Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Network television sitcoms return to the heartland

Primetime television is making a return to rural America, marked by addition of situation comedies set in the Midwest to the ABC and NBC lineups, Meg James reports for the Los Angeles Times. ABC plans to unveil the latest Midwestern show tonight when "The Middle," above, starring Patricia Heaton, at left, makes its debut.

In recent years sitcoms shifted from small-town settings like those in "Roseanne" and "The Andy Griffith Show" to the skylines of New York and Los Angeles. The success of shows like "Friends" and "Sex and the City" led Hollywood producers to ignore rural locales in favor of affluent 20- and 30-somethings living lives of luxury in America's largest cities, James writes. As with most Hollywood decisions, the trend was driven by advertising. "People used to think that people who lived in these [rural] counties didn't have the money to buy much, or they didn't have access to the stores where people in urban areas shopped," Angelo Pizzo, a former Warner Bros. executive, told James.

As much as anything, the recession may have helped the re-emergence of rural America on television. "It's tough times right now -- the guy who is losing his job at the factory, he deserves a show," one of the show;s creators told James. "We care about those people, we love those people and we want to honor them. They are funny too, and should be the stars of their own show." Heaton told James, "There is this whole world between New York and L.A. that would like to see some shows about themselves."

"The Middle," set in fictional Orson, Ind., seeks to create television's first working-class female hero since Roseanne. The show's creators developed their idea while working on "Lipstick Jungle," another show about rich New York singles. "We missed writing about real people with real problems," one told James. "We both were fortunate to have happy childhoods, not wealthy childhoods, but a normal Midwest upbringing. We missed that." (Read more)

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