FYI: 12 Facts About Murphy Brown

Guest star John F. Kennedy Jr. and Candice Bergen on Murphy Brown (1995).
Guest star John F. Kennedy Jr. and Candice Bergen on Murphy Brown (1995).
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Nearly 20 years after Murphy Brown signed off for the last time, the Emmy-winning series is staging a comeback. Following in the footsteps of Roseanne, The X-Files, and the many other beloved series of the past that have gotten recent reboots, CBS just announced that it has ordered 13 new episodes of the hit 1990s series to run either this year or next. While details beyond that are minimal, we do know that Candice Bergen will return to the title role (how could it work without her?).

Even if you can rattle off Murphy's plethora of secretaries by heart, you're sure to discover something new about the FYI gang with these 12 facts about the series that started it all.

1. HEATHER LOCKLEAR WAS CONSIDERED FOR THE TITLE ROLE.

When series creator Diane English first pitched the show to the network, they were intrigued. But they wanted the title character to be younger—Heather Locklear, in fact—and returning from a week at the spa instead of a month at the Betty Ford Center. “Diane English ... went in and slapped the head of the network around and said she would prefer to go with someone more mature, so I got it,” Bergen said on Today. “But I had to really fight for it.” Even after her audition, the network president wasn’t convinced, telling English he didn’t think Bergen could do it. He later took her out to dinner to apologize.

2. DAN QUAYLE SENT MURPHY’S BABY A STUFFED ELEPHANT.

Murphy became a single mother during season four, something then-Vice President Dan Quayle infamously took umbrage with. After making a speech in which he said Brown was “mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone and calling it just another lifestyle choice,” Quayle was roundly mocked. He later sent “Baby Brown” a stuffed elephant, “in the spirit of lightheartedness and joining in the fun.”

3. CANDICE BERGEN LATER SAID SHE AGREED WITH DAN QUAYLE—SORT OF.

 Candice Bergen attends the 'Murphy Brown': a 25th anniversary event at Museum of Modern Art on December 11, 2013 in New York City
Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Although much was made of the Murphy Brown/Dan Quayle feud, the woman at the center of it wasn’t as bothered as everyone else was. “His speech was a perfectly intelligent speech about fathers not being dispensable and nobody agreed with that more than I did,” Bergen said.

But on June 19, 1998, Bergen responded to an op-ed written by Quayle's former speechwriter, Lisa Schiffren, who had suggested that she thought Quayle was a visionary the whole time.

"[Schiffren] quotes me as saying that family values 'was the right theme to hammer home,' that I 'agreed with all of it except his references to the show,' and that 'the body of the speech was completely sound.' Since that quote serves as the crux of her argument, let me print what she left out: 'it was an arrogant and uninformed posture, but the body of the speech was completely sound.'"

4. HALEY JOEL OSMENT PLAYED AVERY, MURPHY’S SON.

Murphy’s son had grown up by the final season of the show and needed to be played by a young actor who could hold his own in scenes with Bergen. Enter Haley Joel Osment, who, at the age of nine, had already been a series regular on two sitcoms: Thunder Alley and The Jeff Foxworthy Show. Bergen described him as “strikingly professional and prepared.”

5. AFTER HER FIFTH EMMY, CANDICE BERGEN DECLINED ADDITIONAL NOMINATIONS.

Bergen took home trophies in 1989, 1990, 1992, 1994, and 1995. Feeling that she had been lauded enough, the actress refused to put herself up for any more Emmy nominations. She still held the record for best actress Emmy wins for playing a single role until 2016, when Julia Louis-Dreyfus tied her for Veep. In 2017, Louis-Dreyfus broke the record when she won her sixth Emmy for playing Selina Meyer.

6. MURPHY HAD A TOTAL OF 93 SECRETARIES.

Murphy’s revolving door of secretaries ended at number 93, who happened to be played by Bette Midler. Other celebrities that stepped in to assist Murph included Sally Field, Paul Reubens, Craig Bierko, and Michael Richards in a Seinfeld crossover.

