Monday, July 10, 2017

Comfort TV Coast to Coast: 50 States, 50 Classic Moments (Part 3)

Another week, another ten stops on our cross-country tour of classic TV America, state by state. My guess is that some of these choices may be shows you’ve not watched (or perhaps even knew existed). But we’ll also salute a couple of all time classics.

Sure, there’s that bar where everybody knows your name. But Cheers, like St. Elsewhere, Beacon Hill and James at 15, never spent any time in Massachusetts outside of collecting a few establishing shots. Fortunately, we have a couple of memorable shows filmed in Boston. There was Zoom on PBS, featuring kids in rugby shirts, one of whom could do strange, supernatural things with her arms. 

And there was Spenser: for Hire with Robert Urich and Avery Brooks. 
It was filmed largely in Boston and authentically captured the accents of the locals and the locales described in Robert B. Parker’s source novels. Spenser gets the nod. 

With Freaks and Geeks and Home Improvement coming along too late for comfort TV, Michigan goes to The Fitzpatricks (1977-1978). 

This was CBS’s attempt to emulate the success of Family; they even cast Family star Kristy McNichol’s brother Jimmy (pretentiously billed as James Vincent McNichol) as one of the Fitzpatrick brood. Helen Hunt played the girl next door who ignites Fitzpatrick sibling rivalry, back when she was getting all the scripts for wise-beyond-their-years teenagers that Jodie Foster turned down. 

The series was clobbered by Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, but if it came out on DVD I’d buy it. It’s from that TV era when families displayed kindness and support for each other without always covering sincerity with snark. 

With all due respect to the moose and squirrel from Frostbite Falls, there is really only one choice here. The Mary Tyler Moore Show put Minneapolis on the classic TV map, though it didn’t do much for the city’s broadcast journalism reputation. 

I wrote In the Heat of the Night down immediately because I recall the show looked like it was filmed in the South – and it was, just not in Mississippi. Second choice: the legal drama The Mississippi with Ralph Waite, filmed entirely on location in the state of its title. No, I’ve never watched it. But it has Ralph Waite so I’d probably like it. 

Remember how excited we were to follow Col. Potter back to Hannibal, MO in AfterMASH? That didn’t last long. 

There was one comfort TV era show filmed in Missouri – that was Lucas Tanner, starring David Hartman as a high school teacher. But I’m going to call an audible here and instead select “There Sure Are a Bunch of Cards in St. Louis,” a two-part episode from That Girl’s fifth and final season. It may not have been shot in Missouri but it features one of the state’s most beloved icons in St. Louis Cardinals Hall-of-Famer Stan Musial. 

Buckskin was a short-lived 1950s backlot western set in Montana that almost no one remembers. Instead, let’s select an outstanding episode of The Fugitive entitled “Passage to Helena.” Dr. Kimble is arrested for stealing a truck and realizes it’s only a matter of time before the local deputy discovers his identity. In the adjoining cell sits a convicted killer (James Farentino) who has already figured it out. Great stuff. 

There wasn’t much of a market for westerns in 1989, but The Young Riders was a kind-of successful series (three seasons, 68 episodes) with Stephen Baldwin as a young Buffalo Bill Cody, and Josh Brolin as Wild Bill Hickok. It was set in “Nebraska Territory,” but filmed in Arizona. As with many western shows it retains a loyal fan following. 

Bonanza is certainly the most successful classic TV series set in Nevada (Virginia City). But it wasn’t filmed there and, let’s face it, to 99% of the population Nevada is just a word that comes after Las Vegas. 

That makes Vega$ the more appropriate choice, not just because it was shot there but because it captures that city in the final throes of its golden age, before the mob moved out and Steve Wynn moved in. Two Robert Urich shows in the same list – what are the odds? 

New Hampshire
I could find only one option: Northwest Passage (1958-1959), a series based on the 1940 Spencer Tracy film. Buddy Ebsen was in it, six years before he loaded up the truck and he moved to Beverly.

New Jersey
I don’t have the guts to select Makin’ It, though I still kind of want to. 

I have no similar compunctions about passing on Charles in Charge. No, I think New Jersey will be claimed by Toma, the excellent urban crime show starring Tony Musante as real-life undercover Jersey cop David Toma (who also sometimes appeared on the show). Musante left the series after one season, and the concept was reset as Baretta with Robert Blake. 

Next week: The picks for New York, Pennsylvania and Little Rhody

1 comment:

  1. You're right, David - there really wasn't any other choice as to Minnesota. The ironic thing about it is that for many years, the Twin Cities were known as something of a farm club for network newscasts, particularly at CBS. I'm just going of the top of my head, but some very good reporters - Susan Spencer, Tom Fenton, Phil Jones, Barry Peterson, and I think Al Austin - all went to CBS from WCCO, Harry Reasoner started out at KMSP before going to CBS, Skip Loescher and Don Harrison both went to CNN/Headline News, and Walter Cronkite almost went to WCCO before his glory years at CBS. And then there were the Magers brothers - Ron went on to anchor in Chicago, and Paul to L.A.

    Granted, some of these are more obscure than others, although many of them would be familiar faces if not names, but given the rotten state of local newscasts, the Twin Cities has always had a pretty good reputation. And yet who do people think of? Ted Baxter! :) We're like Dangerfield, we don't get no respect!