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Happy Quarter Century, 'FYI'! 25 Things You Didn't Know About 'Murphy Brown'

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Grant Shaud, Candice Bergen, Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto, Charles Kimbrough, and Robert Pastorelli

Grant Shaud, Candice Bergen, Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto, Charles Kimbrough, and Robert Pastorelli

She could turn the world on with her smile. No, wait, that was the other classic TV sitcom newswoman. Murphy Brown, as played by multi-Emmy winner Candice Bergen, was a single working woman just like Mary Richards, but with a far snarkier worldview. Throughout 10 seasons on CBS — Nov. 14, 1988, through May 18, 1998 — recovering alcoholic Brown and her fellow journalists at the fictional "FYI" newsmagazine put their spin on everything from the O.J. trial to the Monica Lewinsky scandal on their show; and they tackled topics like divorce, breast cancer, and, most famously, single motherhood in their personal lives.

The tough, no-fools-suffering Murphy — series creator Diane English referred to her as "Mike Wallace in a skirt" — loved Motown, interrogated her interview subjects (including one judge who had a heart attack and died while she was peppering him with questions), and tortured and fired her secretaries (she had dozens throughout the show's run). She was also a feminist, a loyal friend, and a prolific dater … so rich a character that she was included on a TV Guide list of the 25 Greatest TV Characters of All Time.

In honor of the politics-skewering workplace comedy's 25th anniversary, here are 25 things you might not have known about Murphy and company:

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Candice Bergen at the 1990 Emmy Awards

Candice Bergen at the 1990 Emmy Awards

1. Emmy Gold! Bergen, the daughter of famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and model Frances Westcott, won five Emmys for playing Murphy, the record for the most Emmys won by an actress for playing the same role. She shares the record with Don Knotts, who won five statuettes for playing Barney Fife on "The Andy Griffith Show." Bergen also won two Golden Globes for playing Murphy, and after her fifth Emmy win, she decided to no longer submit herself as a contender for the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy for "Murphy Brown."

2. Second the Best. Bergen was not the network's first choice for Murphy. CBS execs wanted Heather Locklear to play the role, and it was only the insistence of series creator Diane English that won Bergen the job.

3. From Vogue to TV. English was on the other side of TV before she created "Murphy Brown"; she was the first regular TV columnist for Vogue magazine.

4. "My Movie With Louie." Bergen's real-life husband, Oscar-nominated film director Louis Malle, played himself in a Season 6 episode called "My Movie With Louis" (a nod to his film "My Dinner With André"). In it, he's in town filming a political thriller, and Murphy takes a small role in the movie, despite the objection of network honcho Stan Lansing (guest star Garry Marshall).

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Candice Bergen and Louis Malle

Candice Bergen and Louis Malle

5. The Write Stuff. The "Murphy Brown" writing staff included Peter Tolan, who went on to win an Emmy as a writer on "The Larry Sanders Show" and who created, with Denis Leary, "Rescue Me" and "The Job." One of Tolan's "Murphy" cohorts was "2 Broke Girls" creator Michael Patrick King, who won two Emmys as a producer-writer-director on "Sex and the City," while "The Middle" creators DeAnn Heline and Eileen Heisler were also "Murphy Brown" writers.

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Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown with infant as Baby Brown in the episode "Birth 101"

Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown with infant as Baby Brown in the episode "Birth 101"

6. Dan Quayle's Speech. The most famous storyline in the show's history also became a national scandal. In the Season 4 finale — "Birth 101" — Murphy delivered son Avery, having decided to raise her child as a single working mother. The episode aired on May 18, 1992, and the very next night, then-Vice President Dan Quayle gave a speech in which he said, "Primetime 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. I know it's not fashionable to talk about moral values, but we need to do it!" The speech sparked national debate about family values and became a hot-button issue during that year's presidential election. It also elicited a response from the "Murphy Brown" gang, via the Season 5 premiere, "You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato," a reference to Quayle's equally famous misspelling of "potato" at a New Jersey elementary school spelling bee. In the ep, the "FYI" staff responds to Quayle's real speech about the fictional character with a special report on diverse families and then dumps a truckload of tubers in front of Quayle's home. Most surprising, perhaps, were Bergen's thoughts on the hubbub, a decade later. "His speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable," the actress said in 2002. "And nobody agreed with that more than I did."

