Monday, June 26, 2017

Comfort TV Coast to Coast: 50 States, 50 Classics (Part 1)

Summer is a time to hit the road, so I thought it would be fun to tour the United States through the TV shows celebrated by this blog.

New York and California have been on TV since the medium’s inception; but what about Idaho and West Virginia? Maryland and New Mexico? Would it be possible to find at least one memorable moment for all 50 states?

That was the challenge. The real dilemma was usually not finding one but choosing among many. In these cases I was guided by whether the series or episode was actually filmed in the state where it was set. However, I occasionally let iconic shows and moments trump authenticity, and as always I’m open to opposing viewpoints.

We’ll do this in alphabetical order. Here are the first 10 states.

We start with one of the most difficult stops, as no comfort TV era shows were set in Alabama, and it was rarely mentioned as a place to visit. From a very limited field I’ve selected a 1989 episode of Quantum Leap entitled “The Color of Truth.” It’s 1955, and Sam (Scott Bakula) finds himself in the identity of an elderly African-American chauffeur. You can probably put the rest of the plot together from that premise. It’s a bit heavy-handed but remains one of the best-remembered episodes among QL fans. 

With apologies to those who remember Kodiak with Clint Walker, I pick the season 3 opener of The Love Boat. This special two-part wedding episode (the happy couple played by Mark Harmon and Lisa Hartman) offered some wonderful travelogue footage of Alaska’s majestic glaciers and natural wonders. And the large cast (Lorne Greene, Eleanor Parker, Ray Milland, Audra Lindley) all seemed to enjoy their working vacation. The episode also brought back Tony Roberts for an unexpected climax to Julie’s only serious shipboard romance.

To those already humming “There’s a New Girl in Town,” remember that deference will be given to shows filmed in each state rather than just set there. So we’ll leave Alice at Mel’s Diner and instead select Petrocelli, starring Barry Newman as the Harvard lawyer who abandons the Manhattan rat race for the town of San Remo, Arizona. Shot in Tucson, the series made great use of desert landscapes, particularly around the trailer where Tony lived as he built his dream house one brick at a time. 

Arkansas belongs to Evening Shade, even though the opening segment (filmed in Hot Springs) is the only glimpse of the state you’ll get.  It’s surprising how forgotten this Emmy-winning show has become, despite a cast that includes Burt Reynolds, Marilu Henner, Michael Jeter, Hal Holbrook, Charles Durning, Elizabeth Ashley and Ossie Davis. Only the first of its four seasons is available on DVD. 

Obviously most TV shows are filmed in California and many are set there as well, so we’re starting with hundreds of possibilities. Let’s eliminate the northern California shows such as Eight is Enough, The Streets of San Francisco and The Doris Day Show. It’s not fair, but when most people think of California they visualize the orange and palm trees swaying in Los Angeles. 

So which elements should be found in the quintessential southern California show? You’ve got to see the ocean and the beach, (Gidget, Baywatch) and the opulence of Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive (The Colbys). An outsider’s perspective helps viewers see the state with the wonder of characters experiencing it for the first time (The Beverly Hillbillies). And thanks to the Beach Boys it should have at least one blond California girl (Three’s Company). Only one show I can think of has all of those components: Beverly Hills 90210. Watch this opening and tell me what other series has ever made the Golden State look more idyllic. 

There are more contenders for Colorado than you might think – Dynasty, Mork & Mindy, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. But in the brilliant 1978 miniseries Centennial, Colorado is a principal character in the story. Based on the book by James Michener, Centennial chronicles the history of one Colorado town from the late 18th century to present day. Much of it was shot in the city of Greeley. Centennial unfolds over 26 hours and it’s never dull for a second. This is one of TV’s true masterpieces. 

While the house familiar to classic TV viewers as 1164 Morning Glory Circle is located in Burbank, on Bewitched it was in Westport, Connecticut – usually. 

The series’ early seasons suggested that the Stephens family lived in New York, but the episode “About a Boy” confirmed Connecticut as their home. Granted, it’s not a renowned association even the statue of Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha is located not in Connecticut but in Salem, Massachusetts. 

In a 1965 episode of Candid Camera, Allen Funt and his crew traveled to the Delaware/Pennsylvania border, set up barricades on the road, and had an actor holding a clipboard tell drivers that “Delaware is closed today.” Most people fell for it. One woman inquired whether New Jersey was still open.  

I love I Dream of Jeannie and it was set in Cocoa Beach, but do you really think of it as a Florida show? Neither do I. That leaves us with two prominent alternatives, both of which were shot in the state. There’s Flipper from the 1960s, and Miami Vice, filmed in the 1980s when South Beach was still largely a pit. Should we select the sunny one or the seedy one? Comfort TV always opts for the sunny side, so it’s Flipper for the win. If you don’t like either choice go with Good Times, since Florida appeared in every episode. 

The first five episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard were filmed in Covington, Georgia, and many fans believe that gave the show a southern authenticity that was lost when Hazzard County was relocated to the Disney Ranch in Lake Sherwood, California. Of those Georgia shows “Daisy’s Song” makes the best use of its locale, as it gives us both rural dirt roads and a shot of the General Lee on a highway headed into Atlanta.  

 Next week: Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine and more!


  1. I'm from Connecticut and feel compelled to offer two alternatives. First was "I Love Lucy," which was set in Westport, Connecticut after the Riccardos and the Mertzes moved out of their brownstone.

    "Judging Amy" was set in Hartford and frequently showed I-84 to set scenes. The best example of the stereotype of Connecticut has to be the fictional Star's Hollow in "Gilmore Girls."

    1. I'm definitely with you on 'Gilmore Girls' but that's a bit out of our classic TV era timeline. And I did consider the late episodes of I Love Lucy, but I'm saving that show for the final piece in the series (spoiler alert). :)