When then-Vice President Dan Quayle accused sitcom journalist Murphy Brown of "mocking the importance of fathers" by choosing single motherhood, he earned headlines ("Quayle to Murphy Brown: You Tramp!," roared the New York Daily News).
He also earned some mocking himself – though not as much as he did a month later with his "potatoe" spelling disaster. Still, Quayle's 1992 Murphy Brown offensive presaged the cultural and media mess playing out today.
We've gone from a vice president assailing a TV character to a TV character becoming president and assailing the news and entertainment media.
This is the strange landscape Murphy enters Thursday after a 20-year hiatus to resume her role as an enemy of the people – at least by GOP White House standards.
"Murphy Brown" also becomes the latest old sitcom to test whether it's still timely – or just past its time.
The "Roseanne" reboot built for the Trump Era drew a crowd for ABC, but crumbled under a racist tweet sent by star Roseanne Barr. The show returns next month with a new name – “The Conners – and without Barr, whose character reportedly will mourned as an opioid-overdose fatality.
Meanwhile, NBC’s "Will & Grace" soon starts its second season of picking up seamlessly from where it left off in 2006.
“Roseanne,” with its depiction of a struggling blue-collar Midwestern family, and “Will & Grace,” which won a slew of GLAAD Media Awards for its portrayal of gay characters, transcended sitcom formulas in their initial runs, connecting with audiences beyond the laughs.
Candice Bergen and Co. arrived on CBS nearly 30 years positioned more as the next “Mary Tyler Moore Show” than “All in the Family,” at least before the scrape with Quayle. Murphy’s flawed TV newswoman and her colleagues did blur traditional lines by name-dropping media, entertainment and political figures – a bunch of whom (Walter Cronkite, Barry Manilow and Ann Richards, among them) appeared on the show.
Much of the original cast is back, including Faith Ford, Grant Shaud and Joe Regalbuto. Jake McDorman makes his “Murphy Brown” debut as the title character’s son, Avery, now the token liberal reporter at a Fox-like news outlet.
In a preview, Murphy Brown makes clear she’s returning to “FYI” because of President Trump. You could say the same for “Murphy Brown” (“The only thing I can thank him for is to have given us unplowed fields of material,” Bergen recently told The New York Times).
Whether the revival goes the distance or disappears as quickly as Murphy’s latest secretary remains to be seen. But the enterprise has the makings of a memorable fake news story: a fictional TV journalist and single mom tackles a real president during a surreal period in Hollywood, Washington and beyond.