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Theory of Carbon Copyism in the Parallel Identification Structures of Comparison Studies

by Mary Elizabeth Ladd

I'll keep my comments brief, because never before have the facts been SO OBVIOUS, they speak for themselves. From the opening theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the horns of empowerment playing over the smiling sentimental pictures of the characters to Murphy Brown, where credits are pasted over two seconds of music and the actual dialogue beginning the show, I hereby submit to you overwhelming evidence that Murphy Brown is a carbon copy replica of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Now, I know you're saying, "Hey, Mary" (Mary me, not the who-can-take- a-nothing-day-and-suddenly-make-it-all-seem -worth-while, Mary), "who gives a hurling hooey about your crazy theory?" But I insist that you wait until the whole horrific sixteen proofs are revealed before you bust a judgement.

1. The Call Letters:

On both shows, we open with an exterior shot of a high-rise office building ...

FYI is a national news magazine show located in Washington, D.C., the political center of everything, a show with high ratings, notably regarded for political commentary and exchange.

ON THE OTHER HAND, WJM is a local nightly news show located in Minneapolis, in the proverbial 'out there' (although I've been to Minneapolis and it's very nice), a show with poor ratings, struggling, full of mistakes and bloopers.

2. The Office

FYI is a tense office, people are constantly moving around in the background. It's a noisy place, with cold colors, papers all around, blunt cuts from scene to scene, long office shots of the cast in a semi-circle. Murphy Brown is usually off towards one end of it.

WJM is a relaxed office with very little background movement (begging the question, does anybody work here?), safe, soft, 70s colors, clean desks, musical transitions between the scenes and the camera usually focuses on Mary Richards.

3. The Star

Murphy Brown is the star reporter with a 'What about me?' personality, a proud atheist, hard with rare softness in the tradition of Taxi's Louie De Palma and Night Court's Dan Fielding. She's a divorced alcoholic suffering through a series of bad secretaries.

Mary Richards is a behind-the-scenes producer with a 'Don't worry about me' personality, a modest Protestant, soft with rare hardness. She's a never-been-married, never-been-drunk (for the most part), suffering through a series of bad parties (have a drink, Mary!).

4. The Inner Office

Although Murphy Brown's counterpart is Mary Richards, her office is counterpart to Lou Grant's. It's situated Stage Left, a plush, spacious room and she's not even the boss. Her pictures hang all over the wall (real Bergen photos).

Lou Grant's office is also Stage Left, but his is dinky with just a desk and a chair. One picture of himself hangs on the wall (a young Asner in football regalia) but his walls don't even make it up to the ceiling.

5. The Boss

Lou's counterpart is Miles Silverberg, hyper, tense, Jewish. While a freshman at Harvard, Miles studied Murphy's stories. He has no work experience and is no father-figure to Murphy; he's an annoyance. He gets no respect in the office.

Lou Grant is stable, gruff and Irish. He has paid his dues, in sports, in war and as a stringer on a newspaper. He is a father figure to Mary, a role-model, respected and feared by his staff. Ed Asner never left the MTM show but after its run, his character spun-off to the hour-long drama, Lou Grant.

Although Miles is no longer on the Murphy Brown show, there will be no dramatic spin-off "Miles Silverberg."

6. The Sensible Soul Mate

Murphy Brown has Eldin Bernecky. He's always in Murphy's apartment. A brawny domestic type, Eldin is an under-employed painter making ends meet painting houses. He left this show for his own show and it stunk.

Rhoda Faye Morgenstern is always in Mary's apartment, too, but she is a pretty New Yorker, an under-employed fashion designer making ends meet window-dressing at Hempel's Department Store. She left this show for her own show and Rhoda still rules!

7. The Anchorman

Jim Dial is a man of stiff integrity, assured, sensitive, prudent and very smart. His role model: Walter Cronkite. His wife, Doris, is never seen. They had a very repressive sex life and have since separated.

Ted Baxter is an incompetent shell of a man, selfish, insecure and very dumb. His role model: Walter Cronkite. His wife, Georgette, started as a small part but hers grew to be an equal among the rest of the cast. Their relationship is wrought with P.D.A. but, unfortunately, problems with infertility (which they overcame).

8. The Guy to the Right

Frank Fontana, Murphy's best work friend, is balding, perpetually single, a workaholic, and very ambitious. He loves Murphy, but in his own egotistical way. He frowns and whines a lot but nevertheless, wins many Humboldt awards for his work.

Murray Slaughter, Mary's best work friend, is balding, very married (Helen Hunt is his daughter). He's the show's writer but he never seems to be writing much. He never looks busy. He smiles a lot, tells jokes, gossips. He loves Mary, truthfully and unrequited. He never wins any Teddy awards. He is unrecognized.

9. The Girl with the Good Hair

Corky Sherwood (Forrest, Silverberg) is sincere, innocent, co-dependent (she gets married a lot), a former Miss America-turned-career woman. She wants to be something.

Phyllis Lindstrom is fake, cynical, co-dependent (she won't leave her husband even though he's indifferent to her and unfaithful), a homemaker (in theory) with too much time on her hands. She wants everybody to think she's something.

10. The One Who Came on the Show Later

Miller Redfield is a male Sue Ann Nivens (work rival, back stabber).
Sue Ann Nivens is a female Miller Redfield.

11. Some Memorable Cast Members Who Didn't Make it as Regulars

Murphy's decent boyfriend, Peter Hunt (the leaper from Quantum Leap); and the young MTV reporter.

Mary's decent boyfriend, Joe Warner; and Gordy, the Weatherman (Dad from Good Times).

12. The Power Lunch

Phil's is an eatery in almost every episode where one finds good service. It's also a popular political hangout.

The generic luncheonette is the empty dump where Mary and her friends go occasionally for bad service.

13. Cohesion of the Cast

The FYI cast is selfish. If there were tickets to be had or invitations to a party, they would fight over them like rats. Even Jim wouldn't want to give up a juicy lead. Corky might after southern soul-searching deliberations and an annoying speech as to why she was doing it.

WJM: Murray would give up his ticket to Mary. So would Lou. But Sue Ann wouldn't and she'd give an annoying speech as to why not.

14. The Work Ethic

In the exasperation of the late 80s and early 90s, work wears the characters out. They want their own lives back. Their bosses are too demanding. Murphy would leave if she had to.

The WJM staff is one big family. They love their jobs, find their identities in them (a very 70s attitude). The staff is ambitious and content (even Lou is chipper compared to Murphy). Mary has tried to leave a few times but was too upset and attached to her co-workers to go through with it.

15. Main Character Pathos

Murphy Brown has a series of good platonic relationships with men like Eldin and Frank. But what she really wants are intimate sexual relationships with men. These are hard to find. So she never commits.

Mary has a series of good platonic relationships with women like Rhoda and Phyllis. But what she really wants are intimate relationships with men. And guess what - these were hard to find. She ended up single.

16. Miscellaneous Comparisons

The Humboldt The Teddy
The Hair Flip The Hair Flip
The Emmy The Emmy

I don't know what conclusions we can draw from my many years of dedicated research and these sixteen proofs, but we can obviously see, if nothing else,

  1. that Lily Tomlin, with her entry into the cast of Murphy Brown, has thrown off the balance described above, officially breaking the mirror, if you will.
  2. that I clearly have too much time on my hands, and
  3. that office supplies in general have come a long way, baby!

Do I know of what the heck I speak? YOU DECIDE!

Murphy Brown fan site

The Mary Tyler Moore Show fan site


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