On the set of the long-running CBS sitcom this spring morning, tears bring relief. "For the last week I've felt like someone was standing on my chest," says Bergen, 52, who decided last year to fold the beloved (if no longer highly rated) sitcom about the staff of FYI, a Washington TV newsmagazine. "It was rather unpleasant." She flashes a wry smile. "Other than that, it's been great."
One might say the same of this sharp, smart series—its 18 Emmys included five for Bergen—which began Nov. 14, 1988. Amid all the fuss over the last episode of a certain Must See TV show about nothing, Brown's May 18 finale has seemed almost an afterthought, an unlikely denouement for a series that embraced big issues. Murphy was a recovering alcoholic, a career woman, a single mom. Indeed, her 1992 decision to have a child out of wedlock flared into election-year controversy when Vice President Dan Quayle took Murphy to task for disrespecting family values. "There was this assumption," says Charles Kimbrough, 50, who played stuffy anchor Jim Dial, "that Murphy wasn't fictional anymore." Her cancer fight this season humanized her even more, especially to the many patients who have come up to thank Bergen personally. Like Murphy, says Bergen, "they couldn't have survived without humor."
Rest assured, Murphy will survive. "I didn't want to end with her dying," says Diane English, the series' creator and former executive producer, who wrote the last episode. "I wanted to give some hope." And a little razzle-dazzle: Like the last Seinfeld, the show is flecked with cameos—not only Clooney but Julia Roberts (as herself) and Bette Midler (as No. 93 in the long line of Murphy's temp secretaries). Robert Pastorelli reprises his role as Eldin, Murphy's housepainter-cum-nanny, and Murphy even bags the ultimate interview—with God (comedian Alan King in a dream sequence). Says Joe Regalbuto, 48, who played insecure reporter Frank Fontana: "We've gone as far as we can go."
Maybe so, but the group's camaraderie has by no means worn thin. "We were meant to be together," says Faith Ford, 33 (FYI's perky Corky Sherwood). "We all got along from the very beginning." The epicurean Ford "would order lunch for everybody," says Regalbuto. "You'd go to her and say, 'Faith, what is it I eat on Tuesdays?' She'd know." The show's star was also its gagmaster. "Whoopee cushions, water balloons, Silly String," Bergen says, recalling the pranks. "It relieved the stress."
The show relieved more than stress for Bergen, whose husband of 15 years, French film director Louis Malle (My Dinner with Andre and Atlantic City), died of lymphoma at age 63 in 1995. During his illness, says Bergen, "I used to so look forward to coming back to work. This was like a cocoon." Now an emerging Bergen's only immediate plans are to travel abroad this summer with daughter Chloe, 12. "I'll have a bigger void than some of the others," says Bergen, with another wry smile. "Maybe because they have mates."
But first she must focus on the finale, now taping before 150 friends and family members. "I'm still learning my lines," she sighs as she heads for the set. A waiting Regalbuto is "numb," he says. "Usually we joke around, listen to music." Lily Tomlin, 58, who for the past two seasons played Murphy's demanding boss, Kay Carter-Shepley, eases her own jitters by noshing. "I'm burning it off with nervous energy," she says.
Then the entire cast is summoned before the cameras for the last FYI newsroom scene ever. Bergen's bitingly strong voice cracks as she delivers her final line. Then it's over. Champagne is uncorked, the set swarms with crew and extras. Chloe runs onstage to hug her mother. "It was a roller coaster," says Kimbrough. "Laugh, cry, laugh, cry."
There's nothing left to do now but grab a memento. Bergen has always loved the Tiffany lamp in Murphy's living room. "I'm going to loot," she says. "Then I'm going to pillage."
Craig Tomashoff in Los Angeles
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