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Monday, March 10, 2014

On the Small Screen: Top 10 San Francisco TV Shows

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2014 at 7:48 AM

Everywhere you go... you see San Francisco. - WARNER BROTHERS
  • Warner Brothers
  • Everywhere you go... you see San Francisco.

San Francisco is iconic and there is no doubt about it.

The City by the Bay has been the muse and inspiration for all sorts of art forms, ranging from the signature tune of singer Tony Bennett to the song-like poems of Lawrence Ferlinghetti that shroud you in an enchanting delight like Karl the Fog.

Our city has also been appearing in the fair amount of television shows recently. NBC just debuted About a Boy last week, which stars David Walton and Minnie Driver. The show is a comedic take on the 2002 Hugh Grant film (which is based on the Nick Hornby novel). But unlike the film, which takes place in London, the story lines develop in San Francisco instead.

As well as HBO announced that it renewed Looking for a second season. The story of three gay men living in San Francisco and their forays into love, relationships, and self discovery were filmed entirely in San Francisco and surrounding Bay Area late last summer.

And last week we noted TNT's new series, Murder in the First, will be filming San Francisco this year.

So while San Francisco has been the starlet of the small screen lately, this isn't the first time TV programs have taken place in our beloved city. As a result, we here at SF Weekly have ranked our top picks for the10 best television shows depicting San Francisco. Let us know if you agree, or if you feel we left any off the list.

Honorable Mention: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Before we begin, we wanted to acknowledge this educational, animated series that focused on helping children learn about world history and geography by following agents Zack and Ivy as they try to capture world class thief Carmen Sandiego. Even though the show has the entire globe as it's main setting, the world headquarters for the fictional ACME detective agency is located in San Francisco. Our city is always featured as the starting point of each globe-trotting scavenger hunt and as the end point. It seems like even cartoons leave their hearts in San Francisco.

10.) Suddenly Susan

This NBC 90s sitcom featured the "nothing get's between her Calvins'" actress Brooke Shields as a prominent writer for a glamorous San Francisco magazine called The Gate.

The show also starred Emmy and Grammy-winning comedian Kathy Griffin, when she was still relatively unknown. While Shields' character is trying to cope with being single and independent, the show's attempts at being universal inadvertently features very little of our city, which forces us to put it at the bottom of our list.

9.) Charmed

The WB series that focused on the Halliwell sisters, Prue (Shannen Doherty), Piper (Holly Marie Combs), Phoebe (Alyssa Milano), and Paige Matthews (Rose McGowan) ran for eight seasons in the early 2000s to critical. The show made the magical world of the Charmed Ones truly enchanting and heavily; the show featured the Victorian architecture of their mansion as a focal point (and setting) of the show, but we wish it would have done the same for San Francisco.

Fun Fact: The Halliwell Manor is an actual house in San Francisco and was originally built in 1898. It's located at 1329 Prescott.

8.) All-American Girl

This 1994 sitcom featured 25-year old comedian Margaret Cho as the young daughter of a traditional yet eccentric Korean family who operate a local book store located somewhere along the Powell and Hyde cable car line (no address is ever provided).

It was historical series, as it was the second show to feature an individual of Asian descendant as a main protagonist. (Pat Morita's short-lived 1976 sitcom Mr. T and Tina was the first.) And like her predecessor, All-American Girl was not renewed for a second season due to low ratings, mixed reviews, and negative response from the Asian American community.

The show did however feature guest appearances from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, David Cross, Jack Black, and Quentin Tarantino, among other notable stars.

7.) Monk

Monk starred Tony Shalhoub as the detective Adrian Monk with severe OCD working in San Francisco for this USA Network series. The show ran for a total of eight seasons (2002-2009) and won Shalhoub a total of three Prime Time Emmy Awards for Lead Actor.

According to The Wall Street Journal, this series held the record for the most-watched scripted drama episode in cable television history from 2009 through 2012, with 9.4 million views for its series finale. The record was broken by The Walking Dead.

San Francisco sure brings in the hits, but we still don't think this was the best police drama filmed in our city.

6.) The Doris Day Show

Featuring the iconic actress Doris Day, this show premiered in 1968 and concluded after five seasons on CBS.

