It’s All Been Downhill Since That ‘Murphy Brown’ Walk-On, by Colin Fisher
To say I was, am, and always will be a Murphy Brown fan is an understatement. I prefer “devotee” at least, if not “acolyte.” I mean, does someone who’s simply a “fan” identify heart and soul with every facet of every character of a show? Does a “fan” meticulously construct charts on his bedroom wall of the characters’ backstories, family trees, and wardrobe tones? Does a “fan” dedicate all of Halloween week to his favorite fictional telejournalist? Sure, the blazer and skirt might be a little tighter, and the scalp under the wig might be a little more bare, but that hasn’t slowed me down. No siree.
I still remember the day I got the call from Easy Cheese-brand canned cheese product, telling me I’d won their Murphy Brown walk-on contest. I won’t lie friends — ol’ Dave’s feet had been touching the bottom of the barrel. I’d just flunked out of college, where I was studying journalism and poli sci (sound like anyone familiar?). My girlfriend quit writing to me. And Murphy Brown was on hiatus.
I thought the big day would never come. Naturally, I had to handle my own airfare out to Los Angeles (thanks again, mom!), but production put me up in a little hotel out in Ventura. I have to say, I was hoping to be closer to the action, but I understood. I didn’t want to take a cent away from Ms. Bergen and the gang. They earned all of it. I could barely sleep the night before. I was told I wouldn’t have any lines, and that I’d just be a patron at Phil’s bar, but I didn’t want to get caught unprepared. I recreated the set as best I could in my room, and walked through different scenarios I thought might come up. I even got out the stack of Murphy Brown scripts I carry around with me and practiced some old scenes in Phil’s, just to get my head in the same space as the cast and crew — though really, it seemed like they were already in MY head!
After a power nap, I got my 4:30 AM wake-up call. I sure wasn’t going to make anyone wait on me. The car came at 5, and a quick two hours later we were at the studio. Or, if I’m being honest, “heaven!” After a little kerfuffle with my driver — turned out I was supposed to pay for the car too, but anything for the FYI team — I was ushered through security into the set. The extras were in a corner, by all the unused stage lights. After I introduced myself, the stage manager came over and checked in with us.
“OK guys, you know the drill. We’ll put you around the bar. Don’t look at the actors and don’t make any noise. We’re still setting up, so go hit crafty.” Everyone else walked off, but I wanted to make an impression. The stage manager looked at me.
“Hi! I’m the winner of the contest!”
“What? Oh, right, that thing. Non-union then. When lunch rolls around, make sure everyone’s gone through the line before you eat.”
All these show-biz terms! Crafty! Non-union! I was thrilled. Could I have found my calling?
Four hours later, they were ready for us. I tried my best to remember every little detail for later, but once Ms. Bergen and the gang walked in it was all a blur. It just flew by. They did have to stop a few times, because I just couldn’t help but crack up at some of the lines. But can you blame me? I mean, who was better at getting to the comedic heart of early 90s current events? And to think what they could have done with the W. administration…but don’t get me started.
So, after the quickest 16 hours I’ve ever experienced, we were done. I tried getting Ms. Bergen’s attention, for a picture or autograph or life advice, but she seemed really busy. I wanted to stick around and see the other sets, maybe pretend I was Murphy’s new receptionist, but they made me leave the building.
And it really hasn’t gotten any better than that. In a way, I guess I’m lucky. How many people can point to one specific day in their lives and say “that’s it, right there, the absolute best day of my whole life?” I find it reassuring to know that I’ll never experience anything that exciting again. It takes the uncertainty out of life. I really gave it a go, too. I started a Murphy Brown club in my home town. I rented a theater, way in advance, to motivate myself to stage a re-enactment of my favorite episodes, but I just couldn’t get enough people interested. Lost that deposit. I tried starting Murphy Brown conventions. I crashed other, non-Murphy Brown conventions. I couldn’t find anyone who cared as much as me. Maybe that’s why I’m still single, but excuse me for living so hard, right?
Then the show got cancelled in ’98, cut down so young, and fewer people started getting my references. Hardly anyone knows who I’m supposed to be at Halloween. They always think I’m John Lithgow from The World According to Garp. Come on! It’s shameful how easily people forget. The vice president talked about the show on a national platform, for goodness sake! How often does that happen?! But I’m coming to grips with it. Thank the lord television shows on DVD became a thing. I literally wouldn’t be alive if that hadn’t come along. But I am! When the end does come, and my own show gets cancelled, I have just one request: bury me in my best Murphy Brown pantsuit and wig.
Colin Fisher is an actor and writer living in Manhattan with his wife, cat, dog, &c &c.
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