Sitcom Politics

As Murphy Brown prepares to zap Dan Quayle, TV draws fire for its 'liberal bias.' Do the charges have merit?

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MAKING WISECRACKS about Vice Presidents is a venerable tradition on TV. But the gang-stomping of Dan Quayle at the Emmy Awards ceremony two weeks ago resembled a Rodney King beating by the Hollywood elite. Quayle, TV's favored whipping boy ever since he made Murphy Brown a campaign issue last May, was the butt of what seemed like every third joke onstage. Comedian Richard Lewis said he would "run away" if Quayle ever became President; Robin Williams, in a clip from the Tonight show, described Quayle as being "one taco short of a combination plate." Candice Bergen, accepting her Emmy for Murphy Brown, sarcastically thanked the Vice President. And Diane English, Murphy's creator, capped the evening with a defense of single mothers that crossed the line into partisan meanness. "As Murphy herself said, 'I couldn't possibly do a worse job raising my kid alone than the Reagans did with theirs.' "

The audience laughed and applauded many of these lines. But the morning- after reaction was more troubled. At a campaign rally the next day, Quayle used the Emmy barrage to pound home his point that "Hollywood doesn't like our values." Many in the TV industry agreed that the whole display was, at the vematically disparage such values as patriotism, religious faith and marital fidelity. "Tens of millions of Americans now see the entertainment industry as an all-powerful enemy, an alien force that assaults our most cherished values and corrupts our children," he writes. "The dream factory has become the poison factory."

It's a strange sight. Conservative critics charge that the nation's most popular entertainment medium is out of step with the American people. Republican politiciasode in which Murphy responds to the Vice President. While harriedly tending to her new baby, she hears his remarks on TV and reacts with incredulity: "I'm glamourizing single motherhood? What planet is he on? I agonized over that decision." Later, she appears on her TV show to answer Quayle's charges: "Perhaps it's time for the Vice President to expand his definition and recognize that whether by choice or circumstance families come in all shapes and sizes. And ultimately, what really defines a family is commitment, caring and love."

TV's rebuttal to Quayle will not end there. An upcoming episode of Hearts Afire, a new sitcom set in Washington, features a scene in which a dull-witted conservative Senator (George Gaynes) sees Murphy Brown on TV for the first time. What has Dan Quayle got against that "good-looking woman?" he asks his chief aide (John Ritter). "Well, Senator, she had a baby out of wedlock," the aide says. "But she's not real, is she?" replies the Senator, echoing the snide chorus of derision that greeted Quayle's attack on "a fictional character."

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