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WITH AN EYE ON . . . : More about Christopher Rich, the blond thorn in Murphy Brown's side

October 22, 1995|N.F. MENDOZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Call Miller Redfield a himbo to his face and he wouldn't get it. But describe the "Murphy Brown" character that way to Christopher Rich, who plays the bubble-headed blond newscaster on "Murphy Brown," and you'll get a big laugh.

"Miller's just a pleasure to do," says Rich of his hapless character. Miller first appeared on the CBS top-rated comedy during the show's second season, and he just keeps coming back.

"Miller's an unusual character for someone in his position," says Rich, 42, from his San Fernando Valley home. "He's not at all duplicitous or mean-spirited. These kind of guys are often arrogant and womanizing. But Miller's very naive. He's an idiot, but he's not totally unlikable."

Miller provides an engaging twist to "Murphy's" "FYI" news team, says Rob Bragin, an executive producer for the series. "He comes at life so differently than the other characters."

Miller, Bragin adds, "reflects what really goes on in network news, where news has also become entertainment. It's become important to present a pretty image. There are as many male airheads as female. And Miller? He's a pretty face and he'd be the first to say so."

As for the actor whose character so far has the shading of a dim bulb, Bragin offers, "There's a real life and energy to Chris. He's certainly not Miller. He's bright and articulate. You need someone like Chris to pull it back. I don't know what Chris has in him that's like Miller."

The executive producer pauses. "Maybe Miller's vanity--maybe there's something within him that can tap into that."

With a laugh, Bragin explains: "Miller and Murphy [Candice Bergen] had a scene in a makeup room where Chris had a prop hand-mirror in front of him. He was looking into it and missed his line. Chris looks up at us and says, without missing a beat, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I was transfixed!' It was pretty funny, but I think Chris would be the first to admit that little bit of Miller in him. But when you find Chris' funny side, it comes out like gangbusters."

Audiences get a hefty dose of Rich doing Miller in this week's "Muprhy" episode, titled "Miller's Crossing."

Rich's sense of humor has served him well. A regular on "The George Carlin Show," he guest-starred on numerous sitcoms, but it's his turn as Murphy's unsuspecting nemesis that's garnered the most attention.

"It may be surprising, but I actually started as a dramatic actor," says Rich, who earned a master of fine arts degree from Cornell University and has a strong theater background. "Somehow, I ended up doing comedy."

The Texas native's mother and stepfather both ran a newspaper. Here's a a bit of "FYI" irony: Rich was on a journalism scholarship at the University of Texas when he switched to theater.

On the daytime soap "Another World," Rich did 800 episodes from 1980 to 1984, playing Sandy Cory, "a male hustler who redeemed himself by becoming a super-hero. He basically saved everyone's lives."

Rich lets out another big laugh. "He was so damned heroic in the last 250 episodes, he became totally boring. I said, 'May I get you some coffee?' enough and left, sick of it."

On the sudser, Rich met Nancy Frangione, whom he married and was with for 12 years. She played his character's wife, Cecile. Rich jokes, "She played a great villain. She was bad and I was good, and in real life it was just the opposite! Just kidding!" The recently divorced couple share a 3 1/2-year-old daughter, Mariel. "We have 50-50 custody and it's wonderful. You can do anything you want if you just prioritize your life.

Rich manages to balance "Murphy," fatherhood and several other projects, including a 2-year development deal with Warner Studios. He wants to create and star in a dramatic series. "I'm ready for it," says the actor who's starred in eight pilots.

While Rich hopes to also hopes to continue work in features (he had a part on "The Joy Luck Club"), he'll "just try and do things I love. Why not? My best career move has to be doing 'Murphy Brown," playing a blond idiot. I love being on the show and I love the character."

"Murphy Brown" airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBS.

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