Minnesotans have lent their state and cultural personality to a number of popular television shows. Here are some of our favorites.
The Mary Tyler Moore Show, 1970-1977, CBS
For many Americans, Mary Tyler Moore put Minneapolis on the map. the show’s premise was that after a failed engagement, perky Mary Richards moved to the “big city” to make a life for herself on her own, a shocking concept in the 1970s.
The opening credits present Mary as a young woman “who can turn the world on with her smile,” and in a famous sequence, she tosses her beret into the air on the corner of 7th street and Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis. Today, a statue of Mary stands at that very spot, and the rest of the footage in the lead-in was shot within a couple of blocks of that corner.
Producers chose Minneapolis as the setting for The Mary Tyler Moore Show because it offered the “big city with a small-town feel” they needed. The writers wanted a location that had the energy of a large city, one that afforded Mary the opportunity to meet many interesting people and be involved in varied activities. But they also needed it to be a place small and intimate enough that the newsroom could believably make do with just one writer, one anchorman, and one associate producer (as dictated by the number of characters on the show). And the employees of the newsroom had to be down-to-earth enough to be chummy with the TV station’s other personalities, including a cooking show host named Sue Ann Nivens and Chuckles the Clown. Plus, giving Mary midwestern roots offered a perfect contrast to the New York brashness of her upstairs neighbor, Rhoda Morgenstern.
The house used as the exterior of Mary’s apartment building is still standing at 2104 Kenwood Parkway in Minneapolis. It has been painted brown and is a private residence, but it’s still recognizable as the house that held Mary’s, Rhoda’s, and Phyllis’s apartments.
Little House on the Prairie, 1974-1984, NBC
For ten years Little House on the Prairie reigned as one of the best-loved programs on television. Loosely adapted from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s autobigraphical series of children’s books, it recounted the story of a feisty young girl’s hardscrabble but idylic childhood on the Minnesota prairie. The real-life and ficitonal Ingalls families both settled on the banks of Plum Creek near the town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota. The real family stayed for only a couple of years, but the fictional Ingalls characters mad a life there. The show told of the family’s struggle to survive the harsh winters, crop failures, locust infestations, Indian attacks, and other problems that plagued Minnesota pioneers.
The show was set in Minnesota but filmed at the Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, California (the same set used for shows like Gunsmoke and The Dukes of Hazzard). Keen Minnesotan eyes will catch the California mountains in the background; no such mountains exist in southern Minnesota.
The Golden Girls, 1985-1992, NBC
although not set in Minnesota, The Golden Girls had strong Minnesota ties. This sitcom chronicled the lives and adventures of four women who shared a Florida house. One of them, Rose Nylund (played by Betty White), hailed from the rural Minnesota hamlet of Saint Olaf. Good-hearted but naive, Rose always told long sroties of the happenings in Saint Olaf and tried to apply them to current situations. Her fiends poked fun at her stories, but the morals she espoused usually taught valuable lessons.
Rose’s Scandinavian pedigree was impedccable. Her mother’s maiden name was Gerkelnerbigenhoffstettlerfrau.
In the pilot episode, Rose’s hometown was said to be Little Falls, Minnesota. Im subsequent episodes, it became Saint Olaf.
Coach, 1989-1997, ABC
In this series, Craig T. Nelson played Hayden Fox, the head coach of the Minnesota State University Screaming Eagles. Aided by two bumbling assistant coaches, he had to deal with a mediocre team and constant upheaval in his personal life. During the 1995-1996 season, Fox and the primary characters abandoned Minnesota for Florida to coach a pro football team, the Orlando Breakers. The series was never the same after that and was cancelled a year later.
The football footage used in the show is film of actual University of Minnesota football games.
Source: Uncles John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into Minnesota