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Murphy Brown - The Complete First Season



DVD Release Date: February 8, 2005 (Warner Bros. Home Video)
MSRP: $29.98
Number of Discs: 4 (Single-Sided)
Number of Episodes: 22
Running Time: 535 Minutes
Total Run Time of Special Features: 82 Minutes (with commentary tracks, not counting the Commemorative DVD)
Audio: Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0 - English Languages, Subtitles, Closed Captioning: English; English, Spanish, French subtitles; Closed Captioned.
Special Features:
• Commentary on the Pilot by Candice Bergen
• Commentary on Episode #20, Summer of ’77, by creator/executive producer Diane English
• "Murphy Brown: An FYI Exclusive": a retrospective cast/crew documentary
• Warner Bros 50th Anniversary Commemorative DVD Volume 2


In late 1988, the Reagan era was ending, the first Bush administration was about to take office. And a little show called Murphy Brown debuted over on CBS. The show even earned eleven Emmy nominations in its first season! Emmy award winner Candice Bergen stars as Murphy Brown, a brash, outspoken star reporter of the TV Newsmagazine FYI. Co-stars of FYI include Jim Dial (Charles Kimbrough), Corky Sherwood (Faith Ford), and Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto). Murphy’s favorite punching bag throughout the first eight seasons of the series is FYI executive producer Miles Silverburg, who is so young that, according to Murphy, “While I was getting maced at the Democratic Convention in ’68, you were wondering if you’d ever get to meet Adam West”. Murphy’s house is constantly in the process of being repainted by Eldin Bernecky (Robert Pastorelli). At the end of a long day, the gang can head down to a local bar and grill across the street from the FYI Headquarters, Phil’s. Phil, played by Pat Corley, seems to be in the know about—well everything!

Memorable Episodes / Notable Guest Stars:

Honestly, it’s hard to pick a few episodes as being especially good, as the entire first season was exceptional ­ something rare in television. The series starts off with a very loud bang in the pilot episode, entitled “Respect.” Murphy has just gotten out of a month’s stay in the Betty Ford clinic, and returns to find a new 25-year-old executive producer has taken over, and a former Miss America “by default” has been added as an anchor of FYI. In episode six, Baby Love, Murphy explores the possibility of having a child -- with Frank. In the next episode, Set Me Free, a gunman takes control of the FYI studio. Episode 9 has been identified by series creator Diane English as the episode where Candice really BECAME Murphy Brown. Murphy, for some reason or another, doesn’t receive an invitation to the inaugural ball, despite every member of the FYI crew -- plus vendor Murray Brown receiving an invite. After this episode, President George H.W. Bush, actually sent Candice Bergen a special invite to the ’89 Inaugural Ball. Episode 15 marks the debut of Murphy’s mother, played by Colleen Dewhurst. Episode 20 reflects on when Murphy first came to Washington in ’77 to audition for the spot on FYI.

The first person that guests in an episode that most sitcom fans will recognize comes in episode 6, Baby Love. Jenny O’Hara (The Facts of Life, My Sister Sam) plays Murphy’s pregnant friend, Lisa. Longtime actress Colleen Dewhurst starts her long-running guest role as Murphy’s mother in episode 15, Mama Said. Longtime soap star Robin Strasser guests in episode 16. Creator of Get Smart and Ten-time Saturday Night Live host Buck Henry guests in episode 17, My Dinner with Einstein. Rounding out the bunch is Steven Culp, who would later go on to play Rex Van de Camp on “Desperate Housewives,” guests in episode 19, The Unshrinkable Murphy Brown. Episode 20 marks the first of the many cameos by news personalities that would become far more frequent as the seasons pass. Linda Ellerbee, the third person up for the FYI spot after Frank and Murphy, guest stars.


The outer box of the set features a picture of the main cast in front of the video wall part of the FYI set on the front, while the back of the box has a small line of 4 images near the top. From left to right are Murphy in front of a laptop, the FYI gang sitting around a table, Murphy in Miles’ face, and Corky walking away from Jim. The inside case features the same cast picture on the front, with a still image of Murphy on the reverse. The inside cover features a picture of Murphy talking to Miles on the left, with the list of episodes on the right. Behind the Disc holders and information holder are just various still images of the cast from the show.

Very close to release date (or at least that was when we found out), Warner Brothers suddenly changed both Murphy Brown and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from two dual-sided discs to four single-sided discs. While opponents of dual-sided discs applauded this change, it created an interesting situation in the packaging of the sets. In both releases, two discs now share a holder on each panel of the case. The holder is set up for one disc to overlay the bottom half of the second disc. This setup isn’t a problem if you want the disc currently sitting on top, but if you want the disc being overlapped, you’re probably going to have to remove the other disc first. Hopefully future releases won’t be this way, and this unusual situation was caused solely by the late packaging and setup changes. As for the cover art of the discs, each of the four discs has the same photo as the main cover of both the box and case. Each disc is differentiated by a unique color for the bottom half of each disc. Disc one is brown, disc two is purple, disc three blue, and disc four is green. For some reason, Warner decided to make the purple of disc two and the blue of disc three fairly close to one another, meaning that if you have trouble with telling shades of color apart, you may have to rely on the moderately transparent disc numbers located on the right-middle of each disc. Disc One contains episodes 1-6, Disc Two contains episodes 7-12, Disc Three contains episodes 13-18 and Disc Four contains episodes 19-22 plus the featurette.

