Even before a single word of the script for CBS’s “Murphy Brown” revival was written, Diane English and Candice Bergen had an idea for a big-name guest star.
The two had been talking about ways they would want to revisit the show’s iconic gag about Murphy Brown’s constantly rotating roster of secretaries in the new series when Bergen pitched the idea of having Hillary Clinton guest star in the first episode.
English immediately thought it was a “great” idea and set out to make it happen.
“We started to pull out all the resources that we had of people we knew who are friends with her,” English tells CNN. ” And I ran actually a PAC of hers – one of her digital campaigns – during the presidential campaign. So we kind of pulled out all the stops and we made it happen.”
She adds: “When it actually happened, it really kind gobsmacked us.”
On the episode, which aired Thursday, Clinton played a character named “Hilary,” who was applying for a position as Bergen’s secretary.
The brief cameo had Clinton stretching her comedic muscles, delivering a quip about her experience with emails and another about her previous secretarial experience. (English says, “I was really surprised that she did not ask us to delete the reference to email.”)
“What you saw was really what she brought, without very much direction at all,” English says. “She knew her lines and she’s kind of a natural.”
Clinton’s guest spot was filmed two weeks after the pilot episode with no studio audience in a closed set with only essential crew.
“Some people burst into tears when they saw her,” English says. “It was emotional and wonderful at the same time.”
English was determined to make the surprise exactly that. The scene was cut from screeners sent out to press and critics, and Clinton’s guest spot received no promotion ahead of the show’s airing on CBS.
Clinton’s guest appearance aired the same day that the Senate Judiciary Committee heard hours of emotional testimony from Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who has accused him of sexual assault.
English says they “weren’t expecting those hearings to be our lead in,” and says, “it put us in a kind of a interesting place in the zeitgeist.”
“You know, we’re all so embroiled in these headlines these days. If it’s not this, it’s something else,” she says. “We just put our heads down and we write our shows and try to make a good show and that’s all we can do. We can’t predict or control what’s going on around us.”
Clinton will next appear on CBS’s “Madam Secretary” premiere at the start of October, alongside former secretaries of state Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell .
English says she didn’t know about that cameo until “the last minute” and admits that CBS had “a little bit of a concern” over the fact that Clinton would be appearing on the same network within weeks of each other. But, she says, “my feeling was, and I expressed this to them, that I think people want to see more of her, not less of her.”
English has other politicians she would like to have guest on the series but declined to share names, as she wants to continue preserving the element of surprise.
She gives credit to Clinton for taking on a “somewhat self-deprecating part.” “I’m glad she did it and she is too. I got a text from Huma [Abedin, Clinton’s top aide] today that said everybody really enjoyed it,” she says. “[Clinton had] said she was going to have a viewing party.”