Martin Freeman in season one of Fargo

6 TV Shows That Spotlight Minnesota

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Martin Freeman in season one of Fargo / FX

6 TV Shows That Spotlight Minnesota

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. Here are six notable TV shows that feature the state in a supporting role, along with where you can pay tribute to them.

  1. The Mary Tyler Moore Show
    Mary Tyler Moore statue Minneapolis

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

    The Mary Tyler Moore Show

    “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” was required viewing throughout the 1970s. Moore’s character of Mary Richards was a TV first: An independent career woman who led the fictional WJM newsroom and its "Six O'Clock News" segments. 

    Minneapolis is a major piece of the show, with Lake of the Isles, Richards’ apartment, and an infamous 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.

  2. The Bachelorette
    Aerial shot of Downtown Minneapolis Skyline and Stone Arch Bridge

    Bike or walk across the Mississippi River on the Stone Arch Bridge in downtown Minneapolis / Paul Vincent

    The Bachelorette

    Did you know Minneapolis boasts more "Bachelorette" contestants than any other destination? Fan favorites Becca Kufrin and Michelle Young put Minneapolis into the hearts of viewers with many dates taking place in Minnesota at spots like Target Field, U.S Bank Stadium, The Bell Museum, Mill City Museum, and more.

    Leslie Fhima, a contestant on the popular spinoff The Golden Bachelor showed Gerry the sights of her hometown of Minneapolis with stops at the Stone Arch Bridge, Mill Ruins Park and the North Loop neighborhood.

  3. Little House on the Prairie
    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.

  4. Coach
    MSU Mankato football game

    MSU Mankato football game / SPX Sports


    “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.

  5. The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show
    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.

  6. Fargo
    Paul Bunyan and Babe in snow

    Weston Holland Paul Bunyan and Babe in snow / 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. 

    Season five premieres this fall and takes place in Scandia, a charming small town with strong Nordic influences. While the show was filmed elsewhere, viewers may see glimpses of landmarks throughout the town like the Gammelgården Museum, an open air museum devoted to preserving, presenting and promoting Swedish immigrant  heritage in the United States.

    The show's character-building scenes often feature generic, period-focused housing and businesses, but "Fargo" brings local landmarks to life during its most dramatic moments. Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge makes an iconic appearance in season one, and the tension continues to build underneath the shadow of Bemidji’s Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues in episode nine. The giant and colorful statues were first built in 1937, celebrating the logging history of Bemidji for 80 years.

Further Viewing  

Many television characters are from Minnesota and have share their love of the state onscreen. That includes everyone from Rose Nylund of "The Golden Girls" — her beloved hometown, St. Olaf, was inspired by Northfield and St. Olaf University — to St. Cloud's favorite son, Marshall Eriksen of "How I Met Your Mother". Not to mention Ben Wyatt from "Parks & Recreation" and the fictional town of Partridge, Brandon and Brenda Walsh from Minneapolis and "Beverly Hills 90210", and Tom Wambsgans from "Succession" and St. Paul.

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.