THEY CAN INTERROGATE HEADS OF STATE without forming a bead of perspiration. But ask five of television's top anchorwomen to act, and we're talking megajitters. ' "We were fine all day, and then all of a sudden, five minutes before we were supposed to go on, everybody was pacing in all different directions," says Faith Daniels of A Closer Look and Today, who—along with Today's Katie Couric, Good Morning America's Joan Lunden, CBS This Morning's Paula Zahn and Sunday Today's Mary Alice Williams—gamely agreed to play herself for Murphy Brown's May 11 baby shower.

The shower—a walk-up to the birth of Murphy's baby the following week—was a challenge for the women. Backstage, Couric was so nervous, she said, "I think I'm going to hurl." Says Lunden: "It's very different from what we do. We don't have to worry about cameras and where you stand and remembering five pages of dialogue."

Despite fatigue and, in the cases of Williams and Couric, the flu, the TV hosts—who jetted in from New York City and Washington, D.C., to Murphy's Burbank, Calif., set—negotiated last month's nine-hour rehearsal and taping session in front of a live audience like pros. "You dedicate your whole life to doing something," said an amused Joe Regalbuto, who plays the series' TV reporter, Frank Fontana, "and these people come in for an afternoon and nail every joke." When everyone signed each other's copies of the script, yearbook-style, Regalbuto couldn't suppress his enthusiasm for one anchor. "Everybody here had a crush on you," he wrote to Zahn, "but mine was the biggest." Zahn was more noncommittal, identifying herself only as a Murphy Brown Ian. "The one night I slay up late is Monday," she said.

Couric confesses that her husband, Washington, D., attorney Jay Monahan, "told me that I overacted, after I went over some of my lines with him." But the unofficial Best Supporting Actress award went to Williams, who,
it was agreed, seemed the most composed. "We were in the same boat, doing this for the first time, and producer! Diane English wasn't going to let us be dumb," she says. Bergen thanked her in the note she wrote on Williams's script. "To the champ," she inscribed. "You saved our ass."