To celebrate July 4th, take a tour of America’s 50 states (plus a bonus entry) as depicted over the years in primetime.
“Hart of Dixie” (CW) 2011-2015
Rachel Bilson’s Dr. Zoe Hart traded Manhattan for the tiny town of Bluebell after inheriting a medical practice from a seeming stranger on “Hart of Dixie.” The quirk dramedy is among the very few primetime series to set up shop in the Yellowhammer State.
“Northern Exposure” (CBS) 1990-1995
The fish-out-of-water conceit allowed writers to mine great material out of the distinctiveness of life in the Last Frontier state. Rob Morrow played newly minted Dr. Joel Fleischman, who relocated from New York City to the fictional hamlet of Cicely to pay back the student aid he received from the state for his medical school training.
“Alice” (CBS) 1976-1985
A Phoenix greasy spoon was the setting for this workplace comedy starring Linda Lavin and Vic Tayback. Stories about the struggles of three waitresses aspiring for better things in the Grand Canyon State introduced the phrase “kiss my grits” to the vernacular.
“Evening Shade” (CBS) 1990-1994
Burt Reynolds played a former football star who returns to his Arkansas hometown as high school coach. The sitcom put the Natural State on the radar for many Americans just as Bill Clinton began his presidential run.
“Southland” (NBC, TNT) 2009-2013
No TV series has made better use of Los Angeles as a character than this gritty police drama shot almost entirely on location in the City of Angels — not even its worthy predecessor “Adam 12.” The Golden State never had such high-quality police protection.
“Mork and Mindy” (ABC) 1978-1982
Sure, “South Park” and “Community” have made fictional Centennial State towns part of the fabric of TV, but “Mork and Mindy” embraced Boulder as its setting. Stars Robin Williams and Pam Dawber did more to popularize down-filled vests than L.L. Bean ever could.
Series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino famously got the inspiration for the beloved Lauren Graham-Alexis Bledel dramedy after visiting the home of Mark Twain in Hartford. Innkeepers across the Constitution State are surely glad that she invented Stars Hollow.
“The Pretender” (NBC) 1996-2000
Michael T. Weiss played a child prodigy reared in a secretive government facility (dubbed the Centre) in Delaware. There he was trained to be a “pretender” and assumed the skill set of anyone he pleased — doctors, pilots, scientists, etc. Weiss’ Jarod Russell spent most of his time on the run from the First State, but nonetheless, that’s the place he called home.
“The Golden Girls” (NBC) 1985-1992
The adventures of Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia have defined the notion of retirement living in the Sunshine State for a generation. Series stars Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty had plenty of fun (and many a cheesecake) in the Miami sun.
“Atlanta” (FX) 2016-
Donald Glover draws out the Peach State as a character in his much-praised, intimate look at the lives of young African-American men.
“Hawaii 5-0” (CBS) 1968-1980
The Aloha State never had a better vehicle to promote tourism — or bigger booster in star Jack Lord — than the lush landscapes depicted on the original edition of the enduring detective drama.
“The Grinder” (Fox) 2015-2016
Rob Lowe played a TV actor from a long-running legal drama who returns to his hometown of Boise after the show is canceled to join his family’s law firm, despite his lack of an actual law degree. This gem set in the Gem State was gone too soon after only one season.
“ER” (NBC) 1994-2009
The Prairie State has been home to many a series — including a good chunk of NBC’s current schedule — but for longevity it’s hard to top the work of the good doctors and nurses at Chicago’s County General.
“Parks and Recreation” (NBC) 2009-2015
Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope may have been mostly inept but she nonetheless demonstrated admirable dedication to her various jobs in the city government of the fictional Pawnee. The beloved comedy series depicted public service with a mix of heart and snark that suits the spirit of the Hoosier State.
Courtesy of NBC
“Runaway” (CW) 2006
“Runaway” has the distinction of being the first show to be canceled by The CW. Hailing from the Darren Star shop, the drama starred Donnie Wahlberg and Leslie Hope as the parents of a family that hastily relocates from Maryland to Bridgewater in the Hawkeye State to an effort to escape the long arm of the law.
“Smallville” (WB, CW) 2001-2011
The young Superman drama famously had a policy of “no flights, no tights” in telling the story of Clark Kent’s formative years. But the corn fields of his fictional hometown in the Sunflower State were totally fair game.
“Justified” (FX) 2010-2015
Elmore Leonard’s source material, Graham Yost’s skill as a showrunner, and Timothy Olyphant’s cool charm illuminated the good, the bad and the ugly in the Bluegrass State on this crime drama.