In this series, Day is a widow who moves out of San Francisco (to the East Bay) after the death of her husband, but in season two begins to commute to San Francisco when she lands a job as a secretary at a San Francisco magazine. In season three, Day expresses fatigue with the daily commute and she moves back to San Francisco when she has a higher income that came with her promotion to staff writer.

Despite being a bit light and unrealistic, it did touch on aspects of Bay Area life, like commuting, high rent, and career versus motherhood. This sounds a bit familiar still, right?

5.) Tales of the City miniseries

What started off as a set of weekly installments in The San Francisco Chronicle in 1976, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series turned into an eight-novel series, three PBS television miniseries (based off the first three novels starring Olympia Dukakis and Laura Linney), and a stage musical at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theater in 2011.

Maupin was able to take a 1970s San Francisco that was the national mecca of sexual liberation and acceptance and depict it in an endearing and humane manner -- without misrepresenting or oversimplifying it all.

The television mini series was influential in the early '90s because it had a frank depictions of homosexual relationships that were honest and not stereotypes. The PBS series featured nudity and homoerotic displays of affection, something we haven't seen on PBS since. The '90s were sure pushing boundaries.

For more on Maupin's thoughts on the PBS special, check out our exclusive interview with the author.

4.) MythBusters

This show really gives a nod to San Francisco as being the capital of technology and innovation (Sorry Betas).

This Discovery Channel show features special effects experts Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (the hosts of the show), who prove the validity of rumors, myths, and superstitions, using the scientific method and logical deductions.

Filming is done in San Francisco and for stunts that need more space, they go to surrounding locations in the East Bay or on location if need be. For the larger productions, they also head to Artarmon, Australia.

Our inner geek rejoices knowing that this show is here in our foggy city.

3.) Full House

This show is synonymous with San Francisco and no other title sequence could make the Painted Ladies of Alamo Square as iconic. Hence Postcard Row being dubbed "The Full House Houses."

Danny Tanner and company were the ideal San Francisco family, vastly different and unorthodox, but loving and embracing all the same. The show also made actors Bob Saget, John Stamos, and the Olsen twins into household names.

But we are dinging the show down a few spots from the top spot because the vast majority of the series was filmed in Los Angeles with only exterior shots filmed in the city. And let's not get started with all the mullets and flannel.

2.) The Real World: San Francisco (Season three)

For being trash TV, this show really left it's mark on San Francisco and the nation at large.

Now in it's 29th season (which is also taking place in San Francisco), the reality show really became iconic when it came to the City in 1994.

The program was the first to feature a real man's struggle with AIDS during the epidemic in the late '80s and early '90s. Pedro Zamora was a Miami Cuban and prominent AIDS activist when he was cast in the show at age of 21. He was diagnosed with the illness when he was 17.

The show had individuals from all over the country living in a single home and it was a must watch for teenagers and young adults, many of whom had ever seen a gay relationship featured on television.

The Real World was also the first program to ever feature a same-sex commitment ceremony on TV, when Zamora exchanged vows with his partner Sean Sasser during the season finale. Zamora died a few hours before the final episode aired on national television. Then President Clinton commemorated Zamora before his death for his valiant efforts for LGBT and AIDS visibility and education.

We wished subsequent seasons would have followed suit.

1.) The Streets of San Francisco

Earning our top spot is the 1970s police drama starring Karl Malden and a young Michael Douglas as two police detectives in San Francisco.

The series that ran for five seasons was filmed entirely in San Francisco, one of the few show to do so on this list. But this isn't the only reason it earns kudos from us. Actors Malden and Douglas wanted their characters to be as authentic as possible and spent time working with the SFPD as well as living in the City during filming.

Streets was a part of a string of other successful crime dramas during the 1970s but we will always hold this one close to heart because it showcased our metropolis not just as a gritty prop and setting in the background but as a protagonist. The City was more than just buildings and streets, it was a breathing, vibrant soul that was featured prominently at the forefront in every frame.

And for that, we're happy someone decided to do it justice on the small screen.

For events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section. Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF, Juan at @JuanPDeAnda, and like us on Facebook

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About The Author

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda

Juan De Anda is a cultural correspondent with a concentration in tourism, literature, and lifestyle and has been writing for SF Weekly since 2013. As an avid traveler, he enjoys discovering destinations abroad as well as the never-ending hidden gems of San Francisco. #DondeAndaJuanDeAnda?


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