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In fictional television the setting is the time and place in which the show takes place. This can be an important aspect of the show and in many cases defines it. For other shows the setting is unimportant and sometimes is never even revealed. This is especially true of shows set in suburban areas since suburbs are very similar all across America.
Importance of Setting
The setting can play varying degrees of importance and influence on a show. Sometimes a show's setting is so prominent that it almost comes to define that location for many viewers such as Seinfeld or Sex and the City for New York City or Northern Exposure for Alaska. In other cases the setting is so key to the storyline of the show that it couldn't be set in any other location such as Entourage in Los Angeles, The West Wing in Washington, DC, or Hogan's Heroes in WWII Germany. For some shows the setting is so key to the premise it's right in the title of the show such as with Rome, Deadwood, Las Vegas, or Miami Vice. Although just because the setting is in the title doesn't mean it's that integral to the premise of the show, sometimes it's just used as a means to differentiate it from other similar shows such as with Boston Legal or It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. These shows use their settings for individual stories but the basic premise could work in any other city. Some shows are deliberately vague about where they are set such as The Simpsons or the Hooterville shows Green Acres and Petticoat Junction. This is done mainly to keep the writers from being restricted by a real world location, but they often have one in mind and leave various clues that allow fans to basically determine the general area the show is set in.
Setting in Time
Setting in time can be just as, if not more, important than the physical setting. Setting a show in a particular time period can distinguish it from other shows much more so than just using a particular location. The time period can be historical, set just a decade or so in the past or it can be in the future. The use of a particular time period can be for a variety of reasons. One such reason is to use a particular war or conflict for the story like Band of Brothers or Hogan's Heroes during World War II, M*A*S*H during the Korean War or China Beach during the Vietnam War. If the shift is to the recent past it can be for nostalgia, trying to appeal to people who grew up in a certain decade or who are fans of the culture from that time, such as with Happy Days or That '70s Show. The choice of time period can be to portray the drama of a certain historical situation or location like in Rome, Deadwood, or other westerns. The actual reason can be any combination of these three factors like with American Dreams which was set in the late 1960's for all three of the above reasons. In the case of science fiction shows set in the future, the change in time is often done to allow certain types of stories that are too controversial to portray in a more realistic setting such as the original Star Trek. It can also be to set up the story potential of political or technological situations that don't exist in the present such as in seaQuest DSV or Dark Angel. Time itself can also be used as a plot device both in shows that use repeated travel through time as their central premise like Quantum Leap or Doctor Who and shows that permanently displace characters from one time period to another to set up humor or drama like on Futurama or The 4400.
Since television is a mature media with content produced across many decades even shows set at the same time they are produced in can vary widely depending on when they were made. This is most evident in espionage shows, since those made during the cold war have the Soviet Union or other governmental entities as the main adversaries and those made since have terrorist organizations and other non-governmental entities as the main adversaries. It is also more subtly evident in relation to minorities and women's liberation. The sitcoms of the 1950's tended to portray woman as either housewives or secretaries and contained almost no minorities. This slowly changed over the next decade or so as shows like All in the Family started to show more realistic views of race relations in America and shows like The Mary Tyler Moore Show started to appear in which woman held powerful roles outside of the home. The slowly changing roles of minorities and woman continued to evolve and change as time passed and are still evolving even today.
The two most popular settings for television shows in the US are New York City and Los Angeles. This is because most of the television studios, writers, and film crews are located in these two cities making it much cheaper to do location shooting in the area and easier for the writers to accurately depict the city they live in. Many other shows set elsewhere are still filmed in New York or LA including the show Las Vegas which is filmed in LA. This can lead to unrealistic portrayals of the settings such as a much less dry Las Vegas.
Other popular show locations are cities with a very distinct atmosphere such as San Francisco, Chicago, Boston, Las Vegas and Miami or cities with important functions only performed there like Washington, DC. In recent years producing shows in Vancouver, Canada, has become popular due to favorable tax breaks and exchange rates and a lot of shows produced there use Seattle as a setting because of its similarities to Vancouver.
Popular Time Periods
One popular time setting for television shows is during World War II. This is due to that conflict's immense influence on society and because its large scale allows for many different types of stories to be told based on that one war. Another popular time setting is the late 1800s due to the popularity of the western genre for television shows.
Lists of Shows Set in Various Places
The shows in the TV IV have been categorized by their physical settings. These categories can be found on the following pages (note non-fiction shows such as reality TV and talk shows are also listed):
- Broken down by country
- Further broken down by US state or Canadian province
- Broken down by city
- Common fictional settings including shows set in fictional outer space locations
Some shows have been categorized based on their setting in time as well:
- The historical category lists shows set before television became popular in the 1950's
- The period category lists shows set after televisions became commonplace but before the time they were produced in.
- The future category lists shows set at a considerably later date than when they were produced.
- The time travel and time displacement categories list shows that use those time related plot devices as a central premise.