Midwest landing more TV shows

Mary Richards convinced a generation of young female viewers that they could make it after all. Unfortunately, she couldn't convince TV executives to make a serious commitment to Minnesota.

"The Mary Tyler Moore Show" is one of just a half-dozen network series to be set in the state — and its Midwest neighbors haven't fared much better. For every "Roseanne," set in a bluer-than-blue-collar town in Illinois, there are a hundred shows that seem to believe the world revolves around Los Angeles coffee shops or New York City courtrooms.

"From my personal experience, networks have always steered projects towards one of those two cities, because executives wanted to be perceived as hip rock stars," said Minneapolis resident Matt Goldman, who has written for "Seinfeld," "Ellen" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine."

But there are signs that the industry is more willing than ever to descend into "flyover land."

ABC's "Happy Town," debuting Wednesday, takes place in a small Minnesota burg facing a serial killer more threatening than subzero temperatures and bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Both NBC's "Parks and Recreation" and ABC's "The Middle" are set in small-town Indiana, where the gourmet restaurants boast all-you-can-eat buffets.

"The Big C," which is on Showtime's fall slate, stars Oscar nominee Laura Linney as a Twin Cities suburbanite diagnosed with cancer. As for Goldman, he's currently pitching a one-hour drama about an indie-rock band based in — you betcha! —Minnesota.

But for a lot of Hollywood writers, the Midwest is about as foreign as Azerbaijan. Steven Levitan, co-creator of ABC's runaway hit "Modern Family," said he was tempted to set the sitcom far away from Los Angeles, but ultimately decided to stick with what he knows.

"We were always concerned that if you set your show in L.A., you might alienate part of the country, but we're living here and the show is really about our lives," Levitan said. "My attitude is, embrace it." It also eliminates a potential production nightmare. "If you've suddenly got to put Colorado license plates on everything and wipe out palm trees from a shot, it can be a disaster," he said.

Other producers are more than willing to put up with the hassles, hoping they can reach a wider, more mainstream audience.

Scott Rosenberg and Josh Applebaum, the team behind "Happy Town," blame the failure of their last series, "Life on Mars," not on its tricky time-traveling premise, but on the fact that it took place in New York.

"One of the things we were intent on this time around was to set the show where most of the country lives, rather than where we live," Applebaum said.

Emmy-winner Patricia Heaton, who plays a beleaguered mother on "The Middle," said the Indiana setting has played a significant role in her sitcom's success.

"It's been a while since there's been a show for the people who are actually watching TV most of the time, which is everybody between New York and L.A.," said Heaton, who grew up in Ohio. "There's more of a no-nonsense attitude (in the Midwest). People aren't as impressed with outward signs of status as they are in those cities. It's a much more fundamental way of living."