.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Much maligned Jerry Gold bears striking resemblance to Morton Downey, Jr. or Howard Stern. He even has a four-person late night panel show like Bill Maher.
    • There was also recurring character "McGovern", a young former MTV VJ with conservative leanings.
    • Hidden Depths: Murphy falls for Gold when it turns out the abrasive personality was just a public persona for a genuinely concerned man.
    • Murphy is on the receiving end of this trope in-universe when a sitcom based on her is launched called Kelly Green.
  • No Theme Tune: Motown songs would frequently play in place of a theme song. Ironically, this has caused the DVD releases to stall after the first season; the music clearance costs are through the roof.
    • Whenever the show must have a theme, such as an awards show, "Rescue Me" is the song that represents the show.
    • Though, funnily enough, the show did have a theme tune for the closing credits. The song, which was written by Stephen Dorff, was included on the CBS 50th anniversary CD.
    • Once Faith Ford was on The Tonight Show and started out expressing perplexity over the tune the band had played for her walk-on music, until she realized it was the show's "Ooo-wah-ooo" closing credits theme.
  • Noodle Incident: Murphy did something at the 1980 Republican convention. What is never elaborated on, but they're still talking about it in The '90s.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Corky, who reverts from trained newscaster Midwestern English to her native Southern accent when angry.
  • Pity the Kidnapper: A group of nerdy environmentalists kidnap Murphy until a major news show will cover the development of a swamp in Oregon. It doesn't go well.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Creator Diane English repeatedly and explicitly stated that Murphy and Frank really are just friends.
  • Present Day:
    • If any sitcom can be said to be an intentional period piece, it's the unabashedly topical Murphy Brown. An early Family Guy episode poked fun at the show's tendencies by having its characters engage in a conversation where the only intelligible words are references to then-current events, all of which were hilariously dated in 2000, less than ten years after the show's heyday.
    • There's also the fact that the show's entire tone seemed geared toward Baby Boomers. Alongside the Motown soundtrack and the heavy protest-era nostalgia, the Boomers Murphy and Frank come off a lot better than Jim (the senior anchor, who is an old fuddy-duddy) and Corky (the Gen-Xer, who starts off a total moron).
    • The revival takes place in 2018 and adheres to the same philosophy, with a rapid-fire skewering of the presidency of Donald Trump (including Brown's Big "NO!" reaction towards his election, the presidency's denial of climate change, and his use of social media to attack media personalities he doesn't agree with — and that's just the first episode) and the modern state of cable news (with CNC and Wolf being parodies of CNN and Fox News Channel).
  • Put on a Bus: In the two part Season 8 Finale, after successfully ensuring Corky and Frank would keep their jobs in the network cutbacks and that FYI would not be the subject of any more Executive Meddling (ensuring that Jim would return to the show), Miles was offered and took a promotion to head the News Division for the network... in New York. Made worse by the fact that he had recently married Corky and she would remain on FYI in Washington.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: As befitting a TV series about television journalists.
  • Running Gag:
    • Murphy has been virtually uninsurable since the late 70's owing to her extreme driving habits.
    • Murphy can't get or keep a good secretary. One states that before she starts Murphy will have to understand that she might be in late or skip days for no reason and steal things from the office as well as other things that would normally result in firing. Murphy's response is that she's had worse.
    • Murphy being banned from White House functions. She gets a clean slate when Bill Clinton is elected — but she wrecks that, too.
  • Secret-Keeper: Phil the bartender knew all of Washington DC's secrets, including the identity of Deep Throat. One episode, "Frank's Appendectomy", played with this knowledge by making him seem like he was confirming Frank's friend was actually Deep Throat to Murphy, but never said a word, making it a lie of omission. It turned out to be an elaborate prank by Frank.
  • Sherlock Scan: When the main cast gets pitted in a team building exercise that they become determined to win by cheating, they guess the retreat owner's computer password by analyzing the contents of his office. But they get caught before they can get the next day's exercise plan and make their escape.
  • Show Within a Show: FYI
  • The Snark Knight: Pretty much the entire point of Murphy's character.
