The executive producer of “Murphy Brown” isn’t afraid of Donald Trump. Isn’t afraid she’s going to piss him off. Isn’t afraid he’s going to sue.
As a matter of fact, she's rooting for him to do just that.
Diane English, who created the show back in 1988, isn’t revealing a lot about the first new episode in 20 years (Thursday, 8:30 p.m., CBS/Ch. 2). But she did say she went to the Warner Bros. legal department to ask if there would be any “fallout.”
“I said, ‘Would it be a problem? Are we going to get sued by the White House?’” English said. “And legal said, ‘Oh, we hope so.’”
You can’t buy that kind of publicity. And it’s happened to “Murphy Brown” before.
Back in 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle — confusing a fictional character with reality while he was campaigning for re-election — criticized Murphy for giving birth out of wedlock. The show was already a huge hit; the controversy Quayle created shot it into the stratosphere — 70 million Americans tuned in to see Murphy’s response that September.
So, yeah, English is “definitely hoping that [Trump] will engage with us” after Thursday’s episode (which will run 35 minutes).
“The script of the first episode is so ambitious and so fearless,” Bergen said. “During the taping, I turned to Joe [Regalbuto] at one point and I said, 'This show has no fear of anyone,’ because we really stick our heads in the lion’s mouth.”
Murphy, unhappy in retirement, returns to TV as the host of “Murphy in the Morning” on a cable news network. She recruits Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud) as the executive producer, and reporters Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford) and Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) join her on air. Murphy is competing with her son, Avery (Jake McDorman), who’s the liberal voice on the ultraconservative Wolf News channel.
“We’ve always been a political show with something to say, but I’m focusing the show really through the prism of the press. The First Amendment and free press are under attack like I’ve never seen before,” English said. “The press is not the enemy of the people, and these guys, our characters, are the press. So we deal with that a lot.”
But she added that the show won’t just be joke after joke at Trump’s expense.
“We leave the Trump-bashing jokes to the late-night guys,” English said. “We are concentrating on bigger themes.”
Those include climate change, #MeToo, Russian meddling in elections, and an episode about the midterm elections. One episode will focus on the lies that emanate from the White House press office; another will feature a character who’s “sort of Alex Jones-Steve Bannon composite.”
The goal is to focus on themes that will remain “topical a year from now,” English said, but the writers do have the “ability to pop in a super topical joke at the minute if we want to.”
There's no lack of material in the age of Trump, but it presents its own set of challenges.
“It’s hard to actually top what happens on a day-to-day basis with comedy, because you can’t make it up,” said English, adding that she “might have to have some protection” once the show starts airing.
“I’m not kidding. There are some crazy people out there,” she said. “And we see more and more of that at the [Trump] rallies. It’s a scary time.”