Menu Design and Navigation:

Since Murphy Brown never had any actual opening music of its own (the opening theme of the week was always a various Motown song), WB went with the closing theme of the show for the background music of the menu. The main menu features several show stills in front of an FYI style background, with each of the submenus taking on a similar theme. Each menu option is in an easy-to-read large font directly beneath the Murphy Brown main logo text. There are no chapters or scene selections, oddly. So if you are looking for a particular scene, you will just have to fast forward.

Video and Audio Quality:

The video quality on these releases absolutely stuns me. As many often do, the pilot looks a little grainy, but the remainder of the episodes could not possibly look any better. Warner did an outstanding job with all the episodes, although those of you with the largest sets will virtually always see a minor amount of compression, there’s practically nothing to be found here. With the exception of the somewhat grainy pilot, the video could NOT be better.

Audio is presented in Dolby Digital Stereo 2.0, which is more than fine for a show from 1988. Audio sounds absolutely great -- there’s no weird glitches, no hiss, no noise. Audio is as perfect as it’s going to get without a 5.1 re-master. And, for those of you curious, Warner made sure to get the rights to ALL of the Motown music used so heavily in the show. The show would have been ruined if they hadn’t.

The episodes themselves have been restored to their full lengths, which in the case of the Murphy Brown pilot, means a TWENTY EIGHT MINUTE RUN TIME. The remainder of the episodes runs around twenty four minutes each. Most of the episodes in the first season are titled based on the Motown song used in the opening. Each of the actual opening scenes to the show has something to do with the Motown song being played.

Special Features:

The set isn’t overflowing with special features, but what’s here is quite good. On the pilot episode is a commentary track by show star Candice Bergen. It runs the full 28-minute length of the pilot. The 20th episode in the 22-episode season, Summer of ’77, features commentary by series creator Diane English. That episode runs 24 minutes. There’s also a special 30 minute piece called Murphy Brown: An FYI Exclusive, featuring interviews with all the cast and crew, clips, etc. Total running time for special features with commentary is 82 minutes -- 30 minutes without the commentary tracks.

Also included with Murphy Brown is Volume 2 of the Warner Bros. 50th Anniversary Commemorative DVDs. The disc included with Murphy Brown contains one episode each of My Sister Sam and Room for Two. Both episodes are unedited, look, and sound excellent ­ with any luck maybe Warner will release either or both shows onto DVD soon. Both episodes run about 23:30 each. “My Sister Sam” stars Pam Dawber, Jenny O’Hara (who is on this Murphy set) and Joel Brooks. It aired from 1986-88 on CBS and has recently aired on the Good Life TV Network. “Room for Two” is a very rare show that features a then unknown Patricia Heaton and stars Alice’s Linda Lavin. The show aired on ABC in the 92-93 season and a few episodes have popped-up on TV Land in recent years.

It’s been about seven years since I’ve seen this show, but this set reminded me just how funny the series really was. There’s not a single dud in the 22 episode season, and the performance of all involved is just spectacular.

Final Comments:

The set itself is near-flawless. The only real problems in the entire set that I’d work on before a season two release are the packaging and special features. The overlapping CD holders are just too problematic. I’m hoping that since the redone packaging was rushed, this is only a one-time occurrence, and that we won’t see a repeat of it for the next season. Second is the amount of special features. Two episodes of commentary are nice, but why not expand on the number of episodes for which there IS commentary on for the next set. Maybe get the entire cast together for commentary on one episode, with other commentary throughout. There’s only one other thing that bugs me: That I can’t go out and pick up the shows in the bonus discs on DVD. It’s been stressed over and over that the shows on the bonus discs aren’t being released onto DVD at this time, and I think it’s a shame. All are decent enough shows. Some of the shows (Family Matters, Perfect Strangers) are true gems, while others (Redd Foxx, Room for Two) are short-lived shows that are decent enough, that it shouldn’t be a hassle to release a quick complete-series set. Overall though, I’d recommend the set to anyone, but for the next release they REALLY need to break the episodes up into chapters.

Final Numbers (out of 5 stars):

Video Quality: 5/5
Audio Quality: 5/5
Special Features: 3/5
Menu Design/Navigation: 4.5/5
Overall: 4.5/5

-- Reviewed by Seth Thrasher on 02/12/05

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