Two of the strongest sitcoms in the 90’s in a grudge match,mostly because I had nothing else to compare them to.

 

Murphy Brown premiered in 1988 and was unique for several reasons,not the least of which was having the main character be a strong opinionatednewswoman. They dealt with all kinds of topics, and was on for 10 seasons.Frasier premiered in 1993 and was on for 11 seasons. It was a very strong show,tight writing and sharp humor making it a critical success. But which show wasbetter? For the sake of this face off we will kind of forget that Frasier is aspin off and discuss the show on its own merit.

CATEGORY 1:
MURPHY BROWN vs. FRASIER CRANE
What can I say about these two characters? They are both so self-absorbedand full of themselves. They want everything their own way and can be verybossy and controlling. Why in the world do we watch them? Because KelseyGrammar and Candace Bergen were both strong actors who knew how to put justenough charm and humanity in their characters to help us tolerate those momentswhen they were almost insufferable. They both won several Emmy’s for acting ontheir shows, and with good reason. But this is about the characters not theactors. Murphy Brown was a recovering alcoholic, a former smoker, and one ofthe pushiest journalists you’ll ever meet. She would do anything for a story,and if the spotlight were not on her and on someone else she was green withenvy. It was actually that last part which always bothered me, she could neverbe happy for her friends if they should get some limelight. One episode she isnot only jealous of her friend Frank’s new fame, but even sabotages his good fortuneout of envy. True she can be remorseful when she goes too far, and could be acaring person and a good friend, but it seemed like her job and personalityalways got in the way. Frasier was a Psychiatrist who believed he was smarterthan everyone else. It wasn’t really true, but that’s what he believed. Hecould be arrogant and even a  snob attimes, looking down at things which were not sophisticated. He had his ownradio show which brought him fame which he relished. He had very specific ideasof how he wanted his life to be, ideas which didn’t always work out. Especiallywhen his father moved into his apartment with him. When he went off on atangent, whether it be anger or worrying about something to death, then itcould be real hard to talk him down. Take the episode where he worried why oneguy in a focus group hated him. He couldn’t let it go until he got an answer.  One thing these characters have in commonbesides their attitude was their love life. Neither couple could seem to successfullymaintain a relationship, and Murphy had trouble even getting dates. At leastFrasier could get a few dates with someone before blowing it, and when Murphydid get into a relationship it always ended. The difference between these twocharacters is Frasier was more aware of his problems, and quicker to apologize forthose moments when he let things get a little crazy. Murphy was much shallowerand it was a lot harder to get her to stop and actually consider othersfeelings, including her friends. In the end I find I get annoyed with Murphymuch faster than I do Frasier.

 

WINNER-FRASIER
CATEGORY 2-CAST  1
Jim, Frank, Corky   vsMartin Niles & Daphne

 

So let’s analyze the supporting cast on these shows. MurphyBrown had a supporting cast which served very specific roles. Jim was theclassic newsman, he never smiled. He never broke his character, so to speak.Episodes he was in the center of where always about him loosening up in someway. Frank was the investigative reporter who had all kinds of issues. He wasthe confirmed bachelor who could never settle down, and had all kinds ofpsychological problems from overbearing parents. Corky was the perky one, shewas there to smile and be pretty. Well, at least in the beginning because hercharacter evolved well past that as the series progressed. On Frasier we hadMartin, who was Niles and Frasier’s father. He was a widower, a former policeofficer who had been injured in the line of duty. Where Frasier was schooltaught, Martin had more street smarts. He was the regular man contrasted withhis sons who could be pompous. Daphne filled the same role but took it anotherstep by being a bit flaky. She thought she was a psychic and tended to be moredown to Earth. Of course she was the love interest for Niles, who had all kindsof interesting quirks. He was a clean freak who liked order. Kind of likeFrasier but even more pompous. He kind of picked up where Frasier left off. Sowho wins? I think that the cast from Frasier wins because on Murphy BrownFrank, Jim, and Corky were confined by the roles they had. They were neverallowed to change, although Cory did a lot. On Frasier the three were allowedto break out of their confines once in a while, and just felt more like realpeople. Also Murphy Brown was one of those shows were many episode thesupporting cast hardly appeared or would have one line, and be gone. Frasierwas much fairer; everyone was in every episode and had something to do, even ifit was just a silly B story. Just on that alone, I have to give it to Frasier.

 

WINNER-FRASIER
CATEGORY 3-CAST  2
Miles vs Roz
I broke these two down because they have similar jobs. Milesis the executive producer on FYI while Roz produces Frasier’s radio show. Thatis where the similarities end however. Miles was very young to be an executive producer,which is probably why Murphy constantly harassed him. He was a classicstereotype for a whiny, neurotic Jewish guy. He did know what he was doing interms of the work, but didn’t have the backbone to stand up for himself. Whenhe had to do something like stand up to Murphy it took a lot for him to be ableto do that. But Murphy grew to truly respect Miles because she could see thatwhile he had a lot to learn, he did know what he was doing. It seems everysitcom needs a character to sleeps around with everyone in sight, and Roz fillsthat role on this show. Professionally she was a pro, Frasier quickly respectedher abilities as a producer and even harbored a slight crush on her. However,the fact that she slept around was annoying. Yeah, they tried to evolve hercharacter by giving her a baby in later years, but I think that her characterwas always held down by this. True Miles was a stereotype in many ways to, butI always found Miles neurotic behavior funny while Roz’s slutty behavior justwas not.
WINNER=MURPHY BROWN
CATEGORY 4-SUPPORTING CAST
This one is pretty easy. Murphy Brown needed Eldin and Phil,it’s as simple as that. Phil was the wise one who listened and gave advice. Hewas the one who would often have to reel Murphy in when she was off on atangent. Eldin went one step further, and reminded Murphy how to be humble andeven a little human. When Murphy became pregnant everyone was worried how it wouldaffect her career, Eldin was the only one who treated her like a woman and wasthrilled for her. There were also Collen Dewhurst as Murphy’s mother, a fewboyfriends like Jerry Gold, and Kay in later years. I love Lily Tomlin but didnot care for her in this show.  Frasierdidn’t have a supporting cast more than they had guest stars. Every episode hada different woman dating one of them, and they usually didn’t stay around forlong. The exception was the regulars from the radio station. Kenny, Bulldog,Gil, and Noel who by the end were pretty fleshed out characters.  I picked on Roz for being a sitcom cliché,well we also had the never seen but often spoken of Maris. Finally, one of thebest dog’s in any show was on this one. Eddie was an adorable Terrier whoseemed to be a good actor, for a dog. As cute as he was, the supporting castfor Murphy Brown was still stronger since they were there for more than just afew laughs.