7. That "Sixth Sense" Kid. During the show's finale season, Avery Brown was played by future "Forrest Gump" and "The Sixth Sense" star (and Oscar nominee) Haley Joel Osment.

 

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Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown and Haley Joel Osment as Avery Brown in "Operation Murphy Brown"

 

[Related: 'Alpha House' Brings Haley Joel Osment Back to Prominence After 12 Years]

8. Showered by Anchors. In the penultimate episode of Season 4, "A Chance of Showers," Murphy's baby shower featured guest appearances by real-world news anchors, including Katie Couric, Paula Zahn, and Joan Lunden.

 

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Faith Ford, Faith Daniels, Joan Lunden, Katie Couric, Mary Alice Williams, Candice Bergen, and Paula Zahn

 

9. Aretha Franklin Duet. Classic Motown tunes were a big part of the series, from songs sung by the characters to songs used to open episodes and even song titles as episode titles. Murphy was a big fan of the music, and one of her career highlights — and, as the video below shows, a giddy moment for Bergen herself — was the chance to interview her idol Aretha Franklin, which ended with a Franklin guest appearance and duet with Murphy on "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."

 

10. Fake Death Alert! Retcon much? Phil (Pat Corley), the owner and bartender of the eponymous waterhole where the "FYI" gang gathered, died of a heart attack in the Season 9 episode "Phil Is Dead — Long Live Phil's." But in the series finale, he returns, explaining that he faked his own death and went into witness protection because he knew too much about the Whitewater scandal.

11. The "Big Bang Theory" Connection. A Season 2 episode titled "I Want My FYI" found Murphy and the "FYI" crew acting as mentors to a group of teens who wanted to launch a news program for kids. "Saved by the Bell" star Mark-Paul Gosselaar was Jim Dial's mentee, while "Blossom" and "The Big Bang Theory" star Mayim Bialik played Natalie, Murphy's mentee, who made a joke about a guy named Sheldon on the show. Bialik's "BBT" character, of course, dates Jim Parsons's Sheldon on the CBS hit.

See Bialik on "Murphy Brown":

 

12. The Circle of Parodies. The show that loved to spoof political scandals and celebrities was the subject of a spoof itself. In the Season 2 episode "TV or Not TV," Morgan Fairchild guest-starred as an actress starring as a Murphy-like character (named "Kelly Green") in a sitcom revolving around an "FYI"-ish-type show.

13. 93 Secretaries. An ongoing storyline throughout the series involved Murphy's inability to find a secretary she liked and her constant firing of the ones sent to her, sometimes for silly reasons (like one who was ousted because he looked like Hitler). The running gag also provided an opening for celebrity guests, including Rosie O'Donnell, Sally Field, Don Rickles, Paul "Pee-wee Herman" Reubens and, in the series finale, Bette Midler, who all portrayed — briefly — Murphy's assistants. In total, Murphy had 93 secretaries during the show's 10-season run.

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MURPHY BROWN, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen in the episode "Never Can Say Goodbye"

MURPHY BROWN, Bette Midler and Candice Bergen in the episode "Never Can Say Goodbye"

14. Marcia Wallace Crosses Over. Another doomed Murphy secretary also formed a classic TV comedy crossover. In the Season 6 episode "Anything but Cured," "The Bob Newhart Show" star Marcia Wallace guest-starred as Murphy's newest assistant … until her old boss, Bob Hartley (Newhart's character on his 1972-78 series), showed up and asked her to return as his secretary. Wallace, who was credited as "Secretary #66," received an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series Emmy nomination for the role.

15. Popping Up on "Seinfeld." Another "Murphy Brown" crossover with another Emmy-winning classic comedy: the 1992 Season 3 finale of "Seinfeld." In "The Keys," Jerry and George break into Elaine's apartment and find out that she's secretly writing a spec script for an episode of "Murphy Brown." Later in the ep, Jerry and Elaine are watching "Murphy" when they see a familiar face: Kramer, who fled to Los Angeles to be an actor after a fight with Jerry. Kramer booked a gig playing Murphy's latest secretary, Steven Snell, whom she tells, "Steven Snell? I know people. And I have a very good feeling about you."

