There’s been some discussion over on Perfect Duluth Day recently about “The Louie Show,” a short-lived 1996 CBS sitcom set in Duluth and starring Minnesota-raised comedian Louie Anderson.
I dove into the archives here at the News Tribune and present here what may be the most extensive collection of Louie Show-related content ever assembled online. While the show’s handful of episodes aired in early 1996, the story in Duluth started back on March 9, 1995, when word of the prospective sitcom made the front page of the News Tribune under the headline “Pilot episode of Anderson sitcom will be filmed in Duluth” (with all of these, click on the image for a larger version):
Well…. the “pilot episode filmed in Duluth” part didn’t happen. What did happen was a film crew shot scenes in Duluth for an opening to the show, on April 30-May 1, 1995. The sequence featured the News Tribune; here’s an account from the May 2, 1995, News Tribune, headlined ” ‘Louie Show’ offers momentary fame to Duluth paper boy”:
Here are the photos that ran with the story:
Jason Koskinen, 15, of Duluth walks through his role as a paper boy for the opening scene of “The Louie Show,” on Fifth Street East in Duluth on May 1, 1995. A sophomore at Marshall School, Koskinen had done some modeling and just a bit of acting which helped him get the part. (Kathy Strauss / News-Tribune)
The articles above are images, not text, because they predate the News Tribune’s electronic archive by just a few months. I was able to find them on (and take photos of) microfilm thanks to some other clues. There may have been additional stories about “The Louie Show” in summer or fall 1995, but the next one I could find is from the Eh? column on Dec. 12, 1995:
‘Louie Show’ update
There’s still no word on when a based-in-Duluth sitcom starring comedian Louie Anderson will hit the airwaves, but producers have asked for more local footage.
And so, a film crew from Duluth’s Parthe Film & Video Production will brave the winter winds today to shoot more scenes in and around Duluth that will be folded into “The Louie Show.”
Filming is scheduled around the house at 1601 E. Fifth St. this afternoon. The Victorian-style duplex owned by Jane Koskinen was chosen last spring as Louie’s house — at least for the purposes of the show’s opening credits.
Shukovsky/English Entertainment Co., the show’s producer, hasn’t been given an airdate for the show. CBS — the network that picked up the show as a mid-season replacement — also is keeping mum as to when the show might air.
On Jan. 11, 1996, the News Tribune reported big news – an air date for “The Louie Show”:
LOOK FOR `LOUIE’ JAN. 31
Dominic P. Papatola, News-Tribune staff writer
Duluth and “The Louie Show” will go national this month.
CBS announced Wednesday that the set-in-Duluth sitcom featuring Minnesota comedian Louie Anderson would begin airing at 7:30 Wednesday nights starting Jan. 31.
Louie climbs into the prime-time lineup over the corpse of “Bless This House,” a comedy starring Andrew (formerly “Dice”) Clay that was canceled after finishing 75th out of 92 shows in last week’s Nielsen ratings.
Six episodes of the show featuring Anderson as a Duluth psychotherapist have been filmed and will run Wednesday nights during the February rating “sweeps” period. The show will air locally on KDLH-TV Channel 3.
But it’s highly unlikely that “The Louie Show” will be picked up as a full-time series this season, said John Whitman, executive in charge of production at Shukovsky/English Entertainment Co., the show’s producers.
“If there was an instant attraction to the show in a big way, then other variables would pop into place,” Whitman said. “But the likelihood of that happening is small.”
More likely, Whitman said, is that the show’s six episodes will run this winter, then possibly be rerun at a later date. “If it gets reasonable (ratings) numbers, then it’s got a shot in the fall with a legitimate launch.”
Just how prominently Duluth is featured in the program won’t be known until “The Louie Show” actually airs.
Riki McManus, a local casting agent who’s been working with the show, reported that the set designer requested several photos of Duluth, including images of the Aerial Lift Bridge, of locals ice fishing, even of a men’s room in Duluth’s City Hall.
