Murphy Brown Controversy
March 2, 2012 by staff
Murphy Brown Controversy, Murphy Brown is an American situation comedy which aired on CBS from November 14, 1988, to May 18, 1998, for a total of 247 episodes. The program starred Candice Bergen as the eponymous Murphy Brown, a famous investigative journalist and news anchor for FYI, a fictional CBS television newsmagazine.
The program was well-known for “torn-from-the-headlines” stories and blatant political satire. It achieved a high level of political notoriety in the 1992 presidential election when Dan Quayle mentioned the show in a campaign speech, afterwards known as the “Murphy Brown speech”.
The show began in the Monday 9/8PM timeslot and remained there until its final season when it was moved to Wednesday at 8:30/7:30PM. The series finale aired in its original Monday timeslot.
In the show’s 1991-1992 season, Murphy became pregnant. When her baby’s father (ex-husband and current underground radical Jake Lowenstein) expressed his unwillingness to give up his own lifestyle to be a parent, Murphy chose to have the child and raise it alone. Another major fiction-reality blending came at Murphy’s baby shower: the invited guests were journalists Katie Couric, Joan Lunden, Paula Zahn, Mary Alice Williams and Faith Daniels, who treated the fictional Murphy and Corky as friends and peers.
At the point where she was about to give birth, she had stated that “several people do not want me to have the baby. Pat Robertson; Phyllis Schlafly; half of Utah!” Right after giving birth to her son, Avery, Murphy sang the song “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin. This storyline made the show a subject of political controversy during the 1992 American presidential campaign. On May 19, 1992, then Vice President Dan Quayle spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. During his speech, he criticized the Murphy Brown character for “ignoring the importance of fathers by birthing a child alone”.
Quayle’s remarks caused a public discussion on family values, culminating in the 1992-93 season premiere, “You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato”, where the television characters reacted to Quayle’s comments and produced a special episode of FYI showcasing and celebrating the diversity of the modern American family.
Because Quayle’s actual speech made little reference to Murphy Brown’s fictional nature (other than the use of the word character), the show was able to use actual footage from his speech to make it appear that, within the fictional world of the show, Quayle was referring to Murphy Brown personally, rather than to the fictional character. At the end, Brown helps organize a special edition of FYI focusing on different kinds of families then arranges a retaliatory prank in which a truckload of potatoes is dumped in front of Quayle’s residence, while a disc jockey commenting on the incident notes the Vice President should be glad people were not making fun of him for misspelling “fertilizer”, (On June 15, 1992, at a spelling bee in Trenton, New Jersey, Quayle had erroneously corrected an elementary school student’s spelling of “potato” to “potatoe”.) When Candice Bergen won another Emmy that year, she thanked Dan Quayle. The feud was cited by E! as #81 on its list of “101 Reasons the ’90s Ruled.”
In 2002, Bergen said in an interview that she personally agreed with much of Quayle’s speech, calling it “a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable” and adding that “nobody agreed with that more than I did.”
Quayle would eventually display a sense of humor about the incident-after the controversy died down, he appeared for an interview on an independent Los Angeles TV station and for his final question was asked what his favorite TV show was. He responded with “Murphy Brown-Not!” The station would later use the clip of Quayle’s response to promote its showing of Murphy Brown re-runs in syndication.
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