 

WINNER-MURPHY BROWN
CATEGORY 5-THEME SONG
No contest here, while Frasier had kind of weak theme song,Murphy Brown had none at all, using Motown tunes in their openings. Winner easyin this category.
WINNER=FRASIER
CATEGORY 6-PREMISE

 

These shows told very different kinds of stories. I will be honest;comparing them is not an easy thing to do. Murphy Brown not only dealt with theplight of Murphy, a recovering alcoholic, but was a very topical series. Itdealt with real life events and news. This show tried to feel so real that manyreal life news people appeared in cameos. This was not clearer than afterMurphy had her baby, and then vice president Dan Quayle made some commentsregarding the inappropriateness of a single mother having a baby. The commentscreated an outrage, and it was dealt with in the show. It was really bizarre,like real life and TV coming together. The problem, however, is that this isvery dated now. If anyone watches these episodes today they probably won’tunderstand the context. That is the one bad thing with the show, it wasengrained in the 90’s that it seems flat out dated now. That doesn’t mean itisn’t fun to watch, some of the jokes still work, but it still feels dated. Frasierdid not do that, their stories were rarely topical. This show is much lessdated. Most of the shows dealt with Frasier trying to find happiness in hislife. He kept going through relationships and obsessing over things whichreally didn’t matter. The writing could be great, one of my favorite episodes is one where Niles is confronted on why even though he has Daphne, he still clings to the fantasy. Brilliant episode so well done. What made Murphy Brown work was the subjects they weretackling, what made Frasier work were the characters and their plights week after week. We wanted to see if Niles and Daphne would get together, forexample. So who wins, the show which never shied away from current events orthe one which was more about the characters than the universe around them?Honestly, I think the show that took more risks should win. Frasier was a wellwritten and funny, but how many episodes of Frasier about him dating andbreaking up with a woman did they have? And how long did they drag out thewhole Niles and Daphne thing? And how many times was the plot of an episodeover a “misunderstanding”? Murphy Brown was many things, but repetitive? No Ican’t say that it was that. This is a tough call, but I just think Murphy Browntold better and more original stories and give them credit for tackling reallife subjects. That makes it a winner in this category.
WINNER-MURPHY BROWN
CATEGORY 7-JUMPING THE SHARK
This is pretty easy, but let’s discuss it anyway. Frasierwas on for 11 years and I would be lying if I said it was strong for its entirerun. It did have a bit of trouble maintaining quality, but even in the yearswhen it wasn’t that strong, it was still a pretty decent show. The show did evolve,as we finally saw Niles and Daphne get together, Roz got a baby and learned toslow down a bit, and Martin even was engaged by the final season. The only onekind of stuck was Frasier, and that’s what the final episode was all about.Finally he decides to take a chance and shake things up a bit by chasing histrue love to Chicago, and the episode was really good. It felt like a decentending. Murphy Brown….ah, this isn’t going to be easy to talk about. The firstfew years of Murphy Brown were amazing, strong writing which was funny andtopical. But by the time Murphy Brown got to year ten age was definitelycatching up the show. Eldin, Phil, and Miles all left and we got Kay who was alousy character. So in an attempt to keep people watching, the final season hada story arc regarding Murphy getting breast cancer. Problem is, it was clearthis was a stunt. Murphy already dealt with being an alcoholic, a non-smoker,and a single mother-why did we need to see her have this fight? Now I give theshow credit for tackling the subject, there is nothing wrong with that and theyeven did a decent job. It’s just that it felt contrived, like they knew theyneeded a stunt to keep people watching a show which should have been cancelledtwo years earlier. The worst part was, and I don’t know why, all the heart andfire left the character. Murphy went from being a strong character to anincredibly weak one. It is really amazing if you watched those shows, to see acharacter just transform in such a way that she barely resembled the amazingcharacter she had been. It just sucked the life out of the show. The finalepisode we saw Murphy beat cancer and Eldin came back in the end, it wasactually a decent enough final episode but by then the damage had been done. Incontrast, Frasier got stronger and its last year was as strong as its earlieryears. No contest here, the winner goes to the show which managed to keep thequality of the writing and not damn the characters by turning them into caricaturesof who they used to be. Frasier hit almost every mark; it was a smart, wellwritten, funny show with interesting characters we learned to love. It won 37 Emmyawards (more than any other show) with good reason. Do I need to say more?

 

WINNER=

 

 

Final Thoughts-Tough call, both strong shows but Frasier maintained that quality a lot better

By richb

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