Television Cartography

This has been around for a while, but the sitcom map is a useful guide to where TV comedies take place and which areas of the U.S. have the highest concentration of comedy. (New York, obviously, is where most comic characters would rather stay). There’s also a list at the bottom of comedies that don’t take place in any particular geographic area, like The Simpsons and The Donna Reed Show.

The map does not include Canadian or Mexican television shows, conveying the impression that North America is two-thirds barren wasteland. I suppose if someone tried mapping out Canadian shows, Toronto would be the setting for a lot of shows, but TV comedy wouldn’t be quite as concentrated in Toronto as U.S. comedy in New York, or British comedy in London. But I might just be getting a skewed impression because there are a bunch of shows around today that are set outside Toronto (Winnipeg for Less Than Perfect Kind, for example).

In some ways, the setting of a comedy is essentially pointless, because most comedies are shot in the studio, and no matter where the show takes place, they’ll hardly ever leave L.A. But that creates a certain amount of freedom in choosing the setting. A show that goes out on location has to either pick a place they can shoot in, or a place that Vancouver can be dressed up to resemble. But a studio-based sitcom can choose to pretend that it takes place just about anywhere. That’s why it’s odd that so many multi-camera, indoor comedies automatically choose to take place in or near New York. Besides the fact that they think New York is cooler and that Seinfeld and Friends cast a long shadow, setting a show in New York means that the characters can have access to just about any place or event, and the writers find it easier to bring in a guest star or guest character (lots of people unexpectedly pop up in New York, or move to New York on a whim). But a show that takes place in a less cliche’d city can sometimes come up with interesting new reasons for guest characters to turn up, or things the characters might do with their time that they might not do in a New York or L.A. show.

However, if you’re going to set a show in Portland, Oregon, please do not have Meadowlark Lemon move in next door.

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