The entertainment industry has always been a paradox in American culture, revered for its glamour and impact on the world, and simultaneously hated for its narcissism and superficiality. And though audiences throughout the country have some pretty strong opinions about the insular community that shapes so much of popular culture, no one is more aware of Hollywood’s perpetual contradictions than those who live and breathe the constant hustle of making it in the industry.
The one antidote for the effects of the Hollywood grind is stepping away from it and finding another place to recharge and reflect for a while. For many of us who transplanted ourselves to the big city, that place is probably home. For some, it may be a weekend trip to Big Bear or Palm Springs (or the Hamptons for those on the opposite coast). Every time I get out of town and decompress, I’m reminded that the big-city machine is such a bubble, it’s almost inevitable that we forget about the rest of the country.
What doesn’t help is the fact that the industry is constantly churning out stories about those of us who live in big cities – particularly New York or Los Angeles. The biggest offender, of course, is network TV, the medium with the largest reach across the country, the ominous presence that exists in nearly every living room in America. When people in other zip codes complain that Hollywood is out of touch with much of American culture, I consider this fact, and find myself unable to argue with them.
After the 2016 election, this became clearer than ever. Much of the industry and especially those of us in Los Angeles, specifically, were heartbroken, but more importantly, we were absolutely shocked. I couldn’t believe how blindsided I’d been by it. And that was when I started thinking about how rare it is that we represent anything outside of our own bubble in our own industry.
I tried to think of any major television shows that didn’t take place in New York or Los Angeles and drew a blank. The few I did come up with were shows that really focus on the characters specifically and are not at all about the city or town in which the show takes place. Fresh Off the Boat takes place in Orlando, Grey’s Anatomy takes place in Seattle, and Mike and Molly takes place in Chicago, but any of those shows could change the setting tomorrow and remain exactly the same. The notable exception is Atlanta, and though it’s refreshing that the show doesn’t take place in New York or Los Angeles, it’s still a major metropolis. The Goldbergs and Stranger Things are successful shows that take place in small town middle-America, however, those are specifically structured around nostalgia, and don’t focus on any contemporary issues.
A major TV show in recent memory that actually did embrace a small town setting was Parks and Recreation – and, as much as I grew to love that show, the thin layer of elitism in making fun of doe-eyed cheerleader types like Leslie Knope, as well as the constant jokes about obesity, wasn’t lost on me.
When it came to embracing the reality of small town life, both the good and the bad, I kept coming back to Roseanne, the iconic 90s sitcom starring comedian Roseanne Barr. The show focused on a working class family in the small town of Lanford, Illinois, and was never afraid to dive right into the plight of working class middle America – all the while finding the humor in such tough situations.
Apparently, Sarah Gilbert had the exact same reaction to the election as I did; within a few months, it was announced that the actress and producer had managed to get a new version of the show back on the air, with the original cast. It was a massive success, and that success was wake up call for Hollywood; the fact that the show eclipsed its own success 20 years after its finale in 1997 could only signal that audiences were hungry for these stories. It can’t just be about 20 somethings living in huge Manhattan apartments that they can somehow afford by waiting tables anymore. Even after the show was abruptly canceled in the wake of the star character’s Twitter debacle, a spinoff was immediately hatched to keep the Conners on the air – which just goes to show what a massive nerve the show had struck with its audience.
It all leads me to believe that what’s good for the rest of the country is also good for Hollywood. The industry has made enormous strides lately in inclusion and representation among more diverse voices, which is incredibly exciting; there’s no better time to expand our attention to stories that exist just under our noses. It won’t just keep us in touch with the majority of our audiences; it will break up the bubble for us, and it will remind us, as content creators and residents of the country’s second-largest metropolis, that there’s a whole wide world outside of the Hollywood hamster wheel.