BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Reports of the death of “Murphy Brown” were greatly exaggerated.
That’s the word from Buffalo native Diane English, the creator of the original series and the CBS reboot last fall in which Murphy (Candice Bergen) and the gang were working on a morning news show.
Over a salad with blackened salmon during lunch at an industry hot spot in Beverly Hills called the Grille, English emphasized the despair the cast had late last year when two industry publications reported the show wouldn’t go on.
English said the reports also hit home – her mother Ann and brother Richard – were upset upon hearing the erroneous report on Fox News.
“It went viral, and agents started calling the cast members and saying, ‘oh we’re so sorry.’ So everybody was freaked out. Our cast thought we were canceled.”
A CBS representative came to the New York stage where the show was being shot to say the story was false.
“Fox News picked up this rumor and ran with it even though they knew it was erroneous,” claimed English. “So my mother is watching Fox” and heard the fake news.
“Richard said, (Fox host) Laura Ingraham is doing an entire panel trashing you, saying the show was canceled. My mother was very upset. We had to do a lot of damage control and I still see it online.”
English is getting a rare period of having nothing to write as she awaits word on whether “Murphy Brown” will return next season.
She described herself as being in “a holding pattern,” which at least gives her time to walk a dog she named Martha Stewart because “she is blonde, was behind bars (as a rescue) and is obsessed with vacuum cleaners.”
Murphy said she has heard positive vibes from David Nevins, the chief creative officer of CBS, and Peter Roth, the chief executive officer of Warner Brothers, which produces the show.
“I am making the rounds, getting information,” said English. “But we’re very confident. What we don’t know is whether we’re coming back in the fall, whether we’re coming back in midseason. How many episodes. David Nivens asked me if I would be open to do more than 13 episodes, which I took as a good signal.”
Reached later at an event celebrating “The Big Bang Theory,” Roth was circumspect. He noted “Murphy” will be evaluated against all the pilots of new shows that CBS has commissioned.
“We’ll find out in May,” said Roth. “I think we have a fairly compelling presentation. We loved the show, I love Diane, I love working with Candice. I think we went through some growing pains in the first year. But I think Diane, Candice and the entire company now see what is resonating with the audience. … We have high hopes for it. Fingers crossed.”
The tricky part will be discussions between CBS and Warner Brothers over license fees for a show that is expensive to produce because of the cast and it being shot in New York City. That requires the writers to be relocated from Los Angeles.
English also was heartened by the fact CBS programmer Kelly Kahl said some positive things in two recent interviews.
“He said he was very proud of the show, that it improved his time slot over previous residents of the time slot and it was a very strong contender to come back,” said English.
She said she plans to make some political adjustments dealing with bashing of President Trump policies if there is a second season.
“These characters are iconic and they are likable no matter what their politics are,” said English. “And the show is funny.”
“You have to remember the reason we came back is because we were in this very fraught political atmosphere and what I’ll call our base – our rabid fans who were calling for our return – really didn’t want us to take sort of a false equivalency stand,” said English. “They really wanted us to come out swinging and we did.
"And I think I have gotten it out of my system,” she said laughing. “You kind of sense the Trump fatigue so I think I might concentrate – not back off the real world that we live in – but balance it out with more personal stories and focus more on the journalism of it.
“But I think it worked for us in that people talked about our episodes online a lot the next day. And that counts for a lot these days. But we (did) so very aggressively. And I think sometimes we forgot we were a comedy. I don’t regret it but I think it is time to move forward a little bit.”
It was somewhat surprising to see the Trump factor is out of English’s system.
“I got it out of the show’s system, it is never out of my system,” she conceded. “And it’s not going to go away. Things are going to happen (in the real world) and we’re going to have to acknowledge that.”
The Thanksgiving episode sparked considerable online attention when the parents of a Mexican dreamer named Miguel were deported as illegal immigrants.
“We were a hilarious episode up until the last five minutes and then we ruined everyone’s Thanksgiving ... people were crying,” said English.
Why did she do that?
“There were a lot of kids in cages,” said English.
The most positive critical response last season was over the relationship between Bergen’s Murphy and her now adult son Avery, a TV newsman played by Jake McDorman.
“That relationship really became the heart of the show,” said English. “It was really gold and I think we would like to not only keep that going but make it stronger.”
The idea that the older Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto) still fancied himself as a lothario went over less well with critics.
“I don’t know that he is a lothario, but he is still a single guy and I know we had him dealing with why is he?” said English. “He just can’t make that commitment. It is a really interesting area for us, I think, next season.
“What if he got into a serious relationship. It’s a good area, it goes along with telling some of these personal stories and dealing with these characters at their age. It’s been really good, it’s been really rich.”
She loved the new cast members, including Tyne Daly as bartender Phyllis and Nik Dodani as social media director Pat Patel.
And she loved New York.
“It was joyous, we had the most fun making that show,” said English. “It was great having all the original writers back, the new ones. We loved being in New York City. It went so smoothly. Because we know what we are doing and how to make it happen. I was surprised how much fun I had because being a showrunner is such hard work and it so exhausting that you are usually counting the hours until wrap. But I think by the end, we really felt we’d like to do this again.”