5 TV Shows That Made Minnesota Famous

By Loren Green

Minnesota-made movies like “Purple Rain” and “The Mighty Ducks” have left lasting impressions, but Minnesota has also made an impact on the small screen.

Mary Tyler Moore statue Minneapolis

Pay tribute to Mary on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis / @mnbucketlist

“The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was required viewing throughout the 1970s. Moore’s character of Mary Richards was a TV first: A contently independent career woman who led the fictional WJM newsroom in Minneapolis. Including “Mary Tyler Moore,” here are five of the most notable shows to take place in Minnesota, and where you can go to pay tribute to them. While many were primarily filmed out of state, Minnesota played just as big a role as these shows' beloved characters.

Lake of the Isles Minneapolis skyline

Lake of the Isles / @nathanlphoto

The Mary Tyler Moore Show

A young Mary Richards moves to Minneapolis to start a new life after a failed relationship. She ends up producing “Six O’Clock News,” forging friendships over the show’s seven seasons.

Minneapolis is a major piece of the show, with Lake of the Isles, Richards’ apartment, and the famous hat toss sequence that was commemorated with a Nicollet Mall statue in 2002. The hat toss that symbolized Richards’ fresh start took place in 1970 at the corner of Nicollet Avenue and 7th Street, just outside of Donaldson’s department store, which burned down in the Thanksgiving Day fire of 1982. Today the statue marks a memorable TV event that’s been parodied by everyone from “The Simpsons” to Oprah Winfrey.

Basil’s Restaurant in the IDS Center courtyard makes a famous appearance as Moore dines in the opening sequence. Meanwhile, the external shots of her apartment took place at 2104 Kenwood Parkway, a real-life private residence. During the show’s initial run, its owner famously put up signs to discourage tourists from visiting.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove

Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove

Little House on the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s nine novels inspired this long-running show about prairie life in the 1880s. The series was a hit in its day and still lives on in syndication.

Though Wilder moved throughout her life, the TV version takes place near Walnut Grove in southwest Minnesota. The small town of just under 1,000 people still celebrates her legacy today. The location of the family’s dugout home is just outside of town, and the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum is in the heart of town, just off Highway 14. The museum also hosts a live pageant every summer reenacting Laura's life on the prairie.

The show was filmed on a TV set built in California to replicate the late 1800s environment, but the museum includes many scale models from the show as well as real-life relics from the Wilder family and her novels. There are seven buildings in total, open seasonally, that emphasize the pioneering experience through a mixture of family-focused entertainment, history and memorabilia.

MSU Mankato football game

MSU Mankato football game / SPX Sports


This long-running show about a college football coach never names its host city, other than being a short drive from the Twin Cities and featuring the fictional Minnesota State Screaming Eagles mascot. “Coach” followed a divorced father, Fox, who reconnects with his college-aged daughter. Fox lived in a cedar-paneled home on the lake, frequently going for walks or going fishing when stress overcame him.

At the time of the show, there was no Minnesota State University, but many noted that Mankato was similarly close to the Twin Cities and boasted a university with a gold and purple color scheme similar to the Screaming Eagles.

The show played heavily on Minnesota culture, with references to ice fishing, cold weather and a strong emphasis on core family. With a primary character who was a TV reporter for a Twin Cities station, it captured Minnesota’s urban-rural blend that connects over family, football and the outdoors.

Campus shots were actually of the University of Iowa (show creator Barry Kemp’s alma mater), but the dialogue was heavily Minnesota-centric. In 1998, after the show’s run, Mankato State University changed its name to Minnesota State University Mankato for unrelated reasons.

Smokey the Bear Statue in International Falls

Smokey the Bear Statue, International Falls / Jim Hoffman

The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show

A play on International Falls’ motto as “icebox of the nation,” show creator Jay Ward spoofed the town with Frostbite Falls, home of Rocket J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle J. Moose. The cartoon variety show captured the Cold War era perfectly as the two title characters took place in the race to the moon, foreign espionage, and all manner of timeless buffoonery.

Besides boasting more freezing temperatures than any other incorporated city in the continental United States, International Falls is also home to stoic beauty. The Rainy River forms a natural border with Canada, where visitors can take the Fort Frances-International Falls International Bridge into Ontario and back.

Voyageurs National Park, Smokey Bear Park and the Bronko Nagurski Museum are all nearby. Bullwinkle’s native island of Moosylvania is completely fictional, though the show’s producers pulled a publicity stunt in 1963, leasing an island near Lake of the Woods and petitioning President John F. Kennedy for statehood.

Snow-covered Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues

Visit the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues just outside of downtown Bemidji / Weston Holland


Minnesota natives Ethan and Joel Coen confused the world with their 1996 film Fargo,” which took place mostly in Brainerd despite the North Dakota-based title. The current TV series takes the Coens’ quirky and dark tone of seedy small-town life across the state, setting season one mostly in Bemidji, season two in southwest Luverne, and season three in St. Cloud, Eden Valley and Eden Prairie.

The series may actually be filmed in Calgary, but it uses familiar names and places with enough local shots to keep continuity through the snow-covered scenery. From the barren backroads to the well-aged historic downtowns of rural Minnesota, the series captures the small-town feel, down-to-earth sensibility, strong-willed individuals and many cultural quirks of the state.

The plots move readily through Minnesota, from Baudette to Duluth to St. Paul and more. General character-building scenes are often generic, period-focused housing and businesses, but the series smartly waits until the most dramatic moments to bring local landmarks to life. Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge makes an iconic appearance in season one, but it’s episode nine when the tension finally builds underneath the shadow of Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues.

The giant and colorful statues were first built in 1937, celebrating the logging history of Bemidji for 80 years.

Loren Green

Loren Green is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer covering music, culture, food and beverage across the state. His work has appeared in The Growler, City Pages, Paste and more.