Here’s the next update, which ran in the Eh? column on Jan. 16, 1996:
LOUIE LOVES DULUTH
More than two weeks before the premiere of “The Louie Show,” Duluth is already in the national spotlight.
Promotional ads for the show feature Louie Anderson wearing a dusty blue sweatshirt with “DULUTH” screaming across his chest in bold, white letters.
The ads have been airing on CBS affiliates across the country, including KDLH TV-Channel 3 in Duluth, which will carry the show.
The show, which will debut Jan. 31, features Anderson, a comedian and native Minnesotan, as a psychotherapist working in Duluth.
The News Tribune got an advance screening of the pilot episode, and ran this review on Jan. 29, 1996 – two days ahead of the series premiere. The Duluth-filmed opening sequence was nowhere to be seen:
REVIEW: SHOW’S EARNEST, FOLKS LIKABLE, BUT …
`THE LOUIE SHOW’ WON’T LAST UNLESS IT’S REVAMPED
Dominic P. Papatola, News-Tribune staff writer
In his new situation comedy, “The Louie Show,” Louie Anderson stars as a hinterlands psychotherapist whose ingenuous instinct for truth-telling often gets him into trouble.
If this show is to last beyond the six episodes already commissioned by CBS, it will need — like Louie’s patients — a little self-examination and a little help.
Because this is the ’90s, Louie earns his salary working for an HMO. Because this is a TV sitcom, his friends come from a variety of eclectic and interesting professions.
His best buddy is Curt (Bryan Cranston), a gung-ho, anal-retentive but well-meaning detective on the Duluth Police Department.
Hanging around in Louie’s house or in the corner coffee shop is Jake (Paul Feig), a wise-cracking physician who works with Louie.
Into this mix breezes Gretchen (Kate Hodge), a high-octane, slightly ditzy certified massage therapist. She moved to Duluth from Los Angeles after she saw a billboard on Santa Monica Boulevard that said “Duluth: Think About It” and interpreted it as a cosmic sign.
Clearly, the aim here is to develop an ensemble-type comedy around a successful stand-up comedian — a la “Seinfeld” or “Ellen” — but things don’t immediately jell with this batch of characters.
In the early, character-establishing episodes, there are laughs, but the writing rambles and the jokes feel forced. One of Curt’s first lines, for instance, is a complaint to Louie about a loose board on his porch that could cause a twisted ankle. “Instead of chasing the criminals,” he deadpans, “I’d have to drop ’em with my .45 . . . wouldn’t that be a shame?”
Anderson himself sometimes seems to be vamping, literally dancing around to maintain some sense of energy as the scripts drag along.
The humor is neither especially pointed nor particularly witty. Though Louie’s clearly the center of the action, his laugh-lines and those of the supporting characters seem to exist in a vacuum.
There’s little sense of how these characters will play off each other. There’s even less sense of how Anderson’s kinder, gentler, more introspective brand of humor will translate into weekly television.
With the exception of Anderson’s endearing and amiable presence and Hodge’s full-speed-ahead adrenalin shot of a character, “The Louie Show” feels cumbersome and in need of streamlining.
Local viewers might be disappointed in the relative lack of northern exposure in the show. Except for a few shots of the Missabe Building, passing references to the Vikings or the occasional joke about our Minnesota Nice attitude, there’s not much of Duluth in these early episodes.
That much-ballyhooed opening sequence featuring Duluth landmarks, for instance, has been replaced with a dizzying montage of Louie in hip-waders, a barbecue apron and an immense blue Duluth sweatshirt.
As the “outsider,” though, Gretchen speaks in the show for what is evidently Los Angeles’ perspective of life here on the tundra: The people are emotionally frostbitten and it’s hard to track down a good half-caff mocha latte with nonfat milk.
The characters in the show have a good start on their Midwestern sensibilities and they’re earnest and likable.