“Frank’s Place” (CBS) 1987-1988
A beloved entry in the “Brilliant But Canceled” file, this offbeat sitcom (from the creator of “WKRP in Cincinnati”) reveled in the richness of the Big Easy by revolving around a New Englander, played by Tim Reid, who inherited a Creole restaurant. The ode to the Pelican State and its culture was signified by the use of Louis Armstrong’s “Do You Know What It means to Miss New Orleans?” as its theme song.
“Once Upon a Time” (ABC) 2011-
The fictional town of Storybrooke in the Pine Tree State is home to plenty of strange, wonderous, and yes magical things, as Jennifer Morrison’s Emma Swan discovers upon arrival.
“The Wire” (HBO) 2002-2008
Only a native son of the Old Line State could have delivered such a three-dimensional portrait of the tragedies and triumphs of a great city and its people. David Simon’s early years as a newspaper reporter for the Baltimore Sun gave depth to the show’s examination of crime, police, addiction, justice system, organized labor, public education and journalism, among other weighty issues.
“Cheers” (NBC) 1982-1993
Everybody knows the name of Boston’s most famous fictional watering hole. The Bay State has been home to many fine comedies and dramas, but Sam Malone and Co. still stand apart.
“Ash Vs. Evil Dead” (Starz) 2015-
The horror-comedy may be shot in New Zealand, but its heart is in the Great Lakes State, thanks to the native sons who are its key players: co-creator Sam Raimi and star Bruce Campbell.
“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (CBS) 1970-1977
Mary Tyler Moore’s Mary Richards made it after all — on her own terms — as a single woman in Minneapolis’ WJM-TV newsroom. From the funky Victorian house where she had her first apartment, to the outdoor mall where she sent her knit soaring, the enduring sitcom captured the quirkiness of the North Star State.
“One Mississippi” (Amazon) 2015-
Creator and star Tig Notaro dispenses with stereotypes about the Magnolia State in this funny and tender look at a woman’s return to her hometown amid great adversity.
“Masters of Sex” (Showtime) 2013-2016
Pioneering sex researchers Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson embraced the ethos of the Show Me State with their work documenting the medical aspects of a subject that wasn’t talked about much in a clinical setting in the 1950s. Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan shined in depicting the human side of their St. Louis-based subjects.
“Angel Falls” (CBS) 1993
Montana, you need a publicist. Among the few shows set in the Treasure State in recent decades was this extremely short-lived drama that examined the intersecting lives of three families in a small town. Kim Cattrall, James Brolin, Peggy Lipton and Jean Simmons were among the stars.
“The Young Riders” (ABC) 1989-1992
Stephen Baldwin, Josh Brolin, and Melissa Leo were among the stars of this Cornhusker State-set period drama revolving on riders for the Pony Express.
“Reno 911” (Comedy Central) 2003-2009
Las Vegas gets all the attention, but Reno was the setting for the series that offered a showcase for the goofy improv talents of Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, and the rest of the State comedy troupe. The Silver State was never in better hands.
“The Brotherhood of Poland, New Hampshire” (CBS) 2003
This family-centric drama didn’t last long but gets bonus points for putting the Granite State in the title. David E. Kelley created the series that starred Randy Quaid, John Carroll Lynch, Mare Winningham and Elizabeth McGovern.
“The Sopranos” (HBO) 1999-2007
Tony Soprano became synonymous with the Garden State during the storied run of the series that marked the beginning of the new Golden Age of television drama. From its McMansions to its strip clubs to its restaurants and butcher shops, no show has ever treated New Jersey with more reverence. Period.
“Breaking Bad” (AMC) 2008-2013
The red-clay dust and desert vistas of the Land of Enchantment added texture and mood to a show that was already endowed with a talented cast and incredible writers and directors. With “Better Call Saul” now continuing that tradition, creator Vince Gilligan can be glad that tax incentives influenced the decision to set Walter White’s story in Albuquerque.
“Seinfeld” (NBC) 1990-1998
You think “Seinfeld,” you think New York, and vice versa. Jerry, Kramer, George and Elaine were the epitome of a certain breed of residents in that big city down south in the Empire State. Excelsior!
“The Andy Griffith Show” (CBS) 1960-1968
Sheriff Andy Taylor, Deputy Barney Fife, Opie, Aunt Bee and Gomer Pyle — it’s hard to find a show packed with more Americana than Andy Griffith’s long-running star vehicle set in the Tar Heel State. The idyllic fictional town of Mayberry was based on Griffith’s hometown of Mount Airy.
