“We’ve always been a political show with something to say,” she said at the Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for the show Sunday. “The first amendment and free press is under attack like I’ve never seen before…and these guys are the press, so we deal with that a lot.”
The idea to return to the show was first floated in 2012, English shared, “when Sarah Palin was running for president.” “We thought we only had six episodes, and it wasn’t a serious idea at all,” she said. But then after the presidential election in 2016, Warner Bros. Television president Peter Roth called her to ask if she’d bring it back. While she admitted the idea was “daunting,” once she said yes, the story “came pouring out of me.”
It’s important to English for “Murphy Brown” to be as topical and thought-provoking for today’s times as it was during its original run. One of the ways the series will do so is with a #MeToo episode, which will air as the show’s fourth episode. English said the episode was developed months ago.
“I don’t think there’s a woman out here that hasn’t had some experience with misogyny or misconduct,” she said. “It’s a powerful movement, and we wanted to do it justice. The episode is titled ‘Hashtag Murphy Too.'”
Crediting her “incredibly smart team of writers,” English said that the team has “always had this uncanny ability to look ahead and then putting it into an episode.” She noted “the same thing is happening again” with the revival.
“We actually stopped developing stories when we got to episode nine because we don’t want to get too far ahead,” she shared. “Some things are going to drop in September, I think, and as we get into our production schedule, it becomes more and more compressed. We air three weeks from the time we shoot the show and we’re shooting digitally so we have the ability to pop in something extremely topical.”
English pointed out that the season finale, which right now is scheduled to be the 13th episode, has a turnaround time of six days, so they’re “really going to take advantage of that.”
When the audience rejoins Murphy (Candice Bergen), Corky (Faith Ford), Frank (Joe Regalbuto) and Miles (Grant Shaud), it will be at a cable news show with the first three characters still on-air talent and Miles still producing.
“When we left these characters in 1998, there was no internet, there was no social media. Cable news was barely getting started, so to take these characters and put them in the world of 24-hour cable news, which is what their new show is, was very rich for us — very, very rich,” English said. “They’re all in retirement for the last few years and they want to get back in the action, especially now, while there’s so much action.”
Jake McDorman is coming in as Murphy’s grown son Avery, who is “finally at the age where he’s gotten the opportunity to put all of those lessons [from his mother] into practice,” McDorman said. He is the “liberal voice” of a rival network, the Wolf Network, which Bergen jokes is like Fox.
“She is a fierce mom but she is a competitive mom, so Avery has his work cut out for him,” said Bergen.
Nik Dodani is “the voice of the younger generation,” handling social media for the new show and getting to “talk about the issues that weren’t there in the original.”
Some key characters from the original are not returning, however. Robert Pastorelli, who Bergen noted was a “fan favorite,” passed away a few years ago. The revival is not replacing him, she said, “but we do sort of toast him.”
Charles Kimbrough, who played anchor Jim Dial, lives in Los Angeles, Calif. in real life and couldn’t make the full-time move to New York City to commit to the 13 episodes — though English shared he would guest star in a few. “Jim is retired, but he does find a compelling reason to return to the old gang,” she said.
Much of the show’s original DNA will be intact not just in story themes and characters but also settings, as Murphy’s townhouse was recreated on the soundstage on the East Coast, making the first day on set “very emotional for the old guys,” admitted Bergen. “We got tears in our eyes.”
Additionally, they have plans to bring in real life figures in politics, news and pop culture, as they did in the original run, including one unnamed “very famous” player in the season premiere. And of course, Murphy will still have rotating assistants at her new job.
But one thing that is changing is the nature of Corky and Miles’ relationship. English had left the show when the new showrunner decided to put them together romantically. Now that she is back in charge, “she just sort of chose to ignore it,” Ford revealed. “Diane was not a part of making that choice…and we’re good with that.”
See behind-the-scenes of “Murphy Brown’s” first revival table read below: