NEW YORK - Murphy Brown, who is fictional, evened the score with Dan Quayle, who is not.
The vice president got the worst of both worlds last night in the season premiere of CBS' "Murphy Brown," the Candice Bergen sitcom he injected into the national debate last spring by complaining it glamorized unwed motherhood.
"What planet is he on?!" fumes a frazzled, showerless Murphy, hearing Quayle's remarks as she tries to cope with her restless newborn, an as-yet-unnamed son. "Look at me, Frank," she asks a colleague. "Am I glamorous?!"
"I didn't know if I could raise a kid by myself," she goes on. "I worried about what it would do to him! I worried about what it would do to me! I didn't just wake up one morning and say, `Oh, gee, I can't get in for a facial, I might as well have a baby!' "
Frank Fontana (Joe Regalbuto), her colleague on the equally fictional "FYI" TV news magazine, predicts that nobody will pay attention. Instead, Murphy finds herself immediately swamped by calls from the news media.
"Oh, jeez, what is this? A slow news day?" an exasperated Murphy says. "Tell them to go find a real story."
Indeed, the news media glommed onto the Quayle-Murphy controversy almost from the moment the vice president chastised "Murphy Brown" in a May 19 speech for "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone."
Last night, Quayle watched the show - for the first time - with some single parents.
"I intend to continue to talk about traditional values. Obviously Hollywood still doesn't get it," he said afterward. He referred to the sitcom as "basically another Hollywood contribution" to Democrat Bill Clinton.
A day earlier, in a conciliatory gesture, Quayle sent the fictional baby a stuffed toy elephant and a note. The "Murphy Brown" producers gave the toy to a real child in a homeless shelter.
Meanwhile, back at the comedy, newswoman Murphy Brown reacts with aplomb to all the publicity in an on-air editorial in the fictional "FYI" broadcast.
"Some might argue that attacking my status as a single mother was nothing more than a cynical bit of election-year posturing," she says. "I prefer to give the vice president the benefit of the doubt."
She says it would be possible to blame the nation's ills on Congress, the media, the administration, or her - but that she doubts that her single motherhood has abetted the breakdown of Western civilization.
"Perhaps it's time for the vice president to expand his definition and recognize that whether by choice or circumstance, families come in all shapes and sizes," she says. "And ultimately, what really defines a family is commitment, caring and love."
Then, a mysterious man, also fictional, dumps 1,000 pounds of potatoes in Quayle's driveway.
Bergen won the Emmy for best actress in a comedy last month, and the lines she spoke reflected the words of series creator Diane English.
Whether last night's episode was "cynical election-year posturing" or further evidence that "Hollywood doesn't get it," it's almost certain to be the week's most-watched show.
As TV's third-ranked series last year, "Murphy Brown" already charges one of television's highest advertising rates: $310,000 for one 30-second spot.