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 2,700-person town in Adams County called Rome (but shot entirely in southern California), murder, bank robbery, and sexualized controversy saw the central Wisconsin locale burning through eight mayors in four seasons.
Life With Louie, Cedar Knoll (1994-98)
For the better part of the 1990s, the comedian Louie Anderson 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 folksy mother making references to fish fry, casserole, and Piggly Wiggly in her distinct Great Lakes region lilt, and his dad complaining about shoveling.
BASEketball, Milwaukee (1998)
Milwaukee was no doubt selected as the birthplace of the sport of BASEketball—in the underrated 1998 sports satire by the same name—as a nod from famed comedy writer/director David Zucker to his hometown. Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Milwaukee, though, is a cul-de-sac’s dead end that evokes more of a Franklin or Oak Creek vibe than anything. Even now, Reel Big Fish would be a pretty big get for Milwaukee Beers house band. You just know that honor would be given to Pat McCurdy in real life.
A Minute With Stan Hooper, Waterford Falls (2003)
“This is the vanishing America, Molly. I bet these people never even heard of cappuccino,” Newsline correspondent Stan Hooper (Norm Macdonald) tells his wife as the couple returns to Waterford Falls, 15 years after falling in love with the quaint (and not actually real) Wisconsin burg while passing by on their honeymoon. As new residents, the Hoopers endure an array of lazy TV tropes and a dizzying number of cheese references from a quirky small town populace that doesn’t even realize he’s famous. (His segment airs the same time as The Wisconsin Farm Report don’cha know!) Stan Hooper never caught on in Waterford Falls or with television audiences. Despite shooting 13 episodes, only six aired before the rare Macdonald misstep was cancelled. God only knows the dairy puns we missed.
Dawn Of The Dead, Milwaukee (2004)
Zombies are all the rage these days. George A. Romero’s 1978 cinematic classic Dawn Of The Dead was among the first bits of undead entertainment. Even the 2004 remake was ahead of the game. Unlike its predecessor that was set in a rural Pennsylvania mall, the 21st century reprisal found Ving Rhames, Sarah Polley, Mekhi Phifer, and pre-Modern Family Ty Burrell taking refuge in a Milwaukee shopping center. Though set in Wisconsin (having Green Bay-born director Zack Snyder attached to direct could’ve had something to do with that), the Dawn Of The Dead remake was filmed in Thornhill, Ontario. The difference is apparent, as the mall is secluded and massive; it offers ample parking; it boasts tons of shops, and is full of people (both living and otherwise). The Shops Of Grand Avenue, on the other hand, looks like the aftermath of a zombie attack.
Mr. 3000, Waukesha (2004)
After calling it a career, Milwaukee Brewers star Stan Ross (played by the late Bernie Mack) went to live out the rest of his days in nearby Waukesha—or “WOE-KEE-SHA”—where he opened a series of businesses in one mini mall that were related to his then-assumed 3,000-hit milestone. The notion of a mini mall in Waukesha with a beeper shop (3000 Beeps), Chinese restaurant (3000 Woks), pet groomer (3000 Paws), and Mr. 3000 Sports Lounge is absolutely believable; the idea of any athlete staying in Milwaukee post retirement is nutty. Most players head to the airport directly from the locker room in the final game of each season.
Lars And The Real Girl, Unspecified (2007)
Arguably the finest film about a real man falling for a fake woman since 1991’s Mannequin Two: On The Move, low-budget Ryan Gosling flick Lars And The Real Girl is just barely based in the Badger State. The heartthrob’s titular character has a Wisconsin map plastered in his work cubicle, and that’s where the direct acknowledgments in the film end. The implied host site is a diminutive Midwestern place (actually filmed in rural Ontario) surrounded by snow swept fields. There, the predominately white populace frequents bowling alleys; women in out-of-fashion sweaters gossip while eating fried food; and people attend banquets at the VFW. Oh yeah, and everybody is astonishingly cool with a dude pushing a rubber companion around town in a wheelchair. It would be insulting if the Wisconsin connection wasn’t so underscored and if the subtle characterizations didn’t ring so true to the way of life in various unincorporated pockets of the state.