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Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer and Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown in the "Seinfeld" episode "The Keys"

Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer and Candice Bergen as Murphy Brown in the "Seinfeld" episode "The Keys"

16. Ratings and Awards. By its third season, "Murphy Brown" had become a top 10 show in the Nielsen ratings. It never fell below the top 20 until Season 9, and the series won a total of 18 Emmy Awards, including two Outstanding Comedy Series statues.

17. DVD Status. Despite the show's popularity during its original run, DVD sales of the first season were so poor that Warner Bros. has yet to release any further individual seasons or a complete series boxed set.

[Related: Hey, TV Networks, Bill Cosby Wants to Do Another Family Sitcom]

18. How to Watch Now. Fans will soon be able to watch the show again, however. On Dec. 2, the Encore Love cable channel will be converted to Encore Classic and will feature daily airings of TV series like "Magnum, P.I.," "Night Court," and, yes, "Murphy Brown." More Bergen: She'll play the mother of Michael J. Fox's newsman character on Fox's NBC comedy "The Michael J. Fox Show" on Nov. 21.

19. Pink Tutu Required. Diane English is creating another female-centric comedy, but this time the females are preteens. It is an NBC show starring Sophia Grace and her cousin Rosie, the 10- and 7-year-old, respectively, British girls who are frequent guest stars in musical numbers on "Ellen."

Sophia Grace and Rosie sing Taylor Swift's "I Knew You Were Trouble":

 

20. Palin 4 Prez. "Murphy Brown" was honored with the Impact Award at the 2012 TV Land Awards, and English hinted at the time that she'd love to bring the show that poked fun at many politicians — real and fictional — back to the airwaves, but under one specific circumstance: if Sarah Palin ever decided to run for president. Palin, in her 2010 book "America by Heart: Reflections on Family, Faith, and Flag," wrote that "given a choice of role models between [her unwed teen mom daughter] Bristol and Murphy Brown, I choose Bristol."

[Related: 25 Things You Didn't Know About 'Roseanne']

21. Moo-moo, Ga-ga. The best newspaper headline in the flurry of media coverage of the "Murphy Brown"/Dan Quayle dust-up: "Murphy Has a Baby … Quayle Has a Cow," from the Philadelphia Daily News.

22. Liar, Liar. "30 Rock" paid homage to "Murphy Brown" with the 2012 episode "Murphy Brown Lied to Us," in which working woman Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) decides she can have it all by trying to have a child with her boyfriend, Criss.

Watch a clip from the "Murphy Brown Lied to Us" episode of "30 Rock":

 

23. Mammograms Are Important. Murphy's battle with breast cancer, which spanned the entire final season of the show, sparked another set of controversies and protests for the series, from Jim's (Charles Kimbrough) purchase of marijuana to help Murphy deal with the side effects of chemotherapy to Murphy pondering whether she should choose the "Demi Moore" or the "Elsie the cow" when purchasing prosthetic breasts. But the arc was also credited with a significant increase in the number of women getting mammograms, and Bergen received an award from the American Cancer Society for her performance and contribution to encouraging women to seek the potentially life-saving tests.

24. Murphy in Jeopardy. The breast cancer storyline was suggested by English, who had left the series after Season 4 to launch another series, and Bergen said network executives were not happy about the choice of subject matter initially. "[Diane] thought we should put Murphy in jeopardy, because we had never seen her vulnerable,'' Bergen told the New York Times in 1998. "[CBS execs] thought Murphy should just struggle through menopause. Diane and I had to tell them menopause is not jeopardizing.''

25. Celebrity Sendoff. George Clooney (playing a doctor), Julia Roberts (playing herself in a storyline that had her seeking a date with Frank Fontana), Alan King (playing God), Bette Midler, Mike Wallace, and Bergen's mother were the guest stars in the two-part series finale, "Never Can Say Goodbye," which found Murphy conducting the interview of her career (with "God") and beating breast cancer.

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Julia Roberts, Faith Ford, Lily Tomlin, Candice Bergen in the episode "Never Can Say Goodbye: Part I and II"

Julia Roberts, Faith Ford, Lily Tomlin, Candice Bergen in the episode "Never Can Say Goodbye: Part I and II"

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