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Maybe it’s time to write our own television shows about Wisconsin

MADISON, WI– With the Fox Network ready to air a sitcom set in mythical Waterford Falls, Wis., the Badger state will once again bask in prime-time television’s limelight – whether it wants to or not.

Consider yourself warned: “A Minute with Stan Hooper,” which stars Norm Macdonald of “Saturday Night Live” and “Norm” fame, may not be entirely flattering of us locals. A recent review of the show makes it sound like a neurotic “Green Acres,” with all sorts of folksy eccentrics pestering former TV anchorman Stan Hooper (Macdonald) and his wife when they move to Waterford Falls to escape the stress of living in Manhattan.

My personal favorite is the cheesemaker who passes out samples of string cheese like they’re cigars. It’s a whole new meaning to the term “smoked cheese.”

Some people think this is another step backward on the evolutionary trail for Wisconsin, which wants to be known for its great schools, brainy workers and quality of life, but which is usually defined by some beer-swilling cheesehead in a cutaway shot on Monday Night Football.

“Wisconsin’s desire to be seen as worldly, high-tech and smart, for purposes of economic development, is still hurt by images ingrained into people’s minds by the long-ago TV show ‘Laverne and Shirley,’ ” wrote Marsha Lindsay, who runs a Madison firm that specializes in the marketing art of branding. “A competitive image for Wisconsin may be about to receive another setback.”
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Pretty serious stuff, right? State Tourism Secretary Jim Holperin doesn’t think so. In fact, he thinks “A Minute with Stan Hooper” may garner Wisconsin another 15 minutes of fame.

Think of all the recent TV shows set in Wisconsin, Holperin said, and you’ll realize the state gets a disproportionate amount of exposure. “Picket Fences” was set in Rome, Wis., and “That ‘70s Show” takes place in imaginary Point Place. About three-dozen movies have either been set in Wisconsin or filmed here, at least in part.

“We’ve got to be in the top five or six states” when it comes to Hollywood scene-setting, Holperin said. (By the way, the Tourism Department has supplied the producers of “A Minute with Stan Hooper” with Wisconsin paraphernalia, including some Packers gear.)
But is there any way we can persuade Hollywood to think beyond the beer, brats and string cheese and to portray a “new” Wisconsin, where all the children are above average and none of the locals are loco?

Here’s my effort to change how the screenwriters see us. They can feel free to rip off any of the ideas (for my usual 10 percent, of course).

Everybody Loves Gene(tics: A zany microbiologist and his family live across the street from his parents, who constantly stop by and ruin his experiments with spaghetti sauce.

Stem City: The glib chief of staff to the mayor of Madison conducts stem cell research on the side while running City Hall.

Sex and the Silo: The lives and loves of four urbane but somewhat lonely women from Grant County.

Dharma and Ole: A cute but wacky hippie girl from Madison marries a sophisticated Norwegian guy from Westby.

Just Shoot It: The editors of a fashion magazine go hunting for deer infected with chronic wasting disease.

OK, I didn’t say these shows had to be funny or interesting – just better for Wisconsin’s image. I’m available, Hollywood, if you need ideas for the first episode of “A Minute with Stan Hooper.”

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Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. Contact: 608-442-7557

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