Pregnant lead characters are a growing trend on network TV this season

September 23, 1991|By Diana E. Lundin | Diana E. Lundin,Los Angeles Daily News

The stick was blue.

Blue the first time, blue the second time, and blue again and again and again.

That means positive on the home pregnancy test taken by 42-year-old broadcast journalist Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) on the CBS series of the same name.

Murphy, who says she has sex as often as a Democrat occupies the White House and who fears TV Guide will give her a "jeers" for not using an effective spermicidal jelly, is pregnant.

Learning of her condition, "FYI" executive producer Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud), Murphy's boss, lamented: "How many unmarried pregnant role models have you seen on prime-time?"


But this season, expect quite a few.

Even as some observers say television has never been more responsible in portraying thoughtful discussions on first-time sexual experiences, pregnancies, AIDS and disease prevention, prime-time is chock-full of women whose sticks are turning blue.

And if they aren't actually pregnant, there are plenty of scares, dramatic devices that several producers are chalking up to coincidence.

"In some cases, it's good drama," said Sandy Crawford, editor of TV Etc., a conservative newsletter that reports on the political activism of the entertainment industry and is published by Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va.

"In the case of 'Murphy Brown,' it could be a reflection of the current trend," she said, citing the pregnancies of Katie Couric, Faith Daniels and Deborah Norville as examples among broadcast journalists.

But, she said, "They're using this as the biggest promotion tool. It's pervasive . . . a ratings ploy."

Previously on "L.A. Law," the cool, sophisticated Grace Van Owen (Susan Dey) learned she was pregnant by her lover, Victor Sifuentes (Jimmy Smits), whom she later married in a quiet civil ceremony in a judge's chamber on the final episode of last season.

In the July season opener of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s "Beverly Hills 90210," good-girl Brenda Walsh (Shannen Doherty) mistakenly believes she is pregnant weeks after losing her virginity with boyfriend Dylan (Luke Perry).

On NBC's "Cheers," lothario Sam Malone (Ted Danson) wants to have a baby with Rebecca Howe (Kirstie Alley).

And in the fall premiere of ABC's "Anything but Love" on Thursday, Hannah Miller (Jamie Lee Curtis) tells beau Marty Gold (Richard Lewis) that she's gotten a positive reading on her home pregnancy test.

"Our show is about two people having a romantic relationship," said Peter Noah, executive producer of "Anything but Love." "It seems like one of the most natural things in the world to have a pregnancy scare."

That Marty and Hannah are having sex and that she might turn out to be pregnant is something that's not only within the realm of plausibility, Mr. Noah said, it almost can be expected.

"I think it's just a given that Marty and Hannah are using birth control," he said. "And in the real world, birth control is effective most of the time . . . It's also not effective part of the time. These things are far from infallible."

Mr. Noah said the idea of a prime-time pregnancy is an area of natural drama that allows the characters to explore their relationship.

"It seems a lovely predicament to put them in," he said. "It's not a contrivance. It's something that's very natural and you're always looking for things like that. We'd all rather not have the airplane crash in the back yard to get your story going."

The writers of "L.A. Law" were faced with two considerations when they decided to swap Van Owen's perfectly tailored suits for maternity clothes. One, both Ms. Dey and Mr. Smits said they were leaving the show after last season ended, though Ms. Dey later changed her mind and signed up for a sixth year.

And, "It was something we hadn't done with her before," said Patricia Green, executive producer.

Ms. Green intimated Van Owen's pregnancy is the result of contraceptive failure.

"Birth control is not foolproof," she said. "Even the pill is not foolproof. The diaphragm is certainly not foolproof. So, you know, accidents do happen. It's not that they weren't using safe sex."

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