But earnest and likable only get you so far in Sitcomland. Good television comedy is fueled by offbeat ideas, sharp writing and bright performances.
Given a chance, “The Louie Show” might evolve in that direction. But it’s not there yet. Right now, the only thing inventive or special about the show is its Northland setting.
Here’s a clip of that dizzying montage opening sequence, posted by Paul Lundgren over at Perfect Duluth Day. It’s preceded by a clip of Anderson interacting with a patient played by Valerie Mahaffey, who won an Emmy for her work on “Northern Exposure”:
The News Tribune wasn’t the only one to pan the show. Other negative reviews included these from Variety, the Deseret News in Utah and the Los Angeles Times. But it wasn’t all bad. The New York Daily News had praise for the show, as did a reviewer for the New York Times Syndicate.
On the same day as the review, the News Tribune also ran an interview with Louie Anderson:
COMEDIAN WANTS SPOTLIGHT ON HIS HOME STATE
Dominic P. Papatola, News-Tribune staff writer
Of all the places on the planet, how would you ever get the idea to set a television show in Duluth, Minnesota?
It helps if you’re a native of the state, as is comedian Louie Anderson, who stars in “The Louie Show” premiering Wednesday night on local CBS affiliate KDLH-TV Channel 3.
Anderson grew up and cut his performing teeth as a stand-up comedian in the Twin Cities. But he’s been to Duluth several times and under a variety of circumstances.
“In about 1979, I drove my friend to Duluth to read letters to his father at his grave,” Anderson said. “I thought it was kind of an interesting city.”
That experience was the inspiration for “Dear Dad,” one of Anderson’s two autobiographical books. It also set him thinking that Duluth might make a good springboard for his entrance into situation comedy.
“I thought there was a lot of character there,” Anderson said, speaking from his car phone somewhere on the Los Angeles roadways. “And there were a lot of characters there.”
Home-state pride plays into the equation, too.
“I think people think that people in Minnesota don’t have much going; that they’re just shoveling the walk all the time,” he said.
“But in Minnesota, there’s something very much like me in the sense that, no matter how hard things seem to be, you can see it through and you might even be able to get a laugh out of it.”
In “The Louie Show,” Anderson plays a psychotherapist at a fictitious Duluth health maintenance organization. The character is close to the heart of the performer.
Anderson was a social worker in the Twin Cities before becoming a stand-up comedian. He also spent a large part of his adult life in therapy dealing with his own chronic depression.
“There was a lot of mental illness in my family, and had I not found comedy, I think I would have been dead,” he said.
That perspective, Anderson believes, gives his show more humanity than other situation comedies.
His character “is something I could have very easily have been. I think it’s believable that I’m in a position where I care about people and their problems.”
The first half-dozen episodes of “The Louie Show” have already been taped and were pretty much devoted to establishing the characters of the ensemble cast.
That didn’t leave much room in the spotlight for Duluth or the moods of Lake Superior. But that’s something Anderson plans to change if the series gets picked up for a full-scale run in the fall.
“If the show goes, we’ll come up there this summer and shoot the main titles,” Anderson said. “We wanted to do it (for the pilot episodes), but the lake was frozen.”
It’s even possible that portions of a couple episodes could be shot on location in Duluth. The show’s writers are considering a story line, for example, that would feature the Duluth-Superior Dukes, the community’s minor-league baseball team.
Another idea for a show has Louie running for mayor of Duluth — and winning.
Although “The Louie Show” is coming on the air as a mid-season replacement series, Anderson is optimistic about its prospects.
“I think people have been waiting for me to do a sitcom and I think I have a lot of fans out there,” he said. “The show’s a lot better than most of the shows on TV. With the dedication and the work, it’ll be a classic TV show.”
His prediction? “The Thursday after the third week of the show, (CBS will) order more shows,” he said.
And if not? Anderson said that would be a disappointment, but he’s learned that life goes on.
