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Book Reviews

Milt Gross Movie Review: "Murphy Brown", the complete first season
By Milt Gross
Sep 30, 2012 - 12:05:38 AM

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At first, I thought the newsroom Murphy Brown brought to TV was too silly, too hilarious.

But as I thought about it, some of my own days as a print news reporter in a newsroom were also pretty silly. Even though we were striving to bring important news stories to our communities.

Well, looking back, probably not all that important, and some of our newsroom incidents were not quite as funny as those in Murphy Brown's.

But nearly so.

When I first started writing news, the newsroom was noisy, lots of clickety clack going on with disturbances from every direction. People hollered, ran through the newsroom, told stupid jokes and did stupid things, and generally acted out what the Murphy Brown series shows.

A typical real-life newsroom was actually not all that serious. Perhaps we didn't have Charles Kimbrough as Jim Dial, the pompous not-too-bright but very proud of his role -- whatever that actually was. But perhaps we did.

I recall a managing editor we unlovingly called "Mommy" behind her back one day walking through our newsroom telling us, "Shhh, let's be quiet."

Quiet? In a news room? It had to be a noisy, kind of crazy place to be properly called a newsroom.

A senior reporter replied to her, "Did you want us to write some news or sit here and be quiet?"

She didn't answer. Maybe she wasn't sure.

I remember at our weekly press meetings the morning after our weekly went to press and out to be devoured by the public that I used to sit across the table from "Mommy." When the owner of the paper became too funny in his serious comments, she would kick me in the shin.

That kick probably was her way of expending energy she otherwise would have used laughing at her boss. It certainly had a "seriousizing" effect on me. The two of us would sit, facing each other, very serious expressions on our faces -- very loud laughter hidden inside.

Weeklies tend to have a deadline day, the day when the last dribbles of news appear on the computer and become part of that week's edition. I typically, because of when certain town-based meetings took place, had to write a last-minute rerun of those meetings. Or of some accident that had happened the night before.

Trained in my first journalism plant by George Pullkinen, a really great news guy, to turn in copy the correct length on that deadline day -- and not wanting to waste my early morning writing extra words, I would phone "Mommy" and ask her how many inches were left for my important piece on what the selectmen did or didn't did the night before.

"Oh, write all you have and send it in," she would reply.

I was writing from home those deadline mornings.

After I hung up with our managing editor, I would call our second in command, a seasoned journalist from some town outside of Maine, either New York City or Washington. I forget which now, and it doesn't matter.

What does matter was that he would say, "I have five inches left to fill."

News stories were measured by column inches, and I had learned how to measure those column inches by staring at the screen of my laptop. I would send him five inches, not wasting my time with the rest. My pieces generally appeared as I sent them.

I once had to fire a writer, whose biggest talent was not being able to write news. As editor, I offered to sit down with her and give her some pointers, which were not actually pointers but were ideas. I'm not sure what "pointers" actually are.

"I don't need that," she would respond.

I would then take her copy, edit it to be somewhat readable, and turn it into a news story.

She complained to the Maine Human Rights Commission that I had fired her because she was a woman. Not quite the whole story, had it been a news story. The manager and I took her original tales of something along with my edited versions and headed to Augusta.

It took the commission about 15 minutes to rule in my favor.

The firing stuck.

Glancing at the pictures on the DVS in the box containing the first season of the Murphy Brown TV series, brought a chuckle, reminding me of some of my own newsroom days. Milt Gross photo.

Murphy Brown, played by Candice Bergen, carried out the reporter role pretty much as in real life. Slapstick at times. Yup, just like the real deal.

Mikes Silverberg, played by Grant Shaud, carried out expertly the role of the not-quite-with-it boss. He was short, wore glasses, and carried it off perfectly.

Kimbrough took on the role of dumb guy, anchorman, who never quite knew what was happening around him let alone what the news actually was that was going on outside of where around him was. I've always admired the guy who plays that role.

It was never I, who was the dumb guy in our real-life weeklies or dailies. "I" demonstrates to you that I wasn't the dumb guy. The dumb guy would have written "me."

Like I read in real news stories a bit too often these days.

At least Murphy Brown had an editor. Reading our newspaper some morning makes me wonder if necessary cutbacks have eliminated that person. But there is usually a name listed somewhere in the paper connected with the role of editor. Maybe that name is fictitious.

Of course, there was a dumb, cutesy blond in this show as in many comedies. Her name in the show was Corky, of course. And there were one or two basically normal reporters, who gave Murphy someone on whose shoulder she could cry. Not that they ever took her too seriously.

The four DVDs of the first season totaled 2,140 minutes, which, let's see, having taken off my shoes so I can count on my toes as well as my nine, no eleven, well my fingers, makes those minutes the same as 35.6666 (and on for awhile) hours.

A lot of hilarious and sometimes serious and meaningful hours with no -- did you read that correctly? -- NO commercials.

How good is your memory? Do you recall the episodes Murphy's Pony, I Would Have Danced All Night, The Unshrinkable Murphy Brown, or Off-the-job Experience?

No? You're probably normal then. I didn't either.

Did you recall that the series first aired in 1988? I didn't either.

I don't remember which major TV company produced it either.

I do recall, from sitting here reading it on the box of DVDs, that Warner Brothers was involved in the DVD series, perhaps produced it.

I don't recall where we got our first-season.

But I do recall, from sitting here reading it on the box of DVDs, that you can find it at wbatvondvd.com (which may mean Warner Brothers TV on dvd).

If you'd like to have some fun, the good old days (1988-89) fun, try that website to see if you can buy them online.

That may be where we got ours.

I don't remember.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at lesstraveledway@midmaine.com.

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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