At Phil's, the Washington watering hole favored by the folks on CBS' "Murphy Brown," Pat Corley's caustic comments are served with a generous

amount of corned beef on wry.Phil's is the hangout for the reporters on "FYI," the fictitious television magazine show that serves the centerpiece of the series.

Corley plays the rotund proprietor, Phil, whose function is to deflate the show's newspeople when their egos puff up like the federal deficit.

"Phil gives some balance to the intellectualism of the `FYI' gang," Corley said. "He's very down to earth, no nonsense, caustic and unsentimental about their business. I see Phil as a guy who sits on Mount Olympus. The whole world comes by. They come and go, but he stays there and comments on the passing scene.

"People walk in with some monumental thing and Phil brings them down to earth. His sarcasm and cynicism are deliberate, but always delivered with a twinkle in the eye."

The cast includes Candice Bergen, who plays Murphy Brown, are Faith Ford, Charles Kimbrough, Robert Pastorelli, Joe Regalbuto and Grant Shaud.

Corley, an actor for 45 years, has been in more TV shows and movies than Phil could shake a swizzle stick at. He was the police chief in "He's the Mayor" and the slippery owner of the Bluebirds on "Bay City Blues." He's been a guest star on scores of other series.

Like Phil, Corley is unassuming, but has a way of puncturing some of the TV industry's egos.

"I read four times for the role on `Murphy Brown,"' he said, counting off on his fingers. "One, two, three, four. So many people have to pass judgment on you when you go in for a pilot. The casting people, the producers, the director, the network.

"At the network, you have 20 people sitting around a room. After 45 years, I'm not particularly impressed by the process. I know how to do my work. It's pretty absurd to read for people whose main job is exchanging memos. I've done five Broadway shows, and you don't read for the money people. You read for the producers and directors, and it's serious business. When you read for the network people, it's like a charade."

Corley still professes amazement at the "awesome" power of an actor to create a character. "It's amazing how many people think you're the character you play on television," he said. "People are always telling me, `Pour me a drink, Phil.' I'm not Phil. I don't even drink anymore."

Corley was born in Texas and lived there until he was a teen-ager, when his family moved to Stockton, Calif.

"I'd just started high school when we moved," he said. "When I was 15, I started at the community theater. I started dancing with the ballet when I was 16. There were a lot of girls in the ballet and not many guys. Let me tell you, dancing is tough work. You work out four hours a day. If you don't, you pay a price.

"I was good, but I'd never have been the best. There's not much sense in doing it if you're not the best."

Acting was just a lark until he was about 23, Corley said. "It was fun, but I always had to work at another job to make a living," he said. "Only 2 percent of all actors make a living at their profession. I don't know how I did it, honestly. If you can get a couple of commercials, it helps you get by."

People remember the characters he plays, but rarely remember him, Corley said. "I'm looking now to get over the hump where people can put a name with your face," he said. "There's a new movie I'm trying out for and it would be great if the director would say, `How about Pat Corley?' That's what I'm aiming for. It's a long, arduous road to get there. I think now's the time."