“Then,” he said, “I’ll be off the air and I’ll be on to something else.”
Louie Anderson as Duluth psychotherapist Louie Lundgren in “The Louie Show,” a short-lived 1996 CBS sitcom. (CBS publicity photo / News Tribune file)
On the day the show premiered – Wednesday, Jan. 31, 1996 – the News Tribune ran this item seeking viewer / reader feedback:
WILL `LOUIE’ FLY? YOU CAN BE THE JUDGE
Tonight’s the night that “The Louie Show” moves from the imaginings of its creators and to a few million television sets across the country.
Louie Anderson’s career as a sitcom actor rides on tonight’s 7:30 premiere episode on KDLH-Channel 3 and the five shows that are scheduled to follow Wednesday nights on CBS.
Too, Duluth’s place in the pop culture firmament rests on how well “The Louie Show” does. Will the Northland be thought of in the fond glow that the “Mary Tyler Moore Show” brought to Minneapolis? Or will the Twin Ports become like Portland in the wake of the disastrous and little-remembered McLean Stevenson sitcom, “Hello, Larry” — merely the answer to a trivia question?
The Nielsen households and their little ratings diaries will decide, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a say.
Watch the show tonight. And then, from 8 to 9 p.m., call in to our special “LouieLine” and give us your review. What did you like? What did you hate? Will the show live? Or will it die?
The number is 723-xxxx. Be sure to leave us your name and your phone number in case we need to get back to you. We’ll publish some of your responses in Thursday’s News-Tribune.
Here was the response from Northland residents, as reported in the News Tribune on Feb. 1, 1996…
Jane Koskinen and her son, Jason, watch the premiere episode of “The Louie Show” Wednesday night, Jan. 31, 1996, at the Amazing Grace Bakery and Cafe. Footage of a house in Duluth owned by Koskinen was used to give the show some Duluth flavor. (Josh Meltzer / News-Tribune)
`LOUIE SHOW’ KNOCKS ‘EM OUT IN NORTHLAND
Dominic P. Papatola, News-Tribune staff writer
“The Louie Show” was a big hit Wednesday night at the Amazing Grace Bakery and Cafe, where Jason Koskinen and a group of about 25 friends watched the premiere episode of the set-in-Duluth situation comedy.
The 16-year-old Koskinen spent a day last May in front of the camera, filming what he hoped would be the show’s opening credits. Those scenes didn’t make it into Wednesday’s broadcast on CBS, but Koskinen proclaimed himself satisfied with the result nonetheless.
“It was interesting to see how they portrayed Duluth and Duluth people,” Koskinen said. “I’m hoping that they’re going to be able to get us in the next time, as well as some other Duluth stuff, instead of just showing Louie spinning around.”
If Koskinen’s enthusiasm for the show was tempered a bit by missing his national television debut, most of the rest of the Northland was wowed.
Dozens of Northlanders flooded the News-Tribune’s “LouieLine” to offer their comments. By their estimation, “The Louie Show” is a smash . . . at least in the community where it’s set.
Here’s a sample of the local reviews:
Marjorie Lake, Duluth: “Thumbs up for Louie!”
Jan Melton, Duluth: “We love `The Louie Show.’ We want to see more of Duluth in it, but definitely want to see it stay on the air.”
Pat Martin, Duluth: “ `The Louie Show’ ” had a lot of charm. Problem is that it didn’t have sex and violence so it won’t go. It did a lot to make Duluth look kind of nostalgic.”
Pauline Palmer, Superior: “Both my husband and I like the show. If we’re not home on Wednesday night, we’ll tape it. My only suggestion would be I would like to see more of the Duluth locale.”
Dave Wittke, Superior: “Louie Anderson and his show both kick.”
Mary Overlie, Duluth: “It would be nice if we could all be that happy throughout the year, but it’s not realistic. No one in Duluth is that happy right now. I’d like to see it make it, but I think he’s probably going to do his six weeks worth and then it’ll be over with.”
