Fall TV: Editing <I>Murphy Brown</I>
Issue: October 1, 2018

Fall TV: Editing Murphy Brown

Shot in front of a live audience at New York’s Kaufman Astoria Studios, Murphy Brown, in a revival of the popular '80s sitcom, has returned to TV this fall as a central part of CBS’s Thursday night lineup. The series, which originally ran on the network from 1988 to 1998, is getting new life on CBS as it once again tackles the pertinent and key issues of the world today. Candice Bergen is back as the series lead and title character, as well as costars Faith Ford, Joe Regalbuto and Grant Shaud. This time, however, instead of anchoring the fictional FYI news show on a major network, the team has a morning news show on cable called Murphy in the Morning.

Behind the scenes, some of the team is new — including editor Elizabeth Merrick — who is working closely with series creator, writer and executive producer Diane English, on capturing some of the show’s signature flavor and style.

“I think I was 12 when it first aired in 1988, but I did watch it,” laughs Merrick. “I was a big fan at that time. It dealt with a lot of important topics of the day, which are also still relevant today in many ways, so I think that’s kind of consistent with what we’re doing now.”

According to Merrick, her role is to keep the editing style in the same vein as the original series. “I think in terms of it really being about performance and story, and keeping the comedic rhythm steady. But also, while there’s lots of humor, there are some serious moments, too, so it’s also important to take the time for those moments to sort of land and sink in. I think that was done in the original series as well.”

Merrick says that while cutting the show, she keeps the live, studio audience in mind. There’s a “wonderful interaction with the audience” that she tries to capture and maintain, so that viewers at home feel as if they’re part of that same, live audience experience. Also, she adds, “if there’s a huge laugh, there’s a joke the audience loved, I try to capture all the reactions of the characters — and they’re all such phenomenal actors, it’s easy to do — they give such great reaction shots. So, I try to maintain that in my initial cut — capturing how the characters ride out the laugh. If it's a big laugh, I usually try to let it go a bit longer. But eventually, when we’re trying to get the show to time, those are the kinds of things that get trimmed down.”

Keeping the series to time, says Merrick, is her biggest challenge. “It’s hard to remove material that you really like, in order to meet that 21:15 running time. You have to figure out how to take out things so that the show can still work without them.”

Merrick, who has plenty of experience working on sitcoms and comedies, having cut such hits as 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Younger, says that in comedy, “the challenge is, if you’re off on the timing, it can really kind of kill a joke. Not that timing isn’t essential in a drama, but it can just be a question of a couple frames here and there that could make or break whether a joke works.”

On Murphy Brown, Merrick collaborates closely with English in the edit suite, working on the show's pacing and overall tone. “The actors have phenomenal timing — especially when it’s a less serious situation. They keep it pretty snappy and flowing nicely. We keep those scenes a little tighter. There may also be, from time to time, something that’s more physical or a visual gag where the audience doesn’t even necessarily see it right away and then it kicks in and we’ll get a huge laugh — like riding a wave.”

With post located just across the lot from where the series is shot, Merrick sometimes visits the set for tape nights and table reads. “That’s been a really nice aspect of working on this show, to be embedded with the crew like that,” she says.

The series is shot on Sony F55 cameras with the SSTP 4:4:4 (440 Mbps) codec, 1920x1080 at 23.98fps on Sony SxS Pro Cards. The team takes the cards and AMA link the clips in their project, which they then add a LUT to and transcode to DNxHD 36 so they can cut them in the Avid.  Merrick cuts with the DNxHD 36 files on an Avid Media Composer, Version 8.10.0. She says there are four cameras shooting simultaneously — sometimes there’s a fifth camera, which is rare — and then the team stores the media on an Avid NEXIS system.

Merrick, who says she is excited to meet that same standard established when the series originally aired, is pleased with the results thus far. 

“The episodes are strong, the cast is great and the writing and directing are solid. It’s easy to pull together something good if you have such great material to work with.”