  • Sorkin Relationship Moment: When the very liberal FYI team gets an African-American boss, they find themselves tiptoeing around him so he doesn't feel like he's being treated a certain way on account of his race. The new boss enjoys this for a while, then confronts them with the fact that their white-guilt-driven tentativeness toward him was accomplishing exactly what they were trying to avoid and that they should just treat him like a normal boss. (See also Mistaken for Racist and Suddenly Shouting.)
  • Spy Speak: When Murphy finds out she's pregnant, the first person she tells is Frank, but she's so upset that at first all she can say is "The stick was blue." Frank, baffled, decides she's invoking this trope and replies, "The dog barked at midnight."
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Eldon specializes in these.
  • Suddenly Shouting: Done between Murphy and Miles when he tries to get her to confront that she's treating the new vice-president, Mitchell Baldwin, in a non-confrontational manner because he's black. Also, both Murphy and Miles whisper the word "black" while they are shouting.
  • Take That!: Several;
    • After Dan Quayle criticized the show for "glorifying single motherhood" in Real Life, Murphy had a truckload of potatoes dumped at the gates of the Naval Observatory in-series.Explanation 
    • During a thinly disguised version of the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase, Miles remarks, "ABC... wouldn't pre-empt Home Improvement for the Second Coming!"
  • Take That, Critics! Many, many episodes featured the FYI crew gleefully snarking on events in the real world, including television criticism, but the pinnacle still remains Murphy's skewering of Dan Quayle.
  • Taking You with Me: Played for Laughs in "Birth 101", when Murphy is in labor, she starts throttling Miles, saying he and every other man on the planet is responsible for her pain, and she's taking him with her.
  • Title-Only Opening
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: An entire episode is dedicated to Murphy having a hard time regarding this trope In-Universe. She goes so far as to put some of her toddler son's artwork on display in a gallery: while one critic immediately sees through it and considers it to be meaningless scribbles, another one sees it as brilliant and they get into a huge argument. When one of the patrons wants to buy the painting (which he hasn't even seen, he's simply buying it because since two major critics are arguing over it and Murphy is there to cover it, it must be of great importance), she tries to inform him it was painted by a child. He smugly tells her that she just doesn't get it.
  • Tsundere: Murphy could easily be considered one.
  • Unfortunate Names:
    • Corky Sherwood-Forrest, anyone — which was lampshaded almost immediately by Corky herself.
    • Averted when Jim asked Murphy if she would name her son after him. While she would love to honor him, she clearly rejected the notion of naming her child James Brown.
  • Work Com
  • Worst News Judgement Ever: A running theme is Murphy and the gang annoyed at how the network chiefs ignore potential important stories for fluff pieces that "do better in the ratings."
    • Murphy is about to interview a country music star at his theme park like ranch. Just as it's about to begin, word comes of a U.S. aircraft carrier attacked. Murphy sighs about losing the interview but knows a potential act of war is more important. To her and Miles' shock, the network agents insist Murphy go ahead with the live interview. When Miles protests on a bigger story, the agents reply "There is a news story happening and this is it!" Murphy begins by telling the viewers what is happening and that "if you want to know more about real news, go to another station."
  • You Must Be This Tall to Ride: A little person on the show complains about how embarrassing it is to be shooed off a ride by Mickey Mouse.

The 2018 revival series provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Before taking over Phil's bar after his death, Phyllis was a police officer in New York City, just like Phyllis actress Tyne Daly's character in Cagney & Lacey.
  • …And That Little Girl Was Me: In "I (Don't) Heart Huckabee," Avery repeats some of Murphy's words back to her.
    Avery: "Journalists are the only real firewall between power-hungry politicians and the people they are elected to serve." Someone told me that once.
    Murphy: Yeah? Who?
    Avery: Oh, I don't know. Some French gal.
  • Behavioral Conditioning: Both played straight and inverted. Avery teaches Benny to ring a bell if he wants a treat, leading to a discussion where Murphy points out that she trained Avery to get up in time for school by holding bacon under his nose, only for Avery to quip that he was actually training Murphy to bring him breakfast in bed.