Peg Campbell, Pike Lake: “We’re a lot of a `bit over 60′ and we loved it. Everybody is believable except Louie’s friend who’s a doctor. We don’t have such flaky, flaky doctors here.”
Judy Helgesen, Duluth: “Louie’s very real. He could be someone who lived up here.”
Dawn Mankoski, Superior: “Louie has done it again. He’s shown us we can laugh at ourselves and we just might make it through this winter.”
Joe Howard, Duluth: “I thought the show was boring, pretty dry. He needs better writers.”
Phyllis and Art Barschdorf, Duluth: “Very gentle humor and good family viewing.”
Terie Suliin, Duluth: “The roofer with the Swedish accent was too fakey. Louie doesn’t pronounce `roof’ like he used to when he lived in Minnesota.”
Lucy Wills, Barnum: “It’s so nice to have a show without a lot of dirty talking.”
Pat Bergholm, Duluth: “I thought the characters were real, especially the female housemate and detective. I hope they won’t make fun of Duluth.”
Rick Klemond, Duluth: “I hope people on the East Coast and West Coast can understand it. Keep it on.”
R. Warren Peterson, Cloquet: “It’s got good humor and good energy. If he can keep it going, I think it’s got a chance.”
Florence Anderson, Duluth: “We loved the interesting and appealing characters, the funny story line and it was great to see Duluth in prime time.”
Nancy Johnson, Superior: “The only thing: It should have been an hour long instead of a half-hour.”
A couple weeks later, things were not looking good for “The Louie Show.” The Eh? column had this to say on Feb. 14, 1996:
LOUIE SHIP LISTING
Quick: Call a Nielsen family and tell them to tune into “The Louie Show” tonight.
In its second week on CBS, the set-in-Duluth sitcom starring Minnesota’s own Louie Anderson fell eight places in the prime-time ratings as compiled by Nielsen Media Research for Feb. 5-11.
The show finished 75th with a 7.4 rating, representing about 7.1 million households. The premiere episode posted a 8.6 rating, good enough for 67th place.
The bad news is that “The Louie Show” seemed to lose ground to ABC’s “The Drew Carey Show” and finished ahead of only four shows in CBS’ limping prime-time lineup.
The bright spot? Well, Louie still beat Montel Williams, whose hourlong drama on CBS, “Matt Waters,” finished the week tied for 84th place in the ratings.
Two weeks later, the News Tribune’s Eh? column reported this news on Feb. 28, 1996:
LOUIE LEAPS UP
Don’t start singing the dirge for “The Louie Show” just yet.
According to the weekly prime-time ratings compiled by Nielsen Media Research for Feb. 19-25, Louie Anderson’s set-in-Duluth sitcom bounced up nine places to finish in 72nd place.
It was the second-best finish for the show in its month on the air. The premiere episode of the comedy placed 67th in the weekly ratings.
“The Louie Show” is still among CBS’ lowest-rated programs, but the sitcom finished above network-mates “Due South” and the special “Wynonna: Revelations.”
And here’s a little news that will make you either laugh or cry. Louie even did better than Dan Rather, beating out the network’s coverage of last week’s New Hampshire primaries.
The last episode of “The Louie Show” is set to air April 3. The show’s fate after that is in the hands of CBS honchos.
Then there was this longer update the next day, Feb, 29, 1996:
WHAT WILL BE THE FATE OF `THE LOUIE SHOW’ COME MAY?
SITCOM PRODUCERS STILL HOPEFUL
Dominic P. Papatola, News-Tribune staff writer
“The Louie Show” didn’t make it to the airwaves Wednesday night, but that doesn’t mean CBS has pulled the plug on the situation comedy starring Minnesota comedian Louie Anderson.
This week’s episode of the set-in-Duluth sitcom was bumped off the air so that the network could broadcast the annual Grammy Awards production. “Louie” will return next Wednesday for the fifth of its scheduled six episodes.
