TV soap drops hot potato on Quayle

LOS ANGELES - The fine line between reality and fiction disappeared last night when Murphy Brown, an American sitcom character, appeared before millions of television viewers to give her side of her now legendary row with the Vice-President, Dan Quayle, writes Phil Reeves.

About 20 million television viewers were expected to tune in to the season's premiere of Murphy Brown to hear the television newswoman, played by Candice Bergen, respond to Mr Quayle's attack on her for having a baby out of wedlock - one of the more bizarre skirmishes of the presidential election. Advertisers paid dollars 300,000 (pounds 171,000), more than double last year's rate, for a 30-second slot during what was regarded as a national event on a par with the annual Superbowl. The show's network, CBS, was forecasting its best ratings since 'Who Shot JR?' - a record-breaking episode of Dallas 12 years ago.

There was never any doubt that Mr Quayle was in for another drubbing at the hands of Hollywood for daring to suggest that it represented a 'cultural elite' which was guilty of eroding traditional family values and glamourising single motherhood. Last month he was repeatedly the butt of jokes and acid comments during the Emmy awards, when the makers of Murphy Brown won three awards.

The episode's title, 'You Say Potatoe, I Say Potato', set the tone with a reference to Mr Quayle's famous spelling mistake. According to scripts leaked before the broadcast, Murphy Brown addresses the issue directly. 'I'm glamourising single motherhood?' asks the fictional character after watching Mr Quayle's attack on her. 'What planet is he on? I agonised over that decision. I didn't know if I could raise a kid by myself.'

At the end of the show, she adds: 'Unfortunately it seems that for (Quayle) the only acceptable definition of a family is a mother, a father and children. And in a country where millions of children grow up in non-traditional families, that definition seems painfully unclear.

'Perhaps it's time for the Vice-President to expand his definition and recognise that whether by choice or circumstance families come in all shapes and sizes.'

Looking happily at her illegitimate baby, she concludes triumphantly: 'I was a total professional tonight. That's right. Mommy took the high road.'

Mr Quayle has attempted to tone down the dispute by sending Murphy Brown's fictional baby a toy elephant and a note, a gesture which he said was made in a 'spirit of fun'. Last night Mr Quayle was planning to watch Murphy Brown in the company of several single mothers.

(Photograph omitted)