Murphy in the 4-B Club


September 27, 1991|By ELLEN GOODMAN

BOSTON. — Boston -- This is nothing against Murphy Brown, mind you. She's handled the whole thing wonderfully, with grit and good humor. From the time ''the little stick turned blue'' and Murphy decided that 10 pregnancy testing kits and a dead rabbit couldn't all be wrong, sitcom's favorite female anchor hasn't hit a false note.

Everyone in the show's office is freaking out at the very idea of an unwed 42-year-old ''puffing up'' on network television. But she's remained true to her quirky, aggressive and ambivalent soul. After all, just because she's a hard-driving journalist, ''that doesn't mean I don't have a nurturing caring side. I once fed the cat next door.''

Nor does the audience have any reason to share the worry of her television team. As she put it, ''Everyone's afraid I'm going to go into the delivery room Murphy Brown and come out Harriet Nelson.''

So these days, Murphy wakes up hugging a toilet bowl instead of a coffee mug. But as the real-life producers in Hollywood have discovered, it's a small price to pay for prime-time ratings that landed the program in the boffo-sphere. Even an executive producer as nervous as ''Murphy'' co-star Miles would let up on the Mylanta.

Frankly, I didn't expect the producers of ''Murphy Brown'' to join the Four B Club: Baby Boomers Baby Boosters. And while we are on the subject, what about the people who gave a biological clock to the ever-adolescent Sam Malone in a bar named ''Cheers''?

Suddenly Sam and Rebecca are exchanging vows. ''Do you still want to be a mommy?'' ''Do you still want to be a daddy?'' ''I do.'' ''I do.'' Skip the rings and go directly to the ovum. I haven't seen such an unlikely candidate for fatherhood since, uh, Warren Beatty. Which is the point.

This season's big concept comes from the fertile mind of producers who heard the demographics ticking. The baby-boom echo has finally become deafening. Babies talk, literally and financially, in the movies and on television. They are even a staple on ads which suggest that the only reason you might want a safe tire is if you have a Baby on Board.

I myself am a veteran of the Baby Bust era. During that era, those of us in maternity clothes were subject to diatribes by ''the child-free.'' Those people were NOT, as they said pointedly, contributing to ecological disaster, and NOT creating fodder for the Pentagon's war machine.

Having given birth at the very end of the '60s, I hardly heard of a baby shower for another 10 years. Then, suddenly there were T-shirts sprouting the slogan, ''Oh No, I Forgot to Have a Baby.'' Soon, the most examined and self-examined cohort group in American history began to reproduce and the trend-watchers began to produce . . . treatises, movies, television.

As a certified contrarian, I now worry about baby boomers who echo the same messages once laid on their own parents. Anyone who chooses not to have children is once again suspect. They are judged to be either work-obsessed or immature, ambitious or self-centered. Is it any wonder that Hollywood brought Murphy Brown in from the cold and Sam Malone in from the heat. It's the '90s. Get down, get funky and get domestic.

This leaves a lot of Sam and Murphy fans in the lurch. I'm not too worried about the lost boys looking for Sam. But what about Murphy's cohorts? Some 16 percent of women in their mid-40s have no children and many of them are clustered in prime jobs not to mention prime time.

The first time a pregnant woman appeared on television it was a truly pregnant Lucille Ball. In the intervening years we had real life with Jane Pauley, Joan Lunden, Deborah Norville and Katie Couric. We saw Kathleen Sullivan, single and without children, replaced by Paula Zahn. As a TV executive put it, Paula had that extra career-boosting warmth that came with kids.

The current image of the unwed, unmother isn't Auntie Mame. It's somewhere between Holly Hunter in ''Broadcast News'' and Glenn Close in ''Fatal Attraction.'' Murphy Brown was the last of a tough, funny and unapologetically unmaternal breed. Now she's a provisional member of the Four B Club.

What next? ''Would something happen to me if I became a mother?'' Murphy asked herself. ''I mean would I lose my edge?'' Naaah. It could even be worse. Sam Malone could be the father.

Ellen Goodman is a syndicated columnist.

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