“Fargo” (FX) 2014-
Fargo has so far been more of a state of mind than a setting for much of the action in Noah Hawley’s anthological drama inspired by the 1996 Coen brothers movie. The Peace Garden State could use a publicist.
“WKRP in Cincinnati” (CBS) 1978-1982
Sitcom pilots don’t get much better than the one that launched this beloved ensembler. The show wore its Buckeye State credentials on its sleeve, in its title, and in one of the great TV theme songs of all time.
“Saving Grace” (TNT) 2007-2010
Holly Hunter played a tough-as-nails Oklahoma City cop in this drama series steeped in Sooner State culture.
“Portlandia” (IFC) 2011-
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein have left no character type peculiar to the Pacific Northwest unskewered in their long-running sketch comedy. Fortunately, the Beaver State is full of material.
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (FX) 2005-
This FX mainstay is gunning for the record of long-running sitcom (watch out, “My Three Sons”). The Keystone State-set comedy about a group of misfits who run an Irish pub has been on the air so long that co-creator Rob McElhenney and his wife and co-star Kaitlin Olson have actually opened a bar in Philadelphia dubbed Mac’s Tavern.
“Family Guy” (Fox) 1999-2003, 2005-
Creator Seth MacFarlane has mined his childhood in the Ocean State for the many of the characters and settings that have animated the cancellation-defying series for nearly 20 years.
“Vice Principals” (HBO) 2016-
Danny McBride brings his unabashedly lewd and crude brand of comedy to the Palmetto State in this romp about two men vying for the bragging rights for the title of high school principal.
Courtesy of HBO
“Deadwood” (HBO) 2004-2006
Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen may not be carved in rock in the Mount Rushmore State, but David Milch’s unique take on the Old West as it transitioned to modernity ranks high on the list of acclaimed and beloved dramas.
“Nashville” (ABC, CMT) 2012-
It’s hard to believe it took so long for the business of Music City to become fodder for a primetime soap. Connie Britton, Hayden Panettierre, and the rest of the musical cast made the show such a hit with a loyal cadre of viewers that it relocated to CMT last year after getting the axe from ABC. The Volunteer State should be proud.
“Friday Night Lights” (NBC, DirecTV) 2006-2011
The religion of high school football in the Lone Star State was the backdrop for one of TV’s great slice-of-life series. No histrionics, no car chases, no torrid affairs between teachers and students, just finely drawn characters dealing with real-world problems and opportunities in the fictional town of Dillon.
“Big Love” (HBO) 2006-2011
Bill Paxton was a force in this series that examined polygamy through the lens of a church leader with three wives in the Beehive State.
“Newhart” (CBS) 1982-1990
Bob Newhart spent more seasons running the Stratford Inn than he did seeing patients as a Chicago psychologist on “The Bob Newhart Show.” The show’s strong ensemble — including the threesome of local yokels known as Larry, brother Darryl, and other brother Darryl — and famously clever final episode ensures the Green Mountain State a place in TV history.
“The Waltons” (CBS) 1972-1981
The Blue Ridge Mountains and the Depression were the backdrop for this story of a sprawling family’s ups and downs, seen through the eyes of the oldest son (yes, John Boy) who aspired to become a novelist. The wholesomeness of Old Dominion was etched into pop culture by the creation of native son Earl Hamner Jr.
“Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC) 2005-
The doctors and nurses of Seattle Grace have done it all, seen it all, and stitched it all up. The medical drama that shows no signs of slowing down was aptly set in the Evergreen State.
Courtesy of ABC
“Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” (ABC) 2010-2011
The Mountain State was the setting for Oliver’s unscripted series that sought to spread healthy eating and cooking habits to a region with the nation’s highest rate of obesity-related illnesses. Oliver won an Emmy for the series.
“Happy Days” (ABC) 1974-1984
This long-running sitcom has surely overtaken beer as the thing that made Milwaukee famous. The adventures of the Cunningham clan and their friends and neighbors evoke a specific time and place, even for those born long after the show-set 1950s and far from the Badger State.
“Longmire” (A&E Network, Netflix) 2012-2016
A recently widowed sheriff battles grief and bad guys in the fictional Absaroka County on this Cowboy State drama that marks one of the few Western-themed shows in recent years.
“The West Wing” (NBC) 1999-2006
The nation’s capital is not a state — much to the chagrin of its residents — but D.C. is such a force in pop culture that it can’t be overlooked. No TV show has ever topped “The West Wing” in its portrayal of those who travel in the corridors of power.