Thursday, January 29, 2009

Plugs for the Program

Months after the original announcement was made, the Office-spinoff-that-in-fact-is-not-a-spin-off-but-in-fact-a-completely-original-show-from-the-executive-producers-of-The-Office finally has a title and timeslot. Public Service, starring Amy Poehler, will debut in August, and will be set in the town of Pawnee, Indiana. Will this setting prompt the same local pride that Scranton, Pennsylvania has burst with? It's not likely for several reasons, the main being that Pawnee, Indiana is not a real city. But where could Public Service rate in the canon of television shows set in the state? Let's examine a few of the contenders.

Good Morning Miss Bliss (1988)
The precursor to Saved By The Bell, this Hayley Mills vehicle took place at John F. Kennedy middle school in Indianapolis. It aired in prime time and focused more on the teacher than the students. After one season Hayley Mills was sent on her way, the setting moved to California, and The Max opened for business. The first time I ever saw a rerun of this this program, I had already consumed hours upon hours of Saved By The Bell, so witnessing this theretofore undiscovered alternate-dimension of a show was befuddling to say the least. It's like growing up worshipping the Monkees TV show, and then watching Head. Nothing really makes sense at that moment.

Hang Time (1995-2000)
Another teen school concept, the Deering Tornadoes were a slightly less intimidating team than the Hickory Huskers. However, Deering's head coach was Reggie Theus, who inexplicably would go on to actually become an NBA head coach. Did he put Hang Time on his career resume? The story is amazing on several levels. (What was not as amazing was Theus getting fired in less than two seasons.) Hang Time showcased some of my favorite athletic-based sitcom elements: soundstages disguised as abnormally tiny gyms, mismatched uniforms, and crowds that remain completely silent just before tip-off. Hoosier hysteria!

Eerie, Indiana (1991)
Creepy things happen out in the sticks. The teenage protagonist took the form of a young Fox Mulder in examining strange happenings in the town of Eerie. The opening credits create instant sympathy when you realize he was forced to grow up in New Jersey. While the second half of the credits feature laughably painful special effects, this clip showcases a directing style that's shockingly savvy for a network program.

Wouldn't it be great if the entire episode was just 44 minutes of various objects popping out of cereal bowls?

Close to Home (2005-07)
This CBS courtroom drama revolves around aggressive young prosecutor Annabeth Chase, who returns to work after having her first child. The legal drama is set in the Indianapolis suburbs and comes from Jerry Bruckheimer. It differs from his other procedurals by delving closely into Annabeth's personal life and how her responsibilities at home may interfere with her job. She's assigned tough cases, which she is determined to solve to keep her community safe.

NOTE: This description comes from TV Guide, as up until 10 minutes ago I had no idea this show existed. Let's move on.

One Day At a Time (1975-84)

The gold standard of Indiana-based programming, Bonnie Franklin moves to the circle city with her daughters, Mackenzie Phillips and Valerie Bertinelli. Hilarity ensues with frequent visits from the building's mustachioed super, Schneider. This show was top-rated for nearly a decade, and even featured a young Mark Hamill as Schneider's kleptomaniac nephew. Tool belts all around.

Armed and Famous

For a show that aired only four times before getting cancelled, this reality bomb generated no shortage of great moments. From group taser sessions, to LaToya Jackson walking the streets of Muncie as a prostitute, to Erik Estrada screaming at a recently stabbed activist, the series could be summed up with the cast's dedication to the craft of fine police work.

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