Despite being placed directly between coasts and in the thick of a region of America that’s commonly reduced to “flyover country,” Wisconsin manages to be cast in film and on television fairly often. Whether as means of acknowledgement from expats now making good in Hollywood, or a destination point decided in a meeting populated by half-assed executives who have never crossed into the Badger State border, Wisconsin has served as the site for dozens of TV and movie productions. Long running sitcoms like Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, and That ’70s Show are obvious ones. And yes, we remember when Bridesmaids showed the Hoan Bridge and that apartment exterior in Bay View for a few seconds.
Milwaukee Record risked the purity of our Netflix recommendation algorithm, thumbed through the public library DVD collection, and searched for a Blockbuster Video that was still in business to find 10 more Wisconsin settings—some fictional, others poorly depicted—in television and film.
The Young and the Restless, Genoa City (1973-present)
The Genoa City that most housewives, unemployed people, and second shift workers have known as the site of their favorite soap opera since 1973 couldn’t be more different than the actual 3,000-resident and 2.3-square-mile town of the same name that’s nestled against Wisconsin’s southern border. Y&R’s depiction of Genoa City is generous—boasting the headquarters of four international corporations, a national newspaper, penthouses, skyscrapers, two hospitals, a prison, and innumerable other trappings of high society. The real Genoa City is recovering from the excitement of last week’s Lions Club Bingo and is preparing for a mock tornado drill Thursday. To our knowledge, no professional athletes have dropped by recently.
The Great Outdoors, Pechoggin (1988)
John Hughes had a habit of basing the majority of his iconic films in his longtime home of Chicago. However, the filmmaker’s John Candy-starring classic, The Great Outdoors, saw his still-Chicago-based characters vacationing in Perhcoggin, a fictional FIB paradise in Wisconsin’s north woods. Locals have grown accustomed to the stereotypical Illinois tourists (portrayed expertly/aggravatingly by Dan Aykroyd), gritting their teeth as visitors support the economy of the bear-laden “hole in the earth” by go-karting, eating at the A&W, horseback riding, and sipping Point and Leinenkugel’s beer at the Potowotominimac Lodge. The entire film was actually shot in Bass Lake, California.
Step By Step, Port Washington (1991-98)
This has been covered elsewhere before, but we must repeat: THERE ARE NO ROLLERCOASTERS IN PORT WASHINGTON! Unless, of course, you count actual Port Washingtonian Dustin Diamond, who has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster since his days playing “Screech” on all incantations of Saved By The Bell.
Picket Fences, Rome (1992-96)
While we’d be lying if we said we watched racy CBS drama Picket Fences during its mid-’90s heyday, we can confidently say it doesn’t reflect anything even close to rural Wisconsin morals. Based in a fictional town called Rome (but shot entirely in southern California), murder, bank robbery, and sexualized controversy saw the fabricated central Wisconsin locale burning through eight mayors in four seasons.
UPDATE: Readers have brought to our attention that despite the show’s allegations, Rome, WI is a real place. As real as a 2,700-person town in Adams County can be, at least. There’s also a “census-designated place” in Jefferson County called Rome where about 700 residents live.
Life With Louie, Cedar Knoll (1994-98)
Louie Anderson’s name has become a punchline in itself these days. Yet for the better part of the 1990s, the corpulent comic was among the biggest names in comedy, with crossover capabilities into the realms of film, television, and even animation. From 1994 to 1998, Anderson’s cartoon Life With Louie ran on FOX. While the 39-episode series was semi-autobiographical, the show swapped out the namesake’s St. Paul, Minnesota roots for the invented Wisconsin town of Cedar Knoll. Some episodes chronicle local staples like deer hunting, blizzards, and watching the Packers, but the plotlines are usually broad and accessible. That said, it’s a family cartoon (that actually won two Emmys!) projected through a Midwest lens, complete with his pudgy and folksy mother making references to fish fry, casserole, and Piggly Wiggly in her distinct Great Lakes region lilt, and his dad bitching about shoveling.