The major networks are getting primed to promote their upcoming seasons for this fall in what is called the network upfronts. In preparation for their rolling out the revamped TV schedules and the debut of new shows, the first step has to be the official cancellations of the deadwood programs. CBS, on what is traditionally dubbed “Black Friday”, declared that it was giving up on one of the highly touted programs from last Spring, “Murphy Brown”.
When it had been announced last Spring that the network was bringing back the iconic political comedy there was much excitement in the media. “Murphy Brown” was going to become the perfect entertainment counterbalance to the Trump administration. With an eye to the show’s heyday in the 1990s the new version of the show would be heavily steeped in current events. It was promised to be a lightning rod-type of program, addressing contemporary issues — especially the “fake news” narrative.
The main shift would be the titular character moving from having a primetime news program (a la “60 Minutes”) and instead be on a morning news show. There would be a built-in conflict as her now adult son Avery would be the host of his own conservative program. The producers dove headlong into modern storylines. They even included a cameo by Hillary Clinton.
The premiere episode (“re-debut”, maybe?) was a true harbinger of the season. The fake news angle was trotted out, and President Trump was name-dropped liberally. Avery was even said to be broadcast on the Wolf Network, a less than sly reference to the accursed Fox News. The next episode had Murphy plotting to worm her way into the White House press briefing to confront Sarah Sanders directly. It seems the producers overestimated the affection in the viewing audience for a Jim Acosta-like figure.
Following shows were centered on similar material. They covered items like sexual harassment, the opioid crisis, and a reporter being accosted at a political rally. It was clear they felt as if they had tapped into the pulse of the nation and would be rewarded with both praise and ratings. It was not to be.
As has been seen frequently the usual effect of this level of political pandering is to essentially be preaching to the choir. While late night talk shows and Saturday Night Live have enjoyed a plateaued level of success there have been few other instances of this type of dramatic effort paying dividends. “Murphy Brown” failed on multiple levels.
Despite all the hope, and the hype, you can see that CBS hedged its bets. Even as many were heralding the return, and promising it would be an ideal answer to our political climate, the network was cautious. The show was granted only a 13 episode run, a modest schedule. This had to be due to the fact that this was a full cast, with some costly sets and other expenses. The show would almost have to overperform to turn heads.
The touted debut came in with a soft rating, with just over seven million viewers. Throughout the season the show bled viewers, averaging something closer to 6 million, and ending up as the 65th ranked program for the year. This does not get a show renewed — it gets let go, like a campaign chairman in the face of horrific poll numbers.