News Column

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel On TV/Radio column

May 17, 2013

YellowBrix

May 17--During vacation out of state last week, I got into a disagreement with someone whose invective included a swipe at our fair city. I understood his heat-of-the-moment hostility toward me, but how did he develop a bias against Milwaukee and Wisconsin?

Could television be to blame? The list of cities and states that have become national punch lines range from Burbank and Cleveland to New Jersey and "Portlandia."

But just when did a target get painted on our dairy air?

References to Milwaukee and Wisconsin regularly turn up in movies, from "Bridesmaids" to Robert Redford's "The Company You Keep."

A list of shows set here over the years includes "The Young and the Restless" (set in a fictional Genoa City); "Step by Step" (Port Washington); "Picket Fences" (fictional Rome); and "That '70s Show" (fictional Point Place). And for years, we wore the false nostalgia and buffoonery of "Happy Days" and "Laverne & Shirley" (Milwaukee) like a bronze Fonz around our necks.

But just as that stereotype was retired, along comes "Cheeseheads," a reality show on the TBS cable channel next season.

For all our differences, the Green Bay Packers are the one thing we can all agree on. You will know the ice-fishing, beer-drinking, Lambeau-leaping, blaze-orange-wearing members of Cheesehead Nation by their yellow foam headgear.

But did you also know that, according to TBS, they -- we -- are a "hilarious subculture"?

According to the cable channel: "These citizens don't just bleed green and gold; they eat victory for breakfast. For them, being a Cheesehead is more than just being a fan. It's a way of life," to be seen through "the eyes of a group of proud Wisconsinites as they navigate life in the only way they know how -- loud, proud and with lots of beer. For these folks, there is no off-season."

According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the show held a casting call in December in Green Bay for "passionate Wisconsinites with big personalities."

No word on waistlines.

This can't end well. Does reality TV portray anyone in a flattering light? Doesn't "big personalities" mean the freak-show qualities that most reality shows wallow in?

Count me a skeptic, along with commenters on my blog The Dudek Abides. "This show will set things back another 20 years. Forget the art museum, a great symphony, a solid arts scene and great restaurants -- we have beer, brats and bellies. Hooray!" Another wrote: "Portraying all working class Southerners as freakish hillbillies is losing luster, and we're next."

But one observer was optimistic: "Is it possible," he wrote on Twitter, "to have a favorite show that hasn't aired yet?"

Of course, "Cheeseheads" could get lost in the shuffle next season when the broadcast networks roll out what, by my count, will be 31 new shows.

Two trends emerged when the networks made their presentations to advertisers this week.

--ABC, NBC and TBS/TNT announced plans to live-stream network and local programs, as broadcasters struggle to compete with online services for eyeballs. But the services will only be available to those who subscribe to cable or satellite services.

--Broadcasters plan fewer reruns and more limited-run events -- a.k.a. miniseries. FX will air a "Fargo" miniseries; Fox announced a 12-episode arc of a revived "24" and the limited run "Wayward Pines" by M. Night Shyamalan; CBS will show "Under the Dome," "Intelligence" and "Hostages" as miniseries; and ABC is airing "Betrayal" and "Resurrection" as limited-run shows.

Otherwise, the lineup of new fall shows seems like newly minted versions of overly familiar formulas. They include:

--ABC : "Betrayal," soap opera thriller; " Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D," Joss Whedon follow-up to "The Avengers"; "The Goldbergs," a "Wonder Years"-type story; "Trophy Wife," a young woman finds herself married to a man with kids and ex-wives. "Lucky 7," about lottery winners; "Back in the Game," "Empty Nest" meets "Bad News Bears"; "Super Fun Night," girlfriend comedy with Rebel Wilson; "Once Upon a Time in Wonderland," a fairy-tale spinoff; "Resurrection," a boy lost for 30 years hasn't aged; "Mind Games," brothers help their clients through psychological manipulation; "Mixology," sitcom set at a bar.

--CBS: "We Are Men," divorced men live in same apartment building, with Tony Shalhoub; "Mom," single mom reunites with her estranged mom; "Hostages," a doctor operating on the president is threatened; "Intelligence," drama about a digitally enhanced super-soldier; "The Millers," Will Arnett as a divorced man with parents; "The Crazy Ones," David E. Kelley comedy-drama set at an ad agency, with Robin Williams.

--Fox: "Enlisted," military comedy; "Rake," Greg Kinnear as a self-destructive attorney; "Sleepy Hollow," Ichabod Crane is transplanted to modern times; "Dads," successful young men have annoying fathers; "Brooklyn Nine Nine," Andy Samberg as a rule-breaking cop with a strict new boss, played by Andre Braugher; "Junior Masterchef," kids' cooking show; "Us & Them," young couple has eccentric family, with Jane Kaczmarek; "Almost Human," a futuristic drama about android cops.

--NBC: "Ironside," Blair Underwood as a disabled detective; "Welcome to the Family," offspring of Anglo and Latino families fall in love; "Sean Saves the World," Sean Hayes as a divorced gay dad; "The Michael J. Fox Show," sitcom about a father and husband with Parkinson's disease; "Dracula," a Victorian-era vampire seeks vengeance, from "Downton Abbey" producers; "The Blacklist," a wanted criminal will cooperate with only a certain FBI agent.

Email: ddudek@journalsentinel.com

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