The show will also be preempted on March 13, meaning the last episode of the show will air on March 20.
“Louie” has never finished higher than 67th in the prime-time Nielsen ratings. Those numbers disappoint the show’s producers, but they’re not ready to give up on the show yet.
“We knew that, going into Wednesday evening, we were never going to be a breakthrough hit,” said John Whitman, executive in charge of production at Shukovsky/English Entertainment Co., the show’s producers.
Wednesday night has been a poor night for CBS this season, Whitman said, as the network struggles to recover ground lost from its disastrous last season.
Whitman also said “Louie” also suffers from a weak “lead-in,” the show that immediately precedes it in the schedule. “Dave’s World,” finished last week in the 66th slot in the Nielsen ratings. “The Louie Show” finished 72nd.
“The Louie Show” is “a show that’s worth being on the air,” Whitman said. “But it has to have substance around it to help it launch.”
Anderson’s program was roundly praised by television critics in the Twin Cities but received mediocre to negative news from other critics around the country.
A spokeswoman at CBS would say only that “it’s too soon to say” what will happen to“The Louie Show.” The networks generally announce their fall lineups in May.
Whitman, too, said it was too early to make a call on the eventual fate of “The Louie Show” — or to determine if the show’s cast or setting needed to be retooled.
The network’s decision would be based on a number of factors, including the show’s relative strength against other similar shows, the network’s need for another comedy and the crop of new shows proposed for the coming season.
“It’s up for grabs,” Whitman said. “I would not try to put a probability or even a thought” on what the network will do.
For now, he said, “we wait till May.”
Minnesota-raised comedian Louie Anderson portrays Louie Lundgren on “The Louie Show,” a 1996 CBS sitcom that was set in Duluth. (CBS publicity photo / News Tribune file)
On March 7, 1996, the Eh? column reported that “The Louie Show” ran up against tough competition in Duluth:
LOOKING FOR LOUIE?
Everything seems to be conspiring against “The Louie Show”: It’s stuck on a bad night with bad shows surrounding it. Now, the Minnesota high school hockey tournament is getting in the way.
KDLH-TV Channel 3 preempted Wednesday night’s broadcast of the set-in-Duluth sitcom in favor of the tourney. Die-hard fans of the show can catch the program at 5 p.m. today on Channel 3.
Another ratings report, from the Eh? column of March 13, 1996:
‘LOUIE’ LEAPS AGAIN (TO 67TH)
In Duluth, “The Louie Show” got bumped from its regular Wednesday night slot last week in favor of the high school hockey tournament. Other markets, however, carried the episode that made a strong showing the Nielsen ratings.
The show finished the week at number 67, its best performance since the Jan. 31 premiere episode that also ranked 67th.
And remember that the set-in-Duluth sitcom will be pre-empted again tonight. The sixth and final episode will air March 20.
And that is where the News Tribune files end on “The Louie Show.” The show was canceled after six episodes.
The show included several notable names among its cast members – Bryan Cranston, later of “Malcolm in the Middle” and “Breaking Bad”; Laura Innes, who played Dr. Kerry Weaver on “ER”; Paul Feig, who was directed episodes of “The Office” and “Arrested Development,” and who created the show “Freaks and Geeks”; and Kimmy Robertson, who played Lucy Moran on “Twin Peaks.”
Also notable – the casting of Nancy Becker-Kennedy as Louie’s assistant, Helen. According to a 2009 CBS News story, it marked the first time an actress in a wheelchair had a regular role on a sitcom.
I wish there was a full cast photo in the DNT archives – or at least one of pre-stardom Bryan Cranston – but there is not.
Louie Anderson has made several trips to the Northland to perform in the years since the sitcom was canceled.
What do you remember about “The Louie Show” and/or the local buzz surrounding it? Share your memories by posting a comment.