As I drove back to Fargo today, cruising across the dry basin of Glacial Lake Agassiz, watching stormclouds build over Detroit Lakes and listening to Prairie Public Radio, I learned something new about Fargo today. A reality-TV producer is putting together a Fargo-themed show, to be called “Good Morning, Fargo!” This is the first I’ve heard of such a thing, so I immediately started going down the rabbit hole. More inside.
On today’s Main Street, producer Christian Robinson of Morningstar Entertainment talked at length about the plans for the show. At the core, the show “Good Morning, Fargo!” is the subject of the reality show: the production will revolve around a really-real morning show that will likely be aired on WDAY. That’s not the show, though, this is much more meta than that.
The show being filmed is a show about the production of the morning show, in the style of Noises Off. And, in theory, their goal is to be about as funny, but with real people and quasi-scripted events rather than sharp wit from talented writers. But, if Here Comes Honey Boo Boo is any indicator, if you cast entertaining characters, who needs writing.
The film history of Morningstar is interesting: there’s a heavy focus on history, but with just a touch of the sensationalism that is commonplace in modern reality television. Revisiting Lizzie Borden, uncovering the facts which might reveal that Billy the Kid wasn’t actually shot by Pat Garrett, “pushing the boundaries”, as Robinson said on Main Street. I will say their website is gloriously short of aliens, cryptozoology, or alternate histories. Not nearly as dry as the excellent history programs hosted by Peter Weller, but not nearly as out of left field as Giorgio Tsoukalos’ wacky hair.
Which makes the production of “Good Morning, Fargo!” interesting: there isn’t much precedence for this sort of a program in the CV of Morningstar. Going back to the early 2000s, Morningstar won awards for episodes of Modern Marvels and Biography — both relatively straight documentary programs. About 2005 or so, the winds turned: more sensational programs began to appear. Well, appear everywhere — Morningstar isn’t to blame, because they were just meeting customer demands. Their website claims to focus on the production of “high-profile historical, factual, and action-documentary style programming,” which seems to demonstrate a devotion to facts but also lacks the sort of heavily-produced reality programming that falls in the genre of The Osbornes or Duck Dynasty.
Which might be why Robinson is involved: according to his LinkedIn, he worked for GRB Entertainment — producer of such fine programming as Pregnant and Dating and Extreme Animal Obsessions — and Indigo Films — home of Roswell: Final Declassification and 42 Ways to Kill Hitler. Oh, how I wish I was making up funny TV show names for The Onion, I really do. Indigo, however, seems to be in the same vein as Morningstar, leaning more heavily on facts and history than on the sensationalism.
Whether Christian Robinson digs from the soggy bag of GRB Entertainment or sticks with the factual storytelling of Morningstar and Indigo will make or break “Good Morning, Fargo!” However, I’m worried that pulling from the Pregnant and Dating playbook will be what gets viewers, but won’t shine a positive light on the locals they intend to hire for the show.
Now, it’s tough for me to judge: I watch the sort of straight history shows produced by Morningstar and Indigo, but I have yet to watch a single episode of Duck Dynasty, and all I know of Honey Boo Boo comes from The Soup. This isn’t my cup of tea, and my impression is that there’s a lot of, “no, wait, wait, really, we’re laughing with you, don’t you see?” The kind of people ready to sign up for such a show might not be the kind of local Fargoans Robinson is actually looking for.
There’s an earnest honesty in American Picker’s Mike Wolfe, but he pitched his own show; other shows in the similar genre, like Pawn Stars and Storage Wars, are a bit more sensational in their casting. Take, for example, the ice fishing pilot that filmed on Mille Lacs last year: they explicitly point out the need for a villain in the show. If there’s one thing the movie Fargo taught the world about the sort of people that live up here — Minnesota and North Dakota like — is that villains aren’t handled the same way here. The sort of no-nonsense honesty that Robinson adores is a different vein than the no-nonsense honesty of Honey Boo Boo sneezing on a Thanksgiving turkey. Hopefully Morningstar realizes this quality around here, and won’t miss what’s real in their search for what fits the reality TV casting mold today. If they do it right, they’ll capture reality; if they don’t, they’ll miss the point of why they even had “Fargo” in the show’s name.
Update: footage for a pilot was filmed in mid-September 2013 according to the WDAZ website; the show seems to be avoiding the “wacky locals” theme and looking at the actual running of a small-market TV station.
(Disclaimer: I’m a writer for Dakota Datebook, which appears during the Prairie Public show Main Street, which is why my name appears at the end of the episode with Robinson’s interview. Also, I used to write for A&E partner website Collector’s Quest, which airs shows produced by Morningstar and Indigo. No conflict of interest or anything, I just like to brag. )