December 1, 2020

“The Junk Drawer”: TV shows set in St. Louis (and one in Webster Groves)

Tune into network TV any night of the week, whether to watch a situation comedy or drama, and you’ll see characters living in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago. The fact that TV series are set there is no big deal. But if you’re like me and you’re from St. Louis, you may have asked yourself at one time, “Where are the TV shows set in St. Louis?” Anyone who watches TV can name a show that takes place in another major city, but they may be hard pressed to name one that takes place in my hometown.

Well, there really haven’t been any in the past or present. Maybe it’s the other cities’ sizes, their population, media market, whatever, but St. Louis usually gets the shaft when it comes to other juggernauts such as San Francisco, Miami and Boston. There are other cities that have had fewer shows set in them, but when it comes to the Gateway to the West, it seems it is not the gateway to the best setting for TV shows.

Cities such as Cleveland and Phoenix may have had only one or two shows each set in the city (“The Drew Carey Show” and “Medium,” respectively), but those shows’ original runs lasted for several seasons.

The longest running television show to date that took place in our Midwestern city was “The John Laroquette Show,” which was on NBC from 1993 to 1996. The darker sitcom starred Laroquette as a recovering alcoholic who was a night shift manager for a bus station in St. Louis. Much of the plot revolved around Laroquette’s character attempting to maintain sobriety. This series lasted four seasons and totaled 84 episodes.

A spin-off of the highly successful series “M*A*S*H” took place in a few cities, but  did feature two in Missouri. In 1983, “AfterMASH” premiered. The show chronicled some of the characters after the end of the Korean War as they returned home. Col. Potter returns to his home in Hannibal, Mo., while Radar moves from Iowa to St. Louis. The show lasted just 29 episodes, and in 2002, TV Guide named it the seventh-worst television series.

In the mid-1970s, a show actually took place in Webster Groves called “Lucas Tanner.” That’s right. A television show on a major network such as NBC took place just down the street from where you take your classes. The show starred David Hartman as Lucas Tanner, a former baseball player who teaches English at the fictional Harry S. Truman High School in Webster Groves. This drama was actually filmed in Webster Groves. The show debuted in 1974 and lasted just once season, but the fact that it was filmed in St. Louis makes it unique. The next time you walk or drive down Maple Avenue in Webster Groves, you are traveling down a small road in television history.

Disney’s “The Jersey,” an early 2000s show, was also set in St. Louis, but there is a darker stain when it comes to shows set in St. Louis, however. This show is in the “we don’t bring it up” category. Perhaps you never even realized it was on, which means you are one of the lucky ones. It was a recent show that lasted a grand total of two episodes.

The show was ABC’s “Work It.” In January of 2012, there was a show with the exact same premise as “Bosom Buddies” which starred Tom Hanks. In this show, two men dress as women to earn jobs at a pharmaceutical company that hires mainly female sales representatives. Let me remind you once again: two episodes. That’s it. The latest attempt at a show set in St. Louis failed miserably (I actually watched the show; it was that bad).

There is hope for the future. A current reality show on the Oprah Winfrey Network called “Welcome to Sweetie Pie’s” tracks the owners and workers at Sweetie Pie’s, a soul food restaurant in the Grove neighborhood in St. Louis. Winfrey even made a visit to the restaurant nearly a month ago. I’m pretty sure Robert Iger, chairman and chief executive of The Walt Disney Company (owner of ABC) didn’t make a trip to St. Louis during the two weeks “Work It” was on the airwaves.

Well there you have it. There’s a brief look at television shows past and present that set their home in St. Louis. Perhaps down the road “The Franchise,” a Showtime series which follows a Major League Baseball team for a season, will choose the Cardinals one year. Maybe the next “Seinfeld” or “Always Sunny” will take place in this city.

For now I’m going to continue to watch my favorite shows regardless of what city they are set in.

“The Junk Drawer” is a weekly column written by Journal Opinions Editor Tim Doty.

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