The political drama of the Trump administration has tempted veteran journalist Murphy Brown out of retirement. While the titular character of the CBS series, played by Candice Bergen, is fictional, the issues inspiring the revival of the 1988-1998 series are very much real.
While many of the show’s original actors have come back to reprise their roles, one of the characters — Murphy’s son Avery — is now all grown up. Taking up the reins is 32-year-old actor Jake McDorman, one of two additions to the show’s main cast.
“Like a lot of people who were insulated from a lot of the problems in the country, more or less, I took that wake-up call of the 2016 election to be involved or be more aware,” says McDorman, known for his roles in “Lady Bird” and “American Sniper.” “People in the margins, on the fringe, probably saw that coming for a long time, but it was that kind of sledgehammer on the back of the head result that made me start subscribing to news outlets and trying to understand the political zeitgeist in general, let alone what led to this result,” he continues. “So when ‘Murphy Brown’ came along, it was sort of this perfect job, which was a sitcom on television but one that was having the conversations I was so desperate to hear someone have and to be involved in.”
The show hopes to capture a new generation of viewers; unlike other popular series that have gained fans after their time thanks to reruns and streaming platforms, “Murphy Brown” hasn’t been able to stream due to music rights around its inclusion of Motown tunes. For that reason, McDorman was aware of the original show but had never seen it before he started filming.
The unfamiliarity with the nuts and bolts of the show proved to work in his favor. Without the purgatory of pilot season, a process which often fosters a sense of closeness among cast and crew, the show didn’t begin filming until August, and McDorman had to begin the press trail with his cast before having worked with them.
“They’ve been very inviting to bring the new class into the family. They’ve gone out of their way, all of them,” McDorman says.
Bergen was especially keen on him for the role, and told showrunner Diane English as much. So McDorman moved back to New York from Los Angeles for filming; while the original series was shot in Burbank, Calif., the revival is shot at Kaufman Astoria Studios, at the request of its lead. Mother knows best.
“[Bergen] is so down to earth and no bulls–t…she made me so comfortable. And she just has a shorthand with you, especially because I’m playing her son and this was a character that was actually established in the original series in the birth episode, ‘Birth 101.’ That had been the subject of scrutiny from Dan Quayle, the vice president of the Bush Sr. administration that publicly criticized her for ruining family values and stuff. So my character’s been in the conversation from the original series, the birth of this baby from a female journalist in her Forties who’s a recovering alcoholic and deciding to have this baby out of wedlock made Republicans bananas in the Eighties.”
The first episode, titled “Fake News,” picks up on the day of the 2016 election and serves as a catch-up for the series; subsequent episodes are centered around topics such as the #MeToo movement and the press corps. The show has a clear and strong liberal ethos, and — despite a prime Thursday spot — likely won’t dip too far into conservative ideals.
McDorman’s character does serve as somewhat of a counterbalance for his ultra-liberal mother: Avery’s the host of his own show on the conservative Wolf Network. Yes, that would be the equivalent of Fox News in the Murphy Brown universe.
“I think he sees it as an opportunity to do something a little unexpected. I don’t think he’s a liberal Trojan horse over there, that’s going to blow the lid off the place, but he’s definitely not a conservative himself. He’s Murphy’s son,” McDorman says.
“His goal is to give the [disenfranchised] people a platform so that maybe their disenfranchisement is eased a little bit so we can work our way back to the middle and stop staying as polarized as we are. Whether or not that turns out to be horribly naive, I have yet to know.”
But what about those people, who are likely a sizable slice of the cable viewership pie?
“Honestly, I don’t know if that aspect of the show is going to be enough of an olive branch for them. It’s clearly a liberal show, at its roots, in its bones, it’s got stuff to say and it says it. It’s true that Avery is somewhat of a counterweight…he’s not a Trump supporting guy, but he definitely tries to urge people back toward the middle where we can actually have a conversation.”
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