  • Big "NO!" / Catapult Nightmare: Murphy's reaction to the 2016 election.
  • Bland-Name Product: CNC (CNN) is the cable news outlet that's hosting Murphy, while her son Avery's show is on the Wolf Network (the Fox News Channel).
  • Call-Back: Tons, as befitting a revival.
    • Murphy still can't cook to save her life; Avery comments "I smell home cooking! ...Chinese takeout?"
    • Service at Phil's is as snarky as ever; Phil's sister Phyllis replies to a patron who tries to order a ludicrously complex coffee beverage, "Sure, let me just fly to Rome and get that for you."
    • Murphy's secretarial woes are back in full force. The first applicant has a great deal of experience as a secretary of...a very large organization. Whose email address is
    • Several characters are spotted drinking out of old FYI coffee mugs.
    • Murphy is just as much a Motown fan as ever; her Twitter password is "arethaforever." No word on whether Avery is still a Manilow devotee.
  • Dueling Shows: In-universe, Murphy in the Morning vs Avery Brown's America.
  • Fake Shemp: Murphy crashing a White House press briefing utilizes a good deal of real footage of Sarah Huckabee-Sanders, plus a quite impressive impressionist for when she talks to Murphy directly and is seen from behind.
  • Flame War: Murphy gets into a Twitter war with, of all people, Donald Trump. And wins. The final scene of the episode features Murphy smiling with satisfaction at her new smartphone, chuckling, "Yeah. 'Old Murphy Brown', my ass."
  • #HashtagForLaughs: Murphy's riposte to Donald Trump's "Old Murphy Brown" put-down tweet features #DanQuayle.
  • Lethal Chef: Murphy is still lethally awful in the kitchen, leading to various horrified reactions when she offers to cook Thanksgiving dinner.
    Frank: Hey, Murph! Maybe you can serve the meal at the ER so you can save us some drive time.
    Corky: Anything I can bring? Like the dinner?
    Murphy: Miles? Don't you have any snide remark you'd like to make?
    Miles: What's the use? I'm as dead as Aunt Cheryl.
  • Long-Runner Tech Marches On: Murphy's vintage Motorola v60, which "is perfectly good for, you know, making actual calls to people!" The phone absolutely awes tech intern Pat Patel, who's never seen such a piece of "vintage" technology... until he flips it open and says "Hey Siri," and is appalled to get no response.
  • Mess of Woe: Miles is initially seen living in truly squalorous conditions and sporting a Beard of Sorrow, as he's still emotionally scarred from his brief stint producing The View. When he goes back to work as producer for Murphy in the Morning, he's clean shaven and back to his usual Neat Freak ways.
    Murphy: We knew you lived in the Watergate, we didn't know you'd gone full Deep Throat.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Avery, in-universe. A Wolf Network promo for his show has Avery with his shirt unbuttoned and turning in slow motion. Avery is horrified, since he didn't know he was being filmed for that. Murphy and Avery's friends have some fun with this.
  • My Beloved Smother: Murphy edges close to this with Avery at times.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Mostly gleefully averted, although in one episode when the network asks Murphy to interview a controversial Republican strategist his name is Ed Shannon instead of Steve Bannon.
  • Pun-Based Title: The first episode, "Fake News." While it's a Take That! at the modern implications of partisan "fake news," it's also a reference to the fact that FYI, Murphy in the Morning, Avery Brown's America, and all the other Show Within a Show news programs are, quite literally, fake news programs.
  • Putting the Band Back Together: Stated directly by Murphy to Miles, when she's trying to enlist all the old FYI crew for her new morning news show.
  • Technology Is Evil: In one episode, Murphy's new "secretary" is VAL, a voice assistant speaker similar to Amazon Echo or Google Home. When a big story Murphy is working on gets scooped by the Wolf Network the day before it was set to go to air on Murphy in the Morning, the team gets drawn into a cycle of accusations until they learn that VAL forwarded the story to Wolf.
  • Two Gamers on a Couch: Avery enjoys playing video games with two of his friends from high school. They still call Murphy, "Ms. B."