7. DIANE ENGLISH RETURNED FOR THE FINAL SEASON.

Though she left the series after season four, Diane English came back for season 10 to make sure the show got a proper send-off. “I wasn’t really very pleased with how the series was evolving,” English told Entertainment Weekly in 2014. “I wanted to sort of get back to our roots and tackle a serious subject.” They definitely went serious—Murphy’s arc in season 10 was about battling breast cancer. English had a cameo in the final episode, playing a nurse who delivered the good news that the cancer was gone.

8. THE FINAL SEASON COULD HAVE BEEN ABOUT MENOPAUSE INSTEAD OF BREAST CANCER.

According to Bergen, executives weren’t thrilled with the breast cancer storyline. "They thought Murphy should just struggle through menopause,'' Bergen explained. ''Diane and I had to tell them menopause is not jeopardizing.'' Years later, however, English remembered it a little differently: “There wasn’t a lot of resistance. Really, Les Moonves was a champion of this. It was more the press, actually. When we announced this was where we were going at the Upfronts, there was kind of an outrage, like, ‘Wait a minute. This is a serious subject. People die from this. Why is this funny?’”

9. THE SHOW HAD AN IMPACT ON THE NUMBER OF WOMEN WHO GOT MAMMOGRAMS.

Candice Bergen stars in 'Murphy Brown'
CBS

The breast cancer plot resulted in something bigger than just good ratings: The number of American women who got mammograms increased by 30 percent.

10. THE SHOW SPAWNED AN ALBUM.

Unlike Bergen, The Sounds of Murphy Brown didn’t clean up at any awards shows. But fans who enjoyed the Motown tunes that popped up across the series surely enjoyed this compilation of songs, including hits by Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations. Bergen has a couple of tracks on there too.

11. DON’T BOTHER LOOKING FOR THE SERIES ON DVD.

The first season was released, but sales were allegedly so awful that plans to roll out the other nine seasons were immediately withdrawn. That Motown soundtrack may also have played a role in that decision, reported Vulture; with poor sales, it just wasn’t worth it to secure the rights to all of those hit songs. (Though with its reboot coming, don't be surprised to see it streaming somewhere soon.)

12. ENGLISH PREDICTED ITS COMEBACK.

 Actor Candice Bergen and 'Murphy Brown' creator/executive producer Diane English speak onstage at the 10th Annual TV Land Awards
Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images

A few years ago, English practically predicted the show's comeback. “If Sarah Palin runs for president, I’m going to ask CBS to put us back on the air,” English told the San Francisco Chronicle during an interview. “Six episodes, that’s all I need.” Looks like she got her wish—and then some.

Netflix Is Testing Commercials, and Subscribers Aren't Happy

iStock
iStock

Save the occasional "Are you still watching?" message popping up between episodes, it's possible to watch an entire Netflix series in one sitting with little to no distractions. Now, the streaming service is testing something that could upend that: As CNN reports, Netflix has quietly started sprinkling advertisements into its programming, something the subscription-based service has been able to avoid up to this point.

The promotional content Netflix is experimenting with differs from conventional cable commercials in some fundamental ways. The promos won't be advertising third-party brands, Netflix promises: Rather, they'll exclusively show off Netflix original content, like seriesGlow and Stranger Things (though one Reddit user did report seeing an ad for Better Call Saul, which Netflix licenses from AMC). And instead of inserting ads throughout the program, as some non-subscription streaming services do, Netflix will only include them at the end of some episodes with a "skip" button similar to the one that allows viewers to bypass a show's opening credits. And each promo subscribers see will be personalized based on their viewing habits, hopefully turning them on to new shows and not just annoying them in the middle of their binge-watching sessions.

Despite these assurances from Netflix, viewers aren't happy. Many customers have taken to social media threatening to cancel their service if the promos become the norm, which likely may not happen: They've only been shown to a select number of test viewers so far, and based on user response, Netflix may decide to pull the plug on the experiment.

The good news is that as long as the ads are still in the test phase, you can choose to opt out of them. Just go to Netflix.com/DoNotTest and toggle off the switch next to the words "Include me in tests and previews." Now you're ready to resume your binge-watching marathon without interruption.

[h/t CNN]

10 Things You Might Not Know About Columbo

Universal Pictures Home Entertainment
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

For more than 40 years, Peter Falk entered living rooms around the world as Lieutenant Columbo, an unconventional L.A. homicide detective known for his ruffled raincoat and trademark cigar. The actor would go on to win four Emmys for the role, while the series itself remains a benchmark for television crime dramas. But if series creators William Link and Richard Levinson went with their initial choice, the iconic role of Columbo would have gone to a syrupy-smooth crooner rather than the inelegant Falk. Get familiar with one of TV's most unique heroes with facts about Columbo.

1. BING CROSBY WAS ORIGINALLY EYED FOR THE ROLE.

Columbo creators Richard Levinson and William Link's first choice to play their low-key detective was crooner Bing Crosby. Der Bingle loved the script and the character, but he feared that a TV series commitment would interfere with his true passion—golf. It was probably providential that Crosby turned the role down, since his death in 1977 occurred while the series was still a solid hit on NBC. 

2. PETER FALK WAS AN UNEXPECTED SEX SYMBOL.

Peter Falk in 'Columbo'
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

Character actor Lee J. Cobb was also considered for the role, until Peter Falk phoned co-creator William Link. Falk had gotten a copy of the script from his agents at William Morris and told Link that he’d “kill to play that cop.” Link and Levinson knew the actor back from their days of working in New York, and even though he was the opposite of everything they’d originally pictured for Lt. Columbo, they had to admit that Falk had a certain likeability that translated to both men and women. Falk was described by a certain female demographic as “sexy,” and males liked him because he was an unthreatening, humble, blue-collar underdog who was smarter than the wealthy perps he encountered.

3. FALK WAS A GOVERNMENT WORKER BEFORE BECOMING AN ACTOR.

Peter Falk wasn’t too far removed from the character he played. In real life he tended to be rumpled and disheveled and was forever misplacing things (he was famous for losing his car keys and having to be driven home from the studio by someone else). He was also intelligent, having earned a master’s degree in Public Administration from Syracuse University, which led to him working for the State of Connecticut’s Budget Bureau as an efficiency expert until the acting bug bit him. He was also used to being underestimated due to his appearance; he’d lost his right eye to cancer at age three, and many of his drama teachers in college warned him of his limited chances in film due to his cockeyed stare. Indeed, after a screen test at Columbia Pictures Harry Cohn dismissed him by saying, “For the same price I can get an actor with two eyes.”

4. COLUMBO'S DOG WASN'T A WELCOME SIGHT AT FIRST.

Columbo's dog
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

When Columbo was renewed for a second season, NBC brass had a request: they wanted the lieutenant to have a sidekick. Perhaps a young rookie detective just learning the ropes. Link and Levinson were resistant to the idea, but the network was pressuring them. They conferred with Steven Bochco, who was writing the script for the season opener, “Etude in Black,” and together they hatched the idea of giving Lt. Columbo a dog as a “partner.” Falk was against the idea at first; he felt that between the raincoat, cigar, and Peugeot his character had enough gimmicks. But when he met the lethargic, drooling Basset Hound that had been plucked from a pound, Falk knew it was perfect for Columbo's dog.

The original dog passed away in between the end of the original NBC run of the series and its renewal on ABC, so a replacement was necessary. The new pup was visibly younger than the original dog, and as a result spent more time in the makeup chair to make him look older.

5. FALK'S REAL-LIFE WIFE PLAYED A ROLE IN THE SERIES.

Falk first met Shera Danese, the woman who would become his second wife, on the set of his 1976 film Mikey & Nicky. The movie was being filmed in Danese’s hometown of Philadelphia, and the aspiring actress had landed work as an extra. They were married in 1977, and she was able to pad out her resume by appearing on several episodes of Columbo. Her first few appearances were limited to small walk-on parts—secretaries, sexy assistants, etc. By the time the series was resurrected on ABC in the early 1990s, she was awarded larger roles.

She originally auditioned for the role of the titular rock star in 1991’s “Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star,” but her husband adamantly refused, since the role included a scene of her in bed making love to a much younger man. She instead played the role of a co-conspiring attorney, and was also allowed to sing the song that was the major hit for the murdered star.

6. THE CHARACTER'S TRADEMARK RAINCOAT CAME FROM FALK'S CLOSET.

The initial wardrobe proposed for Columbo struck Peter Falk as completely wrong for the character. To get closer to what he wanted for Columbo, the actor went into his closet and found a beat-up coat he had bought years earlier when caught in a rainstorm on 57th Street. And he ordered one of the blue suits chosen for him to be dyed brown. The drab outfit would become one of the trademarks of the character for decades.

7. STEVEN SPIELBERG GOT AN EARLY BREAK ON COLUMBO.

“Murder by the Book” was the second Columbo episode filmed, but it was the first one to air after the show was picked up as a series. Filming was delayed for a month, though, when Falk refused to sign off on this “kid”—a 25-year-old named Steven Spielberg—to direct the episode. Finally he watched a few of Spielberg’s previous credits (all of them TV episodes) and was impressed by his work on the short-lived NBC series called The Psychiatrist. Once filming was underway, Falk was impressed by many of the techniques employed by the young director, such as filming a street scene with a long lens from a building across the road. “That wasn’t common 20 years ago,” Falk said. He went on to tell producers Link and Levinson that “this guy is too good for Columbo."

8. COLUMBO'S FIRST NAME WOUND UP THE SUBJECT OF A LAWSUIT.

Fred L. Worth, author of several books of trivia facts, had a sneaking feeling that other folks were using his meticulously researched facts without crediting him. He set a “copyright trap” and mentioned in one of his books that Lt. Columbo’s first name was “Philip,” although he had completely fabricated that so-called fact. Sure enough, a 1984 edition of the Trivial Pursuit board game listed the “Philip” Columbo name as an answer on one of their cards, which led to a $300 million lawsuit filed by Mr. Worth.

The board game creators admitted in court that they’d garnered their Columbo fact from Worth’s book, but the judge ultimately determined that it was not an actionable offense. By the way, years later when Columbo was available in syndicated reruns and HD TV was an option, alert viewers were able to freeze-frame a scene where the rumpled lieutenant extended his badge for identification purposes in the season one episode “Dead Weight” and determine that his first name was, in fact, “Frank.”

9. THE SERIES DIDN'T FOLLOW A STANDARD MYSTERY FORMAT.

The premise of Columbo was the “inverted mystery,” or a “HowCatchEm” instead of a “WhoDunIt.” Every episode began with the actual crime being played out in full view of the audience, meaning viewers already knew “WhodunIt.” What they wanted to know is how Lt. Columbo would slowly zero in on the perpetrator. This sort of story was particularly challenging for the series’s writers, and they sometimes found inspiration in the most unlikely places. Like the Yellow Pages, for example. One of Peter Falk’s personal favorite episodes, “Now You See Him,” had its genesis when the writers were flipping through the telephone book looking for a possible profession for a Columbo murderer (keep in mind that all of Columbo’s victims and perps were of the Beverly Hills elite variety, not your typical Starsky and Hutch-type thug).

A page listing professional magicians caught their eye, and that led to a classic episode featuring the ever-suave Jack Cassidy playing the role of the former SS Nazi officer who worked as a nightclub magician. When the Jewish nightclub owner recognized him and threatened to expose him, well, you can guess what happened. But the challenge is to guess how Lt. Columbo ultimately caught him. 

10. THERE WAS A SPINOFF THAT KIND OF WAS BUT THEN WASN'T.

The 1979 TV series entitled Mrs. Columbo was not technically related to the original Peter Falk series. In fact, Levinson and Link opposed the entire concept of the series; it was NBC honcho Fred Silverman who gave the OK to use the Columbo name and imply that Kate Mulgrew was the widowed/divorced wife (the series changed names and backstories several times during its short run) of the famed homicide detective. The “real” Mrs. Columbo was never mentioned by her first name during the original series, but actor Peter Falk possibly slipped and revealed that her name was “Rose” when he appeared at this Dean Martin Roast saluting Frank Sinatra